One Year ago

A year ago, on October 31st, I started a job in the Homeless shelter at Union Gospel Mission in Vancouver.  I was going to school, and needed a way to pay rent, and though this job was only night shifts, it was only a five month contract.  I figured that I could do that for five months while I got my feet under me.  Little did I know that it would be the most life changing experience I’ve had, and that I would experience the love and care of Jesus in the shelter more than I ever have in my entire life.

My role has changed at the mission to another job that I enjoy, and daily I look back at my time in shelter with thankfulness and joy, knowing that my short time working overnights affected many more lives than just mine.

To this day, I get stopped on the street by men I got to serve.  Once a man thanked me and introduced me to his wife, who along with him thanked me for the prayer and support I got to offer him.  “This guy is the real salt of the earth” he said, and it’s a conversation I’ll never forget.

Often I’ll find myself chatting with dudes who I got to know during my time in shelter, whether at UGM, on the street, or on the bus.  My time in shelter taught me to stop and listen to them, because Jesus has convinced me that whatever I do for them, I do also for Him (Matthew 25:31-46).

To honour my time in shelter, and to help my friends on the Downtown East Side, I have set up a fundraising campaign with UGM.  My goal is to raise just $500 by December 31st  I know the work and prayer that goes into helping these men that come into the shelter, and I can assure you, your donation is directly affecting and saving the lives of those that use it.  The shelter is the first step for men reaching their goals of housing, employment, and recovery.  Many of them are my friends, and all of them are loved deeply by God.

The Shelter is the most beautiful place I know, and the holiest ground I’ve ever walked on.  Help UGM reach all the people they can this winter, and give a good night’s sleep to many weary eyes.

You can click the link here to donate.

https://my.ugm.ca/fundraiser/1757668

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Rise up and walk

A few weeks ago, I was walking over to a pizza place with Jen on the Downtown East Side, a neighbourhood I’m familiar with.  As we were walking, we were stopped by a woman asking for money.  This isn’t an unusual experience, especially with this woman.  I’ve been stopped by her probably four times, and every time she has the same story: “I’m not from here, and I need eighteen dollars so that I can spend three nights at a hostel.”  That’s the same story I’ve heard each time she’s stopped me over the last year.

But this experience was slightly different, and it made me stop and reconsider my whole life and ministry in a way.  I was wearing my cross, which has proven to be quite the conversation point since I bought it eight or nine months ago.  She looked at my cross and said “I like your cross.  It has Jesus on it, that means you’re a Christian, right?”  Of course, I said yes.  “You’re a Christian, so that means you help people and pray for them afterwards, right?”  Knowing that she’s right, I say yes.  But being the contrarian that I am, I told her that I could not give her money.  “But you’re a Christian!  That means you’re supposed to help me!”  I apologized to her again, and went off to buy my pizza.

After that experience, I told Jen “Things like this make me want to hide my cross.”  And her being the saint that she is said “No, Graham, things like this are the reason you wear your cross.”  and she was right.

Usually when I have change, I will end up giving some money to someone when they ask.  But there are a number of reasons why I don’t always give money.  Cheif among them is that on the Downtown East Side, there are so many organizations that can offer real, lasting help and change, something that my toonie isn’t going to do for the person who asks.  I work for an organization that can offer much more than I can as an individual.

But the reason I wear my cross is as an identifier, that I am someone who follows Jesus and can offer help, prayer, and counsel to people who want or need it.  This woman’s words, “But you’re a christian, that means you’re supposed to help me!” are true, and the reason I wear this cross.

I was trying to process this experience, and talked about it with my pastor the next Sunday.  He reminded me of the story in Acts 3:

Peter and John went to the Temple one afternoon to take part in the three o’clock prayer service. As they approached the Temple, a man lame from birth was being carried in. Each day he was put beside the Temple gate, the one called the Beautiful Gate, so he could beg from the people going into the Temple. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for some money.

Peter and John looked at him intently, and Peter said, “Look at us!” The lame man looked at them eagerly, expecting some money. But Peter said, “I don’t have any silver or gold for you. But I’ll give you what I have. In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, get up and walk!”

Then Peter took the lame man by the right hand and helped him up. And as he did, the man’s feet and ankles were instantly healed and strengthened. He jumped up, stood on his feet, and began to walk! Then, walking, leaping, and praising God, he went into the Temple with them.

Acts 3:1-8 NLT

I remember this story really clearly as a song that my Mum taught me, and I’m glad she did, because that’s how it’s stuck:

“Peter and John went to pray
And met a lame man on the way
He asked for alms, and held out his palms
And this is what Peter did say

Silver and Gold have I none
But such as I have give I thee
In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk!

