Vancouver is a great city. Beautiful, vibrant, diverse, with so much to offer. But good as it is, not everyone thrives here. Vancouver also faces the challenge of poverty and disadvantage, with a large population of homeless people living on the streets.
The Visible Homeless
It’s many years since I lived in a big city, and when I did I was naive, eyes closed to a world that didn’t revolve around me. I didn’t notice the homeless, though I know they were there. Here in Vancouver, in one of the most expensive cities on the planet, it smacks me between the eyes. And honestly, I’ve struggled with how to respond. How to make a difference, how to change something, somehow. Every time I walk past someone living on the street it eats at me; this isn’t how Christ would respond.
The truth is, while I’m happy to donate to charities that work with the homeless, I have lacked the courage to do much more than that. So when a member of my LifeGroup asked if we could go out on the streets at Christmas and bless the homeless with gifts – not just that, but talk to them and pray for them too… yeah, you could say I was being pushed outside my comfort zone.
I’m so glad she did
Here’s an example of how loving God is towards us in our weakness. I was pretty anxious – remember, that comfort zone several miles behind me! The closer we got to the night, the more I worried about everything that could go wrong. How did God respond? He arranged that the Sunday before we were to go out on the streets, there was a visiting speaker at our church. And this visiting speaker heads up a large organisation in the UK which advises churches and governments on how to respond to the poor and disadvantaged. And on the Sunday he spoke on – you guessed it – how and why to remember the poor!
It was a message that soothed my fears, built my faith and stoked the fires of knowing what we were doing was in line with God’s heart. My anxieties settled down and we got ready to go.
Our plan was to buy a couple of bags and fill them with little things like toiletries, socks, scarves and gloves and a few treats. Then give out these bags to a couple of people. We’re a pretty small LifeGroup, so I expected us to fill two bags, maybe three at a push. But somehow a few extra people got involved in our group just at the time we were planning, and in the end we were eleven people and filled ten rucksacks with gifts!
We had chosen an area where we knew there were usually people on the streets, but not too many (we only had ten bags to give out, after all) We split into four groups and went in different directions. We actually struggled more than we expected to find any homeless people. A lesson we learned, should we have the courage to do this again, would be to next time go out earlier in the evening when there might be more about. Still, between us we were able to give away seven of our bags.
These are just some of the stories from that night (names have been changed) :
- Dave was stood at a crossroads asking for money. He told us his wife was at home and he was just trying to get some bucks before going back to her. We gave him a bag and offered to pray though he didn’t want us to. Another group also spoke to him, he told them some people had just prayed for him.
- Trevor was pleased to receive his bag. He was worrying about his girlfriend, so the team were able to offer to pray for her.
- Jessie and her boyfriend Adam were setting up a tent for the night. She is hoping to find somewhere to live and then get a job. She was thinking they may have to go to a shelter in the meantime till she can find somewhere.
- Brian shared that he had a drug addiction; one of the team was able to pray with him there and then
- Yusuf is from Afghanistan, and had left his family behind in Germany. He was recovering from recent surgery. One of the guys in our group is from Pakistan – he was able to talk to him in Farsi. He shared the Gospel and prayed for him, in his own language!
- Kevin spoke with us for a long time, sharing a little of his story, though he didn’t want to take a bag from us.
This is just a little snap shot of how God gently lead us and used us that night. Just a handful of people, not really knowing what we were doing, blessing a handful of other people, whether by giving them gifts or simply spending time with them.
I still struggle with the level of homelessness all around us. I still don’t really know how to respond. I still pray with a broken heart for the needs of the broken and disadvantaged and overlooked to be met, and offer God to be part of that, no matter how weak and fearful I am.
But now I also rejoice – because I know God rejoices when He hears those prayers; and if we truly are willing, He will use us; and when He uses us – we are the most blessed of all.
by Milly Jones
Milly and Steve Jones lead one of Trinity Central’s LifeGroups. They moved to Vancouver from the UK in 2013, after God called them to be part of His unfolding plans in Canada.