I took a leaf out of the book from our FYT weekend away (see previous post) and took a risk today. This is how it went;
So, i was walking down to the shop this morning to the DIY store to get a new washing line and outside the local old peoples home was this box with pictures in it going free to a good home. All a bit unusual I thought, but theres nothing to lose.
Having checked them i decided to take them, we have a massive house, and little money to put stuff on the walls to add colour. However, I had no way of thanking the person giving them away. So i thought id pay it forward and take a risk, seeing as they gave away these pictures for my benefit, what could i give away? In a way i felt condemned, as in ministry it can be easy to get stuck into money traps or expectation traps, ie doing something just because it gets a reward back. I thought – what can I give? give away and have the similar little expectation to get back in return?
And so, after lunch i went down into town., and thought i would see how I could give to someone, or be helpful to someone in need. Follow a gut instinct to do something, to give something away.
Theres an empty space at the bottom of the ramp near the library in Hartlepool, where the charity sellers, big issue vendors, dodgy religious sect type people use for selling stuff. Its also where the homeless go to beg. When i got there today the area was empty, just a few guys on a bench. But the usual turnover of people walking past, on phones, chatting, pushing buggies, heads down, focussed or relieved to be heading home from the shops. I thought i would sit and wait to help someone or talk to someone who might need it (i had the whiteboards ready if i needed to advertise, though i was slightly not quite brave enough to write ‘free listening here’ or ‘here to help if you need it on them’ well i wrote it but didnt advertise – maybe next time – what do you think? ).
There was someone trying to carry a bookshelf, i offered to help and they said they were ok (later they carried the shelves seperately)
A few minutes after i was sitting down on the wall. less that 10 metres away a person started opening their bag, got out a few books, (i thought they were going to the library), then got out a sleeping bag from their bag, and chucked a few pennies on their bag, then sat, in the sleeping bag, reading the book and waited for the passers by to make donations. Jacket hood covering their face.
In my mind i was thinking – is this the person im here to talk to? to help? How do i start a conversation? I was sitting down at their level (usually I am walking above those sitting on the ground begging) I was probably for the first time seeing how they were being reacted to.
The woman ( it was the first time id realised their gender) asked if i had a light for a fag, which i didnt, i didnt even have any money on me either. (i deliberately wanted to be empty handed) , she asked me, no she told me that i looked happy and content, and i probably did, i guess i had a glint in my eye as i was looking for ways to give and be helpful, not to consume or shop… though wary of being male, i asked her about the book she was reading, and about what her days are like waiting for money to be donated. She talked about stories, and how the last few weeks had been tough as the abuse by others had got worse to the homeless, how the police were moving people on, and how they get less money, so much so that she was thinking of moving to somewhere new.
This wasnt all in one conversation, as it was disjointed and interrupted, but it was the gist of it. I was then interrupted by a local vicar (female) who said ‘Hello’ and sat down, and we chatted for 15-20 mins or so, all the while keeping an eye on our homeless friend, and wondering what we might do. After a while my clergy friend sat with the female, and listened more intently to her story and situation and gave some money, at the same time someone else put a £1 on the bag (it was the first coin over 2p that had been donated) and someone else came by with a meal deal in a bag from boots.
A meal that was duly eaten pretty quickly, once my clergy friend left.
Without wanting to be rude, in leaving the person i asked whether the afternoon had worked out ok. She said it had, but only in the last 15 mins. She told me about where she lived, and having moved around a bit. Said she was in Newcastle but it was too busy, she looked less than 25, maybe nearly 30. I said that i wanted to give something, but i had nothing. But i asked if she could make use of a small whiteboard and pens, to write down quotes from her books, or phrases to encourage people, or messages to help her cause. She said shed draw pictures and make up stories. I wished her well and told her my name, and she hers ‘D’, Pray for D as you read this. She is camping somewhere in this town.
Though I know shes had food, as this evening, I gave away some herbs to a friend, and walked the dog around the headland area of the town.
And as i drove back down northgate, there was D with someone walking, and eating a large bag of fish and chips on a glorious sunny evening. A luxury we all like, in the sea air. And thats the air she’ll breathe from her tent. And I in my house.
I jokingly said to my clergy friend as we sat on that wall, that I wasnt intending to become all St Franciscan, to side with the poor and homeless by dressing up as a beggar and being waited on.
But sitting at the level of the homeless, being alongside, i learned so much more. That whilst many did nothing, some gave and smiled, a smile that ive given before. As I said , ive walked by many times before. But today I sat, and waited, to interrupt the normal and give, and help where I can. Being at a different level. At knee level.
I am no hero, and i have no idea what the end of this story might be, her friend with the chips, and the whiteboard. She did tell me that she liked the church and took photos of it. But thats not that important. I dont hope that anything other that i learned a lesson in giving, in understanding, and seeing the world through a different lens, even just for a short while. I wanted to give, and give I did, but i gained so much more. It just means i’ll have to give again tomorrow.
The post script to this story, that i have discovered in the last 10 minutes. Is that D was prayed for at the morning prayer in the church of my clergy friend only yesterday morning as a congregation member had been in conversation with her. Tomorrow the two will be meeting up again. This time not on the wall. Where does God lead us to when were being obedient – to the homeless, the lost and the margins. Why- for thats where she is too.