I think it all began when I was a child living in the Old Atkinson house on the fourth concession. It was a big white farmhouse that had been abandoned for a few years when my parents decided to move in. The landlord kept the rent cheap and said that we could stay there, as long as we did the renos and refurbs. At least, that’s how my memory plays it out.
There was a Christmas in the 1980’s that stands out. We had three extra house guests. Three men who were invited for Christmas from a London outreach centre. I don’t recall their names, although one was called “Stretch.” As gifts they were each given a bible, socks and a pack of cigarettes.
I can’t really say why this stands out, but it is well embedded in my memory as a significant event. Looking back, I think it spawned in me a desire to serve. To serve those in need of material needs, basic needs, emotional needs, and need to know Jesus.
In 2008 I traveled on my first “missions trip.” As a part of a team of 10, we went to Russia to do some construction work. We spent the week working exceptionally fast at framing and dry walling an apartment for an orphanage. We spent two weeks in Russia, tucked away between Mongolia and Kazakhstan, just above China. There was a moment in time as I walked down the dirt road on a cold September morning that it struck me. I was on the other side of the world. Walking on a dirt road, forgotten, even unknown, by much of the world. And in that moment, God knew where I was.
I took advantage of a day off to venture into the inner city slums with a group from the church that brought us over. This area of town was known for heroin use. There were needles on the children’s playground. It was a world that I had never seen before. I walked through the apartments with the Pastor and met with various residents. They welcomed us in, knowing we were from the church. One family was kind enough to put the bag of heroin in the small oven while we visited so it was, well, out of sight I suppose.
We met a man who was a sniper and daily relived the memories of the multiple lives he took in the name of service to his country. He lived a dirty, tiny apartment with rotting floors that had deteriorated from leaking pipes. But he saw the hope that was offered through Jesus.
In 2009 I traveled to Cuba with my son. People were so caring, so loving towards us. We blessed them with material goods for ministry, but left with far more in our heart and memory. The efforts they took to make us feel welcome was so unnecessary, yet they poured our their love to us.
I climbed a homemade ladder to cut coconuts from a tree. We helped paint a home. We gave children animal puppets and watched their faces light up.
We left with more that we came with. We came home with a change in our hearts and attitudes.
Last weekend, we took a different sort of trip. We loaded up the van and headed to Columbus, Ohio for the weekend. The Ohio Central chapter of the Heaven’s Saints Motorcycle Ministry reach out to the homeless once a month with material supplies, food, friendship, and prayer.
I haven’t seen in our city what I witnessed in Columbus. Men and women living in tents, some held together with duct tape. Some living in plywood shacks, ones that they call home. I expected to see a level of greed when it came to giving out blankets, clothing, and food.
But there was none of that.
These men and women were all polite, humble, and engaging. They were a community, a sort of family.
|Tattoo, Angel, Ron|
We met a women, Angel, who lived on the streets and struggled with addiction. She found salvation in Christ through the outreach ministry of the Heaven’s Saints who led her to a new understanding of Jesus. Angel is now off the streets, living in an apartment, has a job, and has been clean from drugs. She knows it’s still a struggle, but there was a genuine smile and glimmer in her eye that you just knew she was the real deal. A success of sorts.
We met Dale, a homeless man who was cutting trees to make some money. Last week he was cutting a tree when the chain saw kicked back and seriously injured his legs. He received 181 stitches, a prescription for pain medication and sent back to his shack with a walker and a wheel chair. Dale had no money for medication and was suffering excruciating pain. The Heaven’s Saints came along side him to help carry his burden. Together, we took him to the pharmacy to have his doctors prescription filled. We prayed with him. He later told us that he had been laying in his bed in the shack in the woods, praying that the Heaven’s Saints would arrive because he knew they would help out if possible.
We met Mike, a homeless man living in a tent by the railroad tracks under an overpass. Mike lost his job last December. He lost his home and was staying in hotels until last month when he was forced out to the street. Broke. Homeless. Mike hasn’t lost hope though, he will keep looking for work. We were able to bless him with a blanket, pants, batteries, propane, and food.
We met another man named Mike. He was just a young guy with incredible art skills. I looked through three of his books and papers that he had compiled. Bob, who was ministering with us that day, has strong connections in the arts community and he was able to give suggestions and make connections for Mike. We wish him the best.
Finally, we met Frank. He moved to the US from Germany over 20 years ago. Due to job loss and health problems, he has found himself homeless and living in a tent. Frank has nerve problems in his back that his in undergoing surgery for in the coming month. The procedure he is having costs roughly $1200 twice a year, and needs to be done repeatedly. He has been able to get the cost covered for the first two years, but is then on his own. Fortunately, he has a friend who recently landed a good job and is able to bring Frank on board to the company in two months, after his surgery. I asked Frank if he would be looking to leave the tent community after he started his new job. His response spoke volumes to the closeness of the community, the family. “No. Not for a while. I want to stay and help the others out with their needs.”
Sharing another’s burdens. Not taking them away, or carrying them for them. Helping carry their burdens.
I believe that each of us who serves selflessly ends up receiving more than we give. Whether we volunteer in social services working with young children, helping to mentor a young mother to build her skills, when we secretly give much needed money to a friend in need, or travel the world doing work on the ‘mission field.’ we are blessed with a satisfaction of doing the things that we know we should do.
|Tattoo, Sam, Ron, Me|
I continue to come back from these sorts of trips with a real sense of blessing. And a better understanding that all of our belongings are just, well, just stuff. We really need very little to get by and be happy. Relationships are what sustains us, above our basic physical needs.
Relationships. People who care about each other. People who come alongside one another and help carry their burdens. People who can sit and talk, and care, and pray.
What began in the 1980’s in the old white farm house, has crept into the fabric of our family. Missions.
Everyone has a story. No matter how down and out any person may seem, everyone has a story. Missions is a lifestyle, not an event. Live your life on purpose, with a purpose.