Last week two regulars to the Saturday night meal service had a heated dispute while lining up for men clothing. The cause was almost comical; a misunderstanding had erupted when one of them was perceived to have ‘cut’ into the line when in reality he was already in line but quickly ran to get soup. It somehow escalated into was a yelling match about one disrespecting the other, leading to a head to head stand-off. But not much of what they said made sense. It was like two children having a fit at each other on the playground. And it was also tense, I was sure fists were going to be flying. Thankfully it did ended peacefully.
Conveniently I was tasked that night with hall monitor duty whose job was to keep the peace. So here we have two tall 6 foot giants with a build that could knock down a football player and me a scrawny 5’6 Asian guy the size of a pencil expected to stop the next nuclear holocaust. I only knew these guys by face, plus their sheer size intimidated me. Short to say my attempts to reason fell of deaf ears. I was afraid to get between them, perhaps they would take out their anger on me? As the situation got worse, I could only watch and pray in helplessness. Thank the Lord that he hears our prayers. Pastor Andrew conveniently showed up a few minutes later and diffused the situation. He knew both of them for many years now and they respected him. I’m always amazed at how the homeless patrons respect Toronto Alliance Church as well, and it goes without saying that I’m proud to be a part of this ministry despite all the bumps on the way.
Every week I sit down with Pastor Andrew to pray and recap what had happened the Saturday night before. Bringing back the incident, Andrew pointed out to me something that had struck me fresh about ‘street culture’. He said that to many men on the streets, the only thing they have left to live on is their own honor. Other words we would use would be ‘dignity’, ‘respect’, and ‘pride’. I think there’s a lot of truth there. If you think about the gangs, shootings, and drugs that float around downtown, a lot of it is built on an honor system. It’s all about getting in and accepted by your peers. That acceptance generates a sense of personal worth. Personal worth, is another way of saying “I am loved”. These hierarchical enclaves exist regardless of rich or poor. I think if a man on the streets were to lose that last piece of honor, that last reason to exist, he would surely take his own life. That’s why I firmly believe that the best starting point for any homeless outreach is to provide a space where people are treated with honor and dignity. Their heart will open up once they feel valued and safe.
I’d like end by paraphrasing from a book I just finished reading called “the church that never sleeps” which I think demonstrates how we are to effectively outreach to those on the streets.
A 16 year old girl “Debbie” living off the streets walked up to the pastor after the service when everyone was dismissed. Debbie wanted to respond to his altar call but was afraid to give her life to Christ because she was in a gang. In order to follow Christ, she would have to renounce her membership to this gang of female teenagers all around her age. But the consequence of leaving comes at a high price. Debbie would have to kneel on the floor and endure 10 minutes of brutal beatings from all the other gang members. She asked to receive Christ, and also for the pastor to take care of her after the ordeal was over. How do you think this pastor responded?
The pastor understood it was all about honor on the streets. He went to the gang and simply asked that they would spare Debbie’s life after they were done with her. He respected their space. They all agreed and the pastor just stood by watching the whole ordeal take place. No quarters were given. Kicking, hair pulling and bats were used. But Debbie took the blows silently like a lamb to her shearers. It was like Stephen being stoned in Acts, except in this case it was not Saul giving approval, it was like Christ standing on the throne.
What a beautiful scene of redemption. It’s funny how when we honor those who don’t really deserve it, it’s like how Christ did the same for us. And what we do for the least of these, we do onto Christ. If I may leave with something for you to think about its 1 Samuel 2:30 – “…those who honor me, I will honor.”
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