Friday, May 7, 2010

Touching Base! Part 86

My Day On The Street
(This article can also we found on our website at under the tab called “Blog”)

This Touching Base is a useful tool for small group discussion, personal reflection or in a one-on-one conversation. We believe that if the Sunday teaching is discussed outside of the morning services, it will be an opportunity to go deeper and build healthy community because God’s Word needs to be discussed in community.

A couple of weeks ago I participated in what is called a “social audit”. This involved visiting places that cater to the very needy of our society and interviewing them. Our purpose was to collect data that will be collated and presented to the provincial government with recommendations about how to better improve the plight of the poor in our society. The following are some of the reflections that I submitted to the team with which I was working.

This report, to my understanding, asks for reflections on our day-long experience of interacting with people who have hit one of life’s worst speed bumps - poverty. It was a day filled with voices and faces that became deeply personal as the voices revealed raw emotion, and the faces became windows revealing internal worlds that were often troubled, confused, messy and frustrated. Sitting and listening to these new friends of mine left me with many thoughts and impressions.

My first impression would be that there are no easy answers for many of the predicaments people find themselves in. These new friends told me of personal circumstances that were all connected like a spider’s web. Untangling such complexity certainly would not only take lots of time but much wisdom and discernment. People don’t end up on the street or in a one-room boarding house trying to eek out an existence on Ontario Works or the Ontario Disability Support Program because of one bad day, but rather because of one bad life. I was fascinated to hear of the domino effect of how one “bad day” led to another “bad day” and to another, then another, which eventually landed them on skid row. There are no solutions that are based on one answer or one person. Rather, a cluster of approaches is probably needed to truly bring a redemptive lift to people’s complex lives.

Secondly, I was impressed by how brokenness and desperation can be fertile grounds for deep community. While loneliness and isolation are certainly battles the poor must engage in, the sense of community can also be found amongst a people with deep-seated affinity. I saw and heard how seasons of despair bound people together. I saw and heard how people trying to dig themselves out of the same hole, nurtured a vulnerability amongst fellow travellers that richer communities would be envious of. I saw one man nicknamed Hankenstein give up his soup so John, who had missed out on the soup line, could find some nourishment. They even shared the same spoon. Now that’s community!

Thirdly, a very common theme of family breakdown came up in several conversations; spouses who had exited, children who were estranged, parents who had been abusive, siblings who had turned a deaf ear. For many, their first experience of abandonment has not come from their government but from their closest kin. The foundation of family had not been there for them as children. They then ventured out, perpetuating the problem by reproducing a second generation of downward-spiralling family life. Like the Challenger shuttle in ‘86, things blew up, leaving them trying to pick up the pieces, without the family network.

Fourth, the face of poverty can look pretty good. Poverty doesn’t always look like what the stereotypes suggest; soiled and ratty clothes, slouching posture, toothless, smelly and uneducated. I met some poor people who could stand in for any family portrait and play the part - well-groomed, educated, conversational and engaged. In fact, the face of poverty could walk right by us on the street and we would never know of that person’s desperate state. Possibly poverty is producing a whole new breed - a breed that looks good but whose actual state is destitute.

Finally, as has been impressed upon me by my intern Joanna Moon, what the poor need is not to be another person’s “project”. They do not need to just be another budgetary item on the provincial and federal government budgets. They do not need to be the “target” of another local organization that tosses Christmas turkeys and canned goods their way on a seasonal impulse. What they need is relationships with people who, in many ways, are just as broken, but in different ways - people who can come alongside them and who are willing to be vulnerable and real - people who are able to see the poor as friends. They need community beyond just experiencing community with other people who have hit a similar speed bump. They need community with people who can offer a “hand up” not just a “hand out”, who can befriend them, not patronize them, who can run the marathon with them not just dump and run. For me, that is the greatest challenge as a community leader.

How do I arrange my life so to take the time to build relationship with a few and thus somehow help people get back up? As I love God more passionately and keep in step with His Spirit, I know He will lead me to serve and befriend the poor. Didn’t Jesus do that?


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