I sit in my office, listening to the snores, talking and squirming of sleeping men, who have found their shelter in the quiet space of an outreach centre. This centre is usually used for the services at Union Gospel Mission, and until March, used additionally as overflow from the main shelter, always ready for extreme weather to keep people off the streets. I intermittently check the bathrooms, chat with men who can’t find sleep, am a resource for protection and care, and help these men feel as comfortable as possible. None of these guys want to cause any trouble. They all just want to sleep.
That’s what I do. I am involved in the ministry of sleep. And though I have not been with UGM for long, I have already felt the importance of what they do. Every night, I have a guy tell me “Thank you for letting me sleep here. It’s so cold out there.” Instead of wandering the streets all night after an exhausting day of temporary labour, eating at our outreach centre, or finding something to do, here they have a safe place to lay their head and sleep.
As I do this work, sometimes I wonder the value of it as an evangelist. I don’t get to talk to these guys for most of my shift – they’re asleep. I don’t often get to give counsel and pastoral care – they’re just so tired. Bu in the night, I am reminded of the importance of sleep, rest, and rejuvenation. Not only am I supervising them when they are sleeping, but I am providing a God ordained ministry made to care for their souls. Scripture resonates in my mind as I walk between the beds, praying for these men.
In peace I will lie down and sleep,
for you alone, Lord,
make me dwell in safety
The Psalmist knows sleep. As David was caring for sheep as a young boy, he slept well. As he was fleeing Saul in the wilderness, he was always thankful to have a place to sleep as he was escaping death. He falls asleep, knowing that God will sustain him and keep him safe. He falls asleep in peace, knowing that his life is in the hands of a faithful saviour.
I lie down and sleep;
I wake again, because the Lord sustains me.
The men at this shelter know what it’s like to wander in the wilderness, to flee from danger, and find the relief of a safe place. They fall asleep so quickly, so weary from their individual lives, and are thankful that even though they don’t have a home, we provide them refuge.
Sweet is the sleep of a laborer, whether he eats little or much, but the full stomach of the rich will not let him sleep.
I have never seen people sleep as well as they do in the shelter. Of course, not everybody who enters UGM sleep well. Some stay awake due to addictions or physical pain. Each one comes with different stories and struggles from their day. But you wouldn’t believe how quickly and how deeply some of these men sleep, relieved to just be laying down.
How many of us go to bed with full stomachs, not worried about our next meal, and who will care for us, but we still can’t sleep? How many of us avoid sleep by playing on our phones into the wee hours of the night? The rich don’t sleep well, but these poor men welcome it as an old friend.
Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.
They come in to the message of salvation, they sleep with the promise of peace, and they wake up refreshed, greeted by people who care, encouraged to continue choosing the right path. Though the struggle is hard, we are helping them day by day to leave behind their past, enter recovery, and find their way back on their feet. The work is hard, but it leads people not only to homefulness, but to Christ.
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness
I take part in the ministry of sleep, providing a safe place for these men to rest their heads. I care for them as they sleep off intoxication, weariness from their labour, and relief from their pain. They awake to be served breakfast, and the reminder that this is a another day that the Lord is showing new mercies, the same love, another chance, and sustaining them constantly, even if they suffer.
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