Trip Start Jan 08, 2010
45Trip End Sep 27, 2010
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The vision of the 614 mission down here is to transform lives through forming relationships and helping people in a way that maintains (or even recreates) their dignity. The idea is to not come in from a position above the poor, a position of power, but to come in from underneath, living and associating with the poor
They often refer to themselves as "just junkies" or similar and feel they have nothing to offer “people like us” who seem to have it all together. This was shown clearly to us the other day when we were talking to a guy on the street who we got chatting to as we waited for the lights to change. He hasn’t been using anything for a number of years but is still finding it hard to get back on his feet. He was very well spoken and through the course of the conversation he warned us about several things to watch out for here. Among other things, he gave us some tips on bed-bug prevention and told us the best rat traps to buy and where to position them in the house. We listened intently because he obviously had some experience in this area, but as soon as he realised we were taking him seriously, he got a bit shy. He started to say things like “but I guess I shouldn’t be telling people like you what to do” and “but you probably already know all this”. It was sad to see how his confidence has been shot to pieces from who knows what, to the point where he doesn’t even think he can advise on bed-bugs.
We haven’t been given a schedule here or things we have to do. Our instructions from Jonathan are to do things that give us life and give others life. It sounds vague, but there are plenty of ways to fulfill those criteria down here. Each morning we get up with no plans except meals and morning and midday prayer meetings and somehow the days just fill up with useful activities. On Wednesday and Friday evening we help out at Recreate, which is a low-key café thing that 614 have been running for several years. People come off the streets for a very cheap coffee (handouts can just be demeaning) and a chat. We just serve and talk to people and offer a comfortable and pleasant place to hang out. It sounds very simple, and it is, but the place is full every night and it has been running for several years. People come back time after time and good supportive relationships are formed.
On Wednesday nights I am part of a group called Night Lights. Women from 614 and a similar group down here called The Servants meet together, have a cup of tea (in lovely china cups) and then go out in groups of 2 and 3 and meet prostituted women on the streets and get know them. We offer them a place to take a break and have some good food and good conversation to. The idea is that the day they decide enough is enough and they want to get out of the business, they know where to come who will help them out
Instead of having “church” just on Sundays, all day every day is church, the way church was intended to be. Here church is not just a meeting on Sundays and then no or little contact for the rest of the week. Instead it is living together and being a daily part of each others’ lives. They have several Cell Groups where there is some teaching and discussion and then the Cells meet together on Thursday evenings for “Knee Drill”. We are part of the Recreate Cell Group with some of the people who regularly come to Recreate. It’s kinda like a Bible Study and it gives more opportunity to form meaningful relationships. We are also helping to lead the Kids’ Cell because there are a few people away for the summer. There's a weird thing that happens here when kids are around. There aren't many because most people's kids have been taken away from them by now, but when some of them come out in public, someone on the street will say "kids on the block" and everyone around will do their best to behave appropriately and hide anything unsavoury. It's strange that people still have a respect for childhood here despite what most of them went through as children themselves.
We had a nice outing this week with Alan, a guy who does a lot of volunteer work in the area and who grew up in North Vancouver. He took us on a ferry across some water to the area where he grew up and showed us some beautiful forests and rivers, as well as the dam made famous by The Fugitive (lots of movies are filmed here). He found us some bush tucker like Huckleberries and Salmonberries and took us to the Trout and Salmon spots. It was great to get out of the city for the day and get some fresh air. That’s where the photos for this week are from, you probably won’t be seeing many more of our area (except the inside of people’s houses) because it’s not a good idea to wander around with snazzy equipment all the time
The community that is being formed here is really working. There are about 40 Soldiers here and others who are more on the fringes. They live down here with and among the poor and with each other. Everyone’s houses are open to anyone anytime. It’s hard for us to get our heads around the constant assurances that “our house is your house” “our food is your food” “our time is your time” “our kitchen is your kitchen” “our couch is your couch” “our stuff is your stuff”. Nothing is withheld and we are always welcome. Very hard to accept and take up on.
Even though Pete and I like our space and like being alone, the support the community provides here is incredible and welcome. The first morning we were here someone asked at morning prayer how we were going. I was a bit strung out and vented about the toilet flooding and the room being filthy and all that, and I was struck by the response. I kind of expected an attitude of “well that’s how it is, what did you expect, get over it”, but we received quite the opposite. We had people offering to come help us clean up and people who had lived in the building before offering advice on who to track down to fix things. Not only that, there was also just an atmosphere of “I know, it’s hard”. After that we felt we could face anything. That has happened time and time again already here. We feel rotten, we go to someone’s place, nothing even needs to be said, just the company and the family atmosphere is enough to give us strength. Everyone lives within a few minutes’ walk of each other so it feels like one big house with streets instead of corridors.
The people here give without expecting to receive. They figure that Jesus gave his life for us without holding it over our heads, so they give in the same way. It works out well though because when we are at people’s houses we don’t feel like we should do stuff for them out of gratitude or obligation, but we find we just want to help out. We see how the giving thing works and we want to give what we can too.