Monday, May 12, 2008

The Showers Saga 21 - Humble Beginnings

It's not often that the expression "the next level" means going from the second floor to the ground floor, but that's the intriguing paradox of The Lord's Rain. I find myself standing outside 327 Carrall St., watching the passing scene and contemplating what God has gotten us into now. The legendary drug deals go down in front of and beside me; people older than me and younger than my son, wander back and forth, zombie-like, while a steady parade of squad cars with two and sometimes three cops in each, cruises the area.

"Welcome to the Next Level," the Lord says. I know He never gives us anything we can't handle, so obviously He figures we at Gospel Mission can handle what He's about to throw at us.

Janet has already remarked that she's never really had a window on the street before. It's easy to feel like you're in a cocoon on the second floor, but that's OK, because if any of us had been dropped, like Mr Bean, into the middle of the DTES without the gradual "pressurization" -- the experience of dealing with people who have long since stopped trusting others and the time spent gaining a reputation as people who walk in Love and not judgment -- we'd have been discouraged from the start. Now, praise God, we know that He is strengthening us in this task, lifting us up and will not leave us unattended. He's already decreed that, but, as with many other things we face, the trick is to convince ourselves of that truth. Now, we're ready.

The other Word that keeps coming to me as I watch people do their drugs and make their deals and generally stomp around the place with those convulsive movements that mark someone who's strung out on crack or crystal meth is, "these are somebody's children". A young woman -- heck: a girl -- came up to us a couple of weeks ago as we were leaving from the Saturday night service. We had some cookies left over, and she saw them and asked for one. Amelia gave them to her, and after she left, I said, "she's just a girl. She could be my daughter!" "Keep praying that it won't be," Amelia replied, "and pray that if ever it is, there'll be someone to give her a cookie."

(Don't Get Me Started Dep't: the BC Nurses Union is demanding more funding for the safe injection site. One nurse says her heroin-addicted sister might be alive today if she'd had a "safe place to shoot up". Indeed? Let's not blame the lack of a "safe place" for that wasted life: the responsibility lies with the people who introduced her to heroin in the first place, and before that, those who created the situation leading to her even wanting to try it. People have kicked the habit in the past. People need encouragement to get off the drug and the hope that there's a reason for doing it. Handing someone a needle and saying, "here's a 'safe place': go ahead and shoot", simply tells them they're always going to be a drug addict so they might as well give up hope. But of course, the best hope is in Christ, and a lot of people don't want to tell anyone that.)

Back to the showers ... People are coming in for a coffee and some stick around to chat and some actually have a shower. In five openings so far, we've served 17 people. Some might call that a slow start: I look at it as being exactly what God wants for the place. K-Mack said it perfectly last Saturday night: imagine what it will look like in a couple of years!

Painting day: Kathy (a/k/a The Towel Lady) and Sean putting Coat One on the Lord's Rain

Amelia too!

Ladies' Night got underway this past Friday. Janet is ready to do manicures, and the others -- Amelia, K-Mack and Sandy -- were there to greet whomever wanted to come in. One woman came in for the shower, but K-Mack (K-Mack = Kathy McPhillips who is, among other things, Worship leader on Saturday nights; this differentiates her from Kathy Kinahan, a/k/a The Towel Lady) was the only one who got a manicure. Janet drew a neat little flower on one fingernail. Unfortunately, in order to show it to me, K-Mack had to make a rude gesture, and I hold Janet fully responsible for that!

In terms of numbers, these are humble beginnings. But in terms of outreach, we're already doing our job. We weren't going to do any overt preaching -- Barry calls it "soft evangelism" -- but there's no doubt that the showers project is the work of a Christian organization, motivated by a touch from God to provide a basic human need to people. It's getting us onto street level, giving us a better view of the world we serve -- and giving people in that world a better view of us -- and, we pray, of Jesus.

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