And he went walking and leaping and praising God
Walking and leaping and praising God
In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk!”
Over the next few days, as I processed this story, it began to shape my memory of the experience with this woman at Main and Hastings.  She was absolutely right, that I am a Christian, and that means that I help people, and I pray for them afterwards.  My cross identifies me as a member of Jesus’ family, and this family’s first job is to help and serve the needy.  When I gave her nothing, I was not acting as a Christian, and I should have given her something.

But as this story from Acts tells me, I don’t have to offer cash.  I could have said to her “Silver and Gold have I none, but what I do have, I give to you…”  I could have prayed for her, I could have listened to her story, I could have bought her a meal, I could have directed her to the plethora of organizations that are here to help.  In all these ways, I could have given her what I do have: knowledge, resources, prayer, and Jesus.

This experience has now begun to shape my own work.  If I need to ask someone to move along, I make sure I have something for them to go with: A bottle of water, a pair of socks, a reminder that they can receive a hot meal soon, a conversation, a joke to be shared, or even the words of eternal life.  All of these things are helpful and humanizing, and sometimes that’s all people want in the moment.

But the biggest thing I can share with them is Jesus.  What I do have I give to you:  In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, you are healed, you are loved, you are cared for, you are appreciated, you are fought for, you are full, you are known, you are warm, you have a place to sleep tonight, there is a way out of your situation.

I want to do better at this, and I want to be able, whenever I am asked for help, to be able to give what I have, in the name of Jesus.  And maybe that will be a step in getting them back up on their feet.

Amen.

This is a message I intend to turn into a sermon.  Not for any specific Church or congregation, but one that I can continue to preach to myself, and bring to another church if asked.  This is an experience that I believe isn’t just for me, but one that should be shared, so if any church wants to hear a message like this, just let me know, because this is a message I don’t think I should keep to myself.

 

Childcare again. Still ministering.

It’s been a number of months since I’ve blogged.  I’ve not posted anything since I finished my job in the overnight shelter, and started a new job working with children on the Downtown Eastside.  It’s been a transition that’s not been easy, not been hard, just fairly neutral.  Here are some things I’ve learned over the last three months at this job:

  • I’m used to working with kids, and sometimes I feel that it comes as second nature to me.  I find it easy to talk to kids, easy to play with them, easy to be them.  My two years working at the Cridge centre prepared me very well for working on Vancouver’s DTES, and that’s a really beautiful thing.
  • It’s easier to address behavioural challenges in kids then systemic challenges.  I can deal with a kid having a temper tantrum, and I can even help bring the kid out of it.  But I have no power over a kid’s poverty.  What I do will not pull them out of poverty anytime soon.  It might have a long term impact, but I doubt I’ll ever see it.
  • Kids are kids.  No matter where you go, kids just want to have fun, and be loved.  Kids in Mongolia and Turkey were nearly indistinguishable from kids in Vancouver and Victoria in how they interacted with the world.  No matter your background, kids share this common wonder and humanity, and that’s a beautiful thing that I long for.
  • Kids on the DTES can be really scared.  They live in an area with rampant drug use, and they know their sharps safety.  But they don’t like what’s going on, and are powerless to stop it.  Some I serve have lived on the streets, and most of my kids live in sub-par housing.  They enjoy life, but they know that they live in a bitter reality.
  • Kids on the DTES are loved.  So many resources are being poured into this community, into their schools, and they have so many mentors leading them along.  They have so many fun educational and social opportunities, that I wish I was one of them!  They are loved and they know it, and that’s a beautiful thing.

My brief time serving the kids has so far confirmed that though messy, Vancouver’s Downtown East Side is the most beautiful place I know,

Jesus and Cleanliness (Mark 5:21-43) Sermon

This last Sunday I was given the opportunity to preach at the church I currently attend, the Bridge Church in North Vancouver.  I’ve been there for about eight months, and was so honoured to be given this opportunity.  It was well received, and I delivered it with more confidence than I have in a long time.  These last two sermons have given me more of an itch to preach.  And while I’m pleased to do ministry with kids on the downtown East Side, I would welcome any opportunities to preach that come my way.

Reflections on the Shelter

 

It’s my final shift in the Emergency shelter at Union Gospel Mission.  My contract has come to an end, and I will soon be starting a new Job with UGM’s women’s and families ministries, taking care of kids.  These five months in the shelter have been challenging and rewarding, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything.  As I sit in my office, keeping an eye on these snoring guys for one last time, I want to share a few reflections of what I’ve learned.

