Christmas was a blast when I was a kid. Every year I would look forward to three major events, the family gathering a day or two before Christmas, again on Christmas morning with my immediate family, and another family gathering a few days after Christmas with the other side of the family. On my dad’s side, my uncle Brenden always dressed up as Santa and handed out presents. Everyone knew it was him, but that never stopped us from enjoying it. His representation of Santa was all we needed to get excited about the gifts and joy Santa delivered every year. As I grew older and became more of an observer during the gathering, I wondered to myself if I would ever become a phoney Santa won day.
This year, I’m doing something kinda like my uncle Brenden. But a little different.
For sometime the Holy Spirit has been urging me to take my calling to love and serve the weak and broken of the world more seriously. The calling came mostly from my time spent in the word noticing Jesus compassion for the down-trodden–and his instruction for us to follow his lead and by observing the impossible needs and pathetic situation of the homeless and addicted (particularly on Vancouver DTES Streets).
Since November 2010 I’d been praying and waiting on the Lord to help me understand how I can share the life and love that Jesus has shared with me to the poor.
As the 2011 Christmas approached, I began to feel urgent about this calling. The catalyst was the inspirational emphasis Christmas time brings to the advent of Jesus Christ. I’d never celebrated Advent before in Australia. Advent was explained to me in a Converge Church Gospel Community as the celebration of the arrival of a very special person–Jesus Christ. Brilliant! In fact, it is the advent of Jesus Christ that really gripped me about the gospel when God’s Spirit begun a new work in me in around the time my first son Journey was born.
The advent tells me that God is a compassionate missionary. Rather than just zap humanity into submission in order to make us lovable – he desired to meet us on our level. He humbled himself as a human. Born as a baby. Raised by his sinful mum and step-dad. Living and learning in a world saturated in sin. He did not condemn the sinful for their insolence, rather, he met them in their sin to lead them on the way to life. He shouldered the pain and weight loaded upon the backs and hearts of sinners he met. A pain and weight they inflicted on themselves through their unyielding desire to rebel against his authority. And just as he was born to do, he eventually took the weight of the sin of the entire human race upon himself. By choosing to become like us, he accepted responsibility for our sin, though he himself never sinned. And by living a righteous and perfect life as a human being, he was able to merit his righteousness to us. Like Romans 5:18 explains; just as sin entered the world through one man’s sin, so was the sin of the world paid out through one man’s righteousness. And there is only one man who could ever live a righteous life unstained by sin – and that is God, born in flesh.
So during a work trip last November (2011) I was reading a book telling the story of two college age dudes living on the streets of several USA states, just to experience life from a different perspective – and to grow in their dependence on God. As I read their story I was encouraged to do the same thing. It provided a way for me to come into the world of the weak I had come to care much about. Not just in a way that would fill a momentary/material need, but in a way that enabled me to share in their weight and pain, able to sympathize with their situation – but all the while showing an example of total satisfaction and trust in the providence, love, redemption and satisfaction found in the gospel.
The more I thought (and prayed) about my plan – the more convinced I was thItaly plan was in-line with the ministry of Jesus Christ that I, and every Christian is called to. I originally planned to bring a crew of young men that gather at my house on Sunday nights for discipleship. I actually intended the trip to Vancouver to be more like a youthgroup styled mission trip. But the Holy Spirit had other things in mind. The plan shifted over time, but the cause and drive remain the same. Mark Myles, pastor at Converge Church, my brother in-law and best friend said it clearly during a chat we had, “live your life in such a way that demands a gospel explanation.” I’m sure he got that from one of his mentors but it surely rings true to the call of a Christian!
So here’s the explanation:
The practical details of my plan to live out an example of Jesus’ Christmas mission in Vancouver, specifically downtown east side:
- I am going to be living with the homeless culture of DTES for 7 nights beginning the 18th of December, and leaving Christmas morning. During this time I will be intentionally engaging in conversations with whoever the Holy Spirit leads me to engage.
- My highest practical priority is to make myself available to listen and share.
This means I can’t be hiding out in my car, rushing from location to location, or filling my time with tasks that others are already better equipped to do, and are doing very well without my help (like making sandwiches or collecting bottles and cans.)
I will make myself available to anyone that wants to hang as led by the Spirit. Homeless, addicted, downcast and unsaved, as well as the homed, balanced, cheerful and believing people around me. I desire to disciple people regardless of their social or spiritual standing.
I do have some limitations though. Obviously, I will avoid anyone the Holy Spirit tells me to avoid. For example, I won’t be spending time speaking with someone who might tempt me to fall into sexual sin (the sin pattern I’m most inclined to commit), or someone who is blatantly opposed to the gospel
- I am dressing, sleeping and eating in the same manner my homeless peers dress, eat and sleep. So yes, I look like a bum. Inspired by the example of the incarnate son of God, I have made a decision to leave my standard standard of life at home to show that my desire is to really know these people, not just be known by them.
I’ve taken lots of winter clothes with me (special thanks to Tony & Didi Teufel for filling my trunk with clothes at the last minute!) I will be wearing these clothes, and giving them away as I see the need.
I will be sleeping on the street with a donated sleeping bag in the driest place I can find without breaking the law. If I can’t last through the cold temperature I will seek shelter with the other homeless people at the risk of bedbugs etc.
Contrary to normal homeless living – there is no reason for any able bodied homeless person in DTES to ever feel hungry. You can eat 30 times a day here if you don’t mind waiting in a line. When I get hungry I will be waiting in line with my homeless peers.
- I am partnering with the church! This is important for two reasons.
1. I am a sinner, immersed in world where sin is on display. Without the fellowship of other Christians I am inclined to forget the purpose and power of the gospel and walk back into the enslaving grip off self-centered, Godless gratification – which leads to death. Staying connected with the church keeps me encouraged in the gospel, available to receive reprove and supported in my mission (which like 1 Cor 1:27 suggestsis foolishness in the sight of the world)
2. I am a short-term, temporary missionary. But Christ has planted churches in DTES to serve as long term discipleship communities. When I leave, the people I have engaged will need ongoing discipleship. Being connected to a local church helps me direct them to a bigger, and longer lasting gospel centered community.
I’ve partnered with Union Gospel Mission. They are feeding the homeless in a sheltered kitchen in the core of DTES. They provide a gospel centered rehabilitation program. And long term recovery accommodation for men women children and disabled people. They preach the gospel daily morning and night and the true message of the gospel is clearly observed in the stories shared by the community of tenants and recovered addicts gathered there.
- I am not here to take names and numbers. This adventure is not about collecting a portfolio of converts. I’m just here to plant and water the seeds God has spread in the hearts of his people here in DTES. The success of this adventure will not be measured by the amount of people I witnessed to, or the impressiveness of the responses to the gospel. Although that stuff is really cool, the only factor contributing to the success of this adventure is that it was inspired by God and followed in faith.
- What do your wife and kids think about this?
The idea of sleeping on the street is no new idea to my wife. We spoke about it before we ever had kids during a trip to Victoria. We both very much feel both called and blessed by God to live our lives in a way that demands a gospel explanation. When I told Maggie about this plan, her response was “I’m so glad that our boys have a dad whose life shows Jesus, not just