Wednesday, November 24, 2010

HOW TO: Challenge Poverty As A Youth Worker

I am no stranger to the streets. There are a lot of people with interesting stories there. Plus just watching someone walk away in my old coat gives me the sense that I have helped them. I like that feeling. I took a couple of trips downtown with my coworkers recently. We split up and walked alone for awhile. As soon as I was alone on the crowded streets of Vancouver I felt the security and confidence that I normally carry drip away. I started to wander. I had no purpose, no place to be. I just simply walked.

Something told me (I am sure it was God) to sit. I looked but it seemed every spot was taken. I ended up in an alley. At first the smell was putrid and I did not want to stay. There were so many people looking through the dumpsters, pushing around their carts, walking, and talking. I found a vacant spot and sat down. The city is a noisy place. This day was no exception. The hustle and bustle of traffic. The countless voices, horns, and construction leave a deafening wake. Yet in those few minutes I became painfully aware of the quietness around me. I was lonely. Just then a bus full of sightseers drove through the side road intersecting the alley. The people on board saw me but were quick to avoid eye contact. My loneliness increased all the more.

Here I was lonely, rejected, insecure, bored, and fighting a perma-headache. Suddenly the idea of a smoke did not seem that bad (and I hate smoking). At least it could help pass the time—and maybe help with the headache. It hit me then: If I could feel this way in under an hour how would I feel after a week or a year in
that place? Who would I become? As important as I like to think I am, in that moment I saw myself for who I really am: A wondering hobo. The term hobo came into wide use after the close of the U.S. Civil War. It was used to describe the vast amounts of soldiers who were “Homeward Bound”. Some of these men never made it home and gave into a life of aimless wondering. Maybe these hobo’s were not traveling toward home as much as they were traveling away from horrors of war. The people in the alley are also trying to escape from war filled lives. Wars that took place in their homes and now they are wandering on a journey not toward home but away from it.

I tried to imagine my home in that way. I thought of my hurts and pain I had faced in my past and tried to multiply them. The resulting feelings made me squeamish and uncomfortable. Remembering that I had tried to escape from those feelings before—not with drugs or running away, but by trying to step off a cliff. If it had not been for a friend who pulled me away from the edge, my life would have ended. The escape plan would have killed me just as the escape is killing the people in this alley. A light went on for me. Challenging poverty takes more than just the one time trip to feed, clothe, and hear stories. It is more than the social programs,
shelters, subsidized housing, and safe injection sites. Challenging poverty happens when you do not see a difference between “those” people and yourself and you reach out your hand and pull someone
to safety.

Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
-The Bible (Romans 12:16 NIV)

Not because they are your new renovation project, but because you love them enough to genuinely care
about their life. Without returns, without a sense of satisfaction, and without strings. Just like my friend had done for me. Escape seemed like the only plan but what I really needed was to see that God and the friends around me would help me deal with the war torn life.

I came to the street to challenge poverty and poverty ended up challenging me.

I jumped up and started walking again. Confidence and security were returning the closer I got to our rendezvous point. Yet I could not forget...I came to the street to learn about challenging poverty and poverty
ended up challenging me.
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