My mind has been on California today. I’ve only been gone for a week but perhaps with it being freezing cold here, wind blowing and snow falling, I’m thinking it would be nice to be sitting with no pants on looking out over the Pacific. But I digress…
As a result I’ve been thinking again about my time there when I did some street outreach with my old friend Stephen.
One of the things that I won’t soon forget is his approach. When we would meet people on the street, one of the first things he would say was that we were there praying for folks and so would they like us to pray for them? He was in full summer SA uniform but still I quietly, to be honest, thought he was going to be either laughed at or ignored. Certainly here in Toronto not many people would give that approach the time of day. But there, almost every single person said that they would appreciate a prayer from us and even told us what they would specifically like us to pray for. Over and over again we were praying for people that we met on the street. One time Stephen even said to me, “Dion would you like to pray?” At which time I did, though I was completely unprepared and even screwed up the guy’s name.
I suspect both he and God forgave me:)
That whole experience reminded me that we were in a very different place than downtown Toronto and that approaches to walking with people are very much about context.
When we left Skid Row, he drove us over to a neighbourhood called Watts. That’s where, back in the 90’s, the Rodney King riots took place. We first met with folks who were living under bridges there, and then we walked into a very active corner of the community.
When we parked, we saw police cars around that area. I would have taken a pass on talking to them for a number of reasons. But Stephen boldly walked right up to them and asked yet again if they would like us to pray for them. They said no, but proceeded to tell us what they were doing there. They told us that the neighbourhood had experienced some very recent gun violence, including a drive by shooting, so they were present in the hopes of calming things down a little. Stephen prayed for them quite quickly anyway, especially for their safety.
Again I would never have thought to do that. But he didn’t skip a beat, and those cops very clearly seemed to appreciate his concern. I was deeply challenged in 100 different ways by all that had happened in that brief moment.
As we got deeper into that neighbourhood, it did become very clear that Watts was very different than Skid Row. This was a place where homelessness wasn’t the biggest issue at play. Here it was clear it was all about low-rise social housing, poverty, no jobs, gangs, guns, and all that goes along with that. I wondered if much had actually changed since this area was made famous in the 90’s due to the riots. Guns and gangs and tensions with the police still seemed quite present.
We ended up talking to two guys in front of a liquor store and a legalized marijuana shop. Those guys sort of confirmed what I was feeling which was that no matter which way we walked from here, we would end up in neighbourhoods governed by poverty and neglect.
It made me kind of sad, though not surprised, to bear witness to yet another inner city community in a major city being left behind by the powers that be.
The people in these neighbourhoods are very much ‘starving for hope’. But the saddest part is, as I’ve said many times before, that the hope deficit isn’t a problem of a lack of enough money and resources to go round.
It’s a problem of greed coupled with a lack of compassion.
It’s because of a lack of will.
In the meantime I’m glad to know that Stephen and others like him are there praying.
Sometimes that’s all there is.