Last Friday, Good Friday, we hauled our Wee Ones out of bed at the crack of dawn, bundled up and headed downtown for our own kind of Good Friday service. We spent just over an hour set up on Main Street, within eyesight of four different shelters, handing out coffee and muffins to whoever happened by. Nothing fancy, just a folding table, some snacks and teeth chattering smiles. We served about 60 people before we ran out of … well, everything. And each person we served changed us.
I said next to nothing on the drive downtown. I just watched Crafty in the review mirror as she carefully folded the 60 little notes of encouragement she wrote to hand out with the coffee and wondered if I was making a HUGE mistake. What if someone violent came by? What of we were asked for money? What if someone approached our kids inappropriately? What if? What if? What if?
I had a dozen reasonable concerns and a million unreasonable ones swirling through my brain as we pulled up to our pre-scouted spot. We weren't even out of the van when we were approached by a couple of men, asking if we were lost. We told them that we were exactly where we meant to be and that we had coffee and muffins to share. And that's when all of my fears and stereotypes were turned upside down.
These guys waited patiently for us to set up and chatted with us for a bit after we handed them their coffee. They spread the word to a few other fellas who were taking shelter in a doorway and soon we had line going. As we poured and joked and chatted, I felt like an idiot - a middle class, white, privileged idiot. I forgot the most important thing while I was obsessing over my fears. We were planning on serving people. Not Homeless. Not Street. Not Underprivileged. We were serving PEOPLE. Just people. Just regular folks who laugh and love and care and live. People who have their own community, their own culture, their own sense of family and belonging with each other.
And they accepted us. Just as we came. How beautiful is that?!
One older gentleman stood and talked with Dude about school and music. A beautiful woman, dressed like Rainbow Bright, complimented Crafty on her hair and jacket. A jovial middle age man teased Joyboy about his broken foot. Several people took coffee for themselves and came back for coffee and muffins for their wheelchair bound friends who were parked across the street. One man noticed we were running low on sugar so he searched through his pockets for packets he had been saving up and he left them on the table for others who might need. Another man took and apple but left a banana, "for someone in need" then he whistled a happy tune as he ambled away in his duct taped shoes.
Time and time again we saw humanity, care and pride from the people we came to serve. They asked us about our lives, thanked us for showing up on a day when almost everything within walking distance was closed and blessed us for our generosity. I stood there humbled because, in truth, we were the ones being served.
Each person who stopped by the table served us joy, hope, compassion, dignity and grace. They gave us humour and acceptance. They offered us a glimpse into contentment and thankfulness. They left us with overflowing hearts and a burning desire to do more, to return to this spot so we can know them better.
Yesterday I drove by the corner where we served and were served and I saw a few familiar faces. I saw the man who took six sugars in his coffee, the man who joked with Dude about being a casanova, the woman who brought her friend to the table just to show her people cared. I saw them. I recognized them. They are my people, too. They are the ones I think of, pray for and hope for as I crawl into my safe and warm bed each night. They are the ones that come to mind when I see the weather report each morning. They are the ones I hope to know better as we continue to think of ways to connect and be helpful.
Yes, they are addicts, homeless, poor and abusers. But so are we. Yes, they have made horrible decisions, led lives of disappointment and destruction and have alienated so many people who have tried to help. But so have we. Sure, they are dirty, smelly, unkempt and unhealthy. But so are we. They are a broken, used up, desperate people. And so are we. Our brokenness, our filth, our bad habits didn't stop them from accepting us, from being kind to us, from welcoming us into their space. So why does their mess stop us?
That's what I've been asking myself every day for the last week. Jesus died for me and he died for them. Their sin is not greater than mine. My heart is no more worth saving than theirs. There is no difference but the difference I invent.
These are my people. And I am theirs.
I will invite myself into their space again soon. We will bring the treats and receive their welcome. We will spend more time chatting and less time fearing. We will open our hearts wide and let their acceptance be an example to us. We will love and care and share … and so will they.
“Love is not patronizing and charity isn't about pity, it is about love. Charity and love are the same -- with charity you give love, so don't just give money but reach out your hand instead.”
― Mother Teresa