  1. Poverty takes many forms.  Some of the guys in shelter are addicted.  Some are not.  Some of these guys have been homeless for years, some are only homeless for a week.  Some are waiting to be approved for a basement suite, some are waiting for pension to kick in, many work full time jobs and make good wages, most do not suffer from extreme cases of mental illness, and some even have families that they visit regularly.  I have learned that homelessness and poverty look wildly different for each person.
  2. A homeless person is a person.  A lot of these guys have become my friends, and I am so excited to see them when they come in.  I have had long conversations, I’ve ridden the bus with some of them, and I’ve really been blessed by them, as they have helped me in my own work, stayed calm under stressful situations, and shared with me their faith, victories, and struggles.  It’s too easy to look at someone who is homeless and see only their homelessness, but they are a person made in the image of God.
  3. Night shifts are bad for you. Full stop.
  4. I’m not as compassionate as I would like to be. It’s easy to become calloused in this line of work.  You deal with really challenging behaviours, abusive language, serious health issues, threats, drug use, and more on a daily basis.  It’s too easy to get short with these guys, it’s too easy to do the wrong thing because it makes it easier for you.  I have never asked for forgiveness from God more than I have during the last five months, and it’s all been because of my lack of compassion.
  5. I have grown to love these men and this ministry.  When the shelter is full, I hate turning away guys.  My biggest stress in this job is when we are understaffed, and have to shut down the 20 Emergency weather beds that I manage so we can still run the 72 beds upstairs.  That has been the most painful thing for me in this job, knowing that there could very well be 20 more men who do not have a place to sleep on a cold, wet night.  I really do care for these guys.
  6. Sleep is a gift.  When I get home after a night shift, sleeping is a joy and a luxury.  It’s shown me the importance of my ministry over the last five months.  I love offering these guys a safe, warm, dry, and caring place to sleep, with the guarantee of breakfast and a hot coffee when they wake up.  The nature of my job has been that it is very quiet.  So while sometimes I wonder where I fit in the ministry at UGM, I am constantly reminded that the sleep of a labouring man is sweet, and one of the greatest ministries I could give these guys that have no place to lay their heads.

I’ll really miss the shelter.  There has never been a place where I have learned more than here.  I’m excited to sleep at night time, and to not be constantly jetlagged, but I’m going to really miss serving these guys.  While I’m moving onto another position at UGM which will prove to be a beautiful and fruitful ministry, the shelter will always have a really special place in my heart.

I write this on Easter Sunday morning, and it’s a nice day to end it.  I serve these men because Christ died for them, and I serve these men because Christ still lives.  I serve these men because when I do, I am serving a living Christ.  I have learned that when I serve the poor, I am serving Kings.

 

Who do you think you are? (Sermon)

This past weekend, I got the opportunity to preach at my friend’s church up in Prince George.  I preached at a nighttime Saturday service, as well as a Sunday morning service.  The sermon went well, and I was well received.

It felt so good to serve at church again.  I’ve been away from church service for about six months, and I am growing weary of being so minimally involved in my church.  It was so refreshing to serve again.

This sermon is about Jesus healing the paralytic.  I hope you enjoy!

 

Self-Frustration

Something that frustrates me about myself is how much my mouth gets me in trouble.  Things that I intend to be jokes aren’t taken that way by others.  I speak without thinking, and people get offended, sometimes feeling like they have to explain me to others who don’t know me well.  I think I’m a pretty pleasant guy, but this seems to bite me in the butt over and over.  From all of this, I have learned how to apologize well, and own up to my mistakes.  I’ve stopped trying to justify myself, and instead accept that I’ve sinned, and try to move forward into reconciliation.  These have proven to be good lessons, but it seems that whenever I learn my lesson to bridle my tongue, the effects only last a few months, appearing again when I get in trouble for it.  It’s come up a few times in the last couple days, and I just would like to learn my lesson once and move on changed rather than falling into the same patterns of sin that I’m used to.

Indeed, we all make many mistakes. For if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way.

We can make a large horse go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its mouth.  And a small rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go, even though the winds are strong.  In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches.

James 3:2-5

This bit of scripture is what I always go back to when my tongue gets me in trouble.  It seems like such a small and innocuous thing, but we can see in James the truth that no matter how small the effect of our tongue feels, it guides our lives and the way people see us.

A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.

Luke 6:45

This one I don’t like as much, but it’s from Jesus so I need to hear it.  When I get in trouble for my tongue, it’s a reminder of what is in my heart.  I don’t want snarky ignorance to be in my heart.  I want truth and love.

These things are hard to blow past, and I have to acknowledge that I don’t really know how to do it.

I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.  But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good.  So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.
And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t.  I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.  But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.

Romans 7:15-20

I find comfort in knowing that even the “heroes” of scripture struggled with sin, and were still counted as righteous before God by virtue of their faith.  But I want to be righteous now, and Holiness is a difficult pursuit.  This seems like such a simple lesson, but it’s just so hard to learn…