Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Sleeping Bags

Every week at the sandwich run, they give us a night off. We get a couple of hours of free time while the groups hand out sandwiches to relax, and then we can meet them later at Tim Horton’s in Dundas Square to debrief the whole thing, and get the groups home.

So Tim and I had a couple of hours to kill in downtown Toronto before we had to meet the groups. We wandered through Chinatown, and down Queen St. and met a random girl on the street, who asked us for money. We don’t like to give out money; it is an excuse to not give people the dignity of at least acknowledging the person, and offering to meet a more basic need than food: respect. Tim offered the girl an Arizona iced tea drink he had in his backpack instead, and she was really thankful, so we hung out with her for a bit and talked to her. A few roommates of a friend of ours who does the sandwich runs came up and hung out with us too, and we were talking to them and playing with their pet snakes. (random!!!) We later offered the girl to buy her some street meat, especially after she implied that she was really starving, and we walked with her to Nathan Phillips Square and bought her a hotdog. As we walked, we learned a bit about her life, and she told us about how young she was, and how long she’d been on the street, and basic things like needing to panhandle and make $20 for the night so she could afford to replace a sleeping bag that she had gotten stolen from her.

We went our separate ways, and started to head over to meet our groups when we walked past a Canadian Tire, and thought, yeah, let’s buy the girl a sleeping bag. We could help her out, and like, give her a blessing that we have in abundance. Tim almost refused to take my money on it, but when you’re both poor, I find you become more generous. I kinda… whipped a twenty dollar bill at his face, not intending to hurt him or anything… but yeah. So we got this real nice orange Coleman sleeping bag. We didn’t want to cheap out on it, and we headed over to where she was sitting to give it to her. But we couldn’t find her. We went up and down the street looking for her, but she was nowhere to be found.

So we stopped, and prayed we would find her.

Then we bumped into the sandwich run crew, on their way back to Tim Horton’s. We explained the situation, and some of our street friends were around, so we described the girl to them, and they said, “Yeah, we know her. She pans on Queen St. in front of Much Music, you know?” Which wasn’t far from where we were! So we booked it over, and ran as fast and as hard as we could. I can’t describe though, like, it felt as though we were running into a dark dark place, and trying to save someone, and we didn’t have a flashlight. We couldn’t find her. We bumped into another friend who had seen her, but he said she had gone looking for ecstasy, so it wasn’t likely we’d find her either.

We kept going, but we eventually had to stop and turn around, because we had to get back to our groups, and she was nowhere to be found. It is hard to save people.

Walking back was hard, but then we ran into a guy on the street who said some awful things about women and the things he wanted to do with them that night… and I got really upset. No. “Really upset” is an understatement. It’s not often I want to go and punch someone’s teeth out, but I had to hold onto the sleeping bag to not do so. And I got dizzy, and very sad, sick to my stomach, and couldn’t breathe, and needed to sit down. We had prayed to find her, and we just couldn’t. We asked God to bring her to us, and she was nowhere to be found. And… when people say such degrading horrible things… like, not here. Not today. Not with the freedoms, acceptance and tolerance we boast of should this happen.

When we’re walking with big groups full of American people seeing the city, people don’t say things to you, and the street feels much safer. Being alone, or in a pair where you don’t look like you’re on a missions trip, is a completely different story. Tim and I saw someone that looked like a friend we had seen sitting next to the girl, but when we walked over, we saw that it wasn’t anyone we knew, and that not only was he very drunk, he was with four other big guys who were very drunk. They saw the sleeping bag and just snatched it out of our hands, saying, “give it to me, give it to me” and we couldn’t fight back or take it back from them, because who knows what they would have done? I’m certain they would have mugged us, or beat us up, or worse; it’s hard to say what can happen when people are very drunk like that.

Here are my thoughts on it: do I abandon hope over one situation, when I cannot see the long-term effects of everything? Do I get mad at God for a prayer unanswered? Do I naively cling to optimism, and shrug it off, saying it’s all just God’s will? I don’t know where the girl ended up, or if she ended up going off with someone, or what happened with the drunk guys who took our sleeping bag. They would need a sleeping bag as much as she does, yet may be less likely to ever get one because they don’t evoke pity the same way the girl did. Everyone has a reason for acting the way they do, like, if someone is acting angry, or uncomfortable, or nervous, there are usually deeper reasons, and deeper brokenness to be found, and those guys are just as human as we are, and just as worthy of redemption as we are. I don’t know their life stories. I don’t even know their names. Can they not deserve that benefit of redemption? And should we assume that the sleeping bag is being put to good use? Of course it is: a sleeping bag is a rare and valuable commodity on the streets. As for the comments about women… my reaction is legitimate, well-founded, and both personal and just… angry at the world. I hate feeling that type of powerlessness, and righteous anger when you come up against mountains that seem insurmountable. Fighting poverty, abuse, and situations where people are born in places where the world is just against you from the moment you come out, and I just don’t know what to do about it, and want desperately to fix it all.

But I can’t. Of course I can’t, I’m just one, and I’m very small. God is much, much, much bigger than I am, and I pray He’ll use me in ways I never dreamed, as He has already. I can get mad over one situation, or remember the millions of times I have never been let down, and be in awe over those. There are many things I cannot do, which is why we have each other, right? Tim and I had done a good thing, and I saw God in the deed itself, and in where we were led tonight, and the desperation we felt as we ran, trying to find that girl. It was something small and simple, but we were so desperate, as though we were trying to save her life. In a world where we love control, and we live by schedules, and numbers, and wanting to know everything, all at once, letting go, and knowing that we do not know the full consequence of the events that transpired tonight, is hard. I don’t know how buying a girl a hotdog saved her, or whatever happened to the guys who took our sleeping bag. You just… hope and pray, not for the best, but certainly for completeness in everything, and wholeness to all that happens.

Kay. I go to bed now.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Three Weeks Left!?

Wow. I haven’t written in such a long time because it feels like such a whirlwind once I’m in the thick of it. There’s so many things to think about, so many people to meet, and just so much to do and see!

When you’re in the thick of it, you never think about the impact you’re making, or if you’re making any impact at all.

I mean, we’re meeting so many people, and coming across so many stories, some of them hilarious, or inspiring, or absolutely heartbreaking. It’s all so crazy. Some people’s stories are just so crazy and sad, and I grew up in such a comfortable life that I wonder what I’m doing here, talking to that person, and what it all means.

One day, a couple of weeks ago, I found a card in the mess of my room that had a verse on it about boasting in our weaknesses, because through it God is glorified, and He uses us. And it’s true. The work we do here, and the intensity of it, is so absolutely insane that there is no way it can possibly be done without Him. That never fails to impact me, just how much I can see things come together, or see groups come in that are scared, awkward, and unsure how to serve, but then by the time they leave, they have tears in their eyes, and I can’t help but hope for the future, and wonder what might happen. It’s all so intricate, like a big web that you can’t see the end of, and can’t see the connections, but they are all there, and they are all connected, and it’s truly amazing.

It’s neat to feel like I’m being impacted, as people are being impacted, and we’re all really in this together, growing, learning, breaking, and restoring.