Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Showers Saga - 26: The honeymoon ends

I don't know if there ever really was a honeymoon at The Lord's Rain, but any "Noble Savage" delusions I might have had about the people we serve have now faded to black and I'm now staring at some pretty grim realities about the Downtown East Side. Some may wonder why it's taken so long. The drugs, abuse and rejection by society have seared the consciences and souls of the people so that they are left with a jungle mentality. It's everyone for him/herself, and that's a hard combination to battle. Still, I believe the basis for the solution remains the same: the main thing these people need is love -- the agape love of Christ; and boundaries, as the events of the past week have shown.

OK, so I knew that already. I knew that from visiting Anchor House in Brooklyn, and watching Roger Jamison hand out some pretty tough love to the guys under his care. It was like a father, disciplining his children -- presumably, if they'd had that same discipline as they were growing up, they wouldn't be in the spot they're in now. I guess I hadn't thought that any boundaries we set at The Lord's Rain -- where people don't lock themselves away for 12-18 months, but just come in for a coffee and maybe a shower -- would "matter".

Two incidents in the past week are already proving that they do "matter". First, I discovered a man shooting-up in a shower. Found the syringe wrapper on the floor while he was still in there. When he came out, I confronted him with it. "I don' do no drugs," he said, barely able to stand.

So, the new boundary: no backpacks, purses, large coats or anything with big pockets beyond the steps to the showers. I feel like a stupid git for not thinking of it sooner -- fortunately, Barry and the others have been remarkably reticent about calling me a stupid git, so it's evidently a lesson the Lord wanted me to learn in a way that would prevent me from compromising on the rule.

Interestingly, the other new boundary is to restrict the amount of sugar and whitener we use in our coffee. We already pre-mix, but I'd been letting people add more if they liked. Now, they get the pre-mix, and that's it. Why is that an important boundary? Because it's a rule that they'll need to follow, and in a culture where there are very few rules, that makes it important.

On Wednesday, we put the rules into effect, and they went over well. Only one woman balked at having to check her purse with us before going into the shower, but when the alternative was to find another place to have a shower, she trusted me with her purse. The only bad review of the coffee rule was from one drugged-out young woman who knocked over two cups of coffee and stormed out.

And we wound up setting a record for Wednesday showers: 10, with two more using the sinks. Not bad for a 90-minute opening.

But Wednesday night came another jolt of reality. Just before the Bible study, I was hanging up towels on the racks in The Lord's Rain when I noticed a group of people all rushing to one spot in the alley across the street. I went to the window to see why, and found out: three men were beating up another guy. And leading the attack was someone I know quite well (although since he's now in the court system, I'd better not name him), hammering on the victim with fists and possibly (though I couldn't see for sure at the distance) a piece of re-bar.

Finally, the victim crumpled to the ground and the three attackers laid the boots to him; and then everyone dispersed, leaving the guy lying on his side, motionless.

By then, I had dialled 911, and the police arrived shortly after. And I identified for them the one attacker I could identify. As one constable and I were standing outside Gospel Mission, the suspect came towards us and I alerted the cop. "How're ya doin', Preacher-Man?" he said as he walked by. "Good. You?" The suspect got a few metres away, and they took him down.

So while Barry was teaching Bible study, I was writing out a witness statement.

I know the suspect. I've ministered to him, listened to him, tried to comfort him. He's actually been on a self-destructive course ever since his sister died of an overdose about two months ago. But he has a violent streak that has to be corralled. As one friend of mine wrote after this guy had killed a pigeon, "today a pigeon - tomorrow, it could be a person". Tomorrow came on Wednesday -- except the guy survived.

And yet, I won't stop praying for the guy and trying to be there for him, because whatever "honeymoon" might have ended, that's what we're called to do. And if I can, I'll try to see him in jail -- assuming the court system doesn't tap his wrists and let him go.

But now I see more of the reality of the Downtown East Side: the brutality, the self-centeredness ... the total screwed-up-ness that makes it a place so many people want to avoid. It's a reality I wouldn't have seen were it not for The Lord's Rain, but my job remains to present the "real reality" -- Jesus Christ, in Word upstairs, in deed downstairs.

In Deuteronomy 7:22, God tells Moses that He will drive the enemies out of the Promised Land "by little and little; thou mayest not consume it at once, lest the beasts of the field increase upon thee." In other words, God does not dump an entire blessing in our laps, because we don't know what to do with it. Instead, He gives it to us bit by bit.

It's the same with Truth -- like the truth about the DTES. We can't handle the truth, so God measures it out sparingly to each of us as we can handle it. If we'd opened The Lord's Rain and been faced immediately with young ladies with hissy fits because they can't have more whitener, some guy shooting up in a shower stall or a violent assault in broad daylight led by someone I've really grown to care about, I probably would have cut and run.

But God -- praise Him evermore! -- let us see this truth "by little and little", as we've been able to handle it, filtering what we see through the lens of experience and not losing sight of the fundamental principle of the solution: love tempered with boundaries, and boundaries applied with love.

As well, we see that the "reality" of the DTES may be shocking and depressing, but the reality of Jesus Christ is far more powerful.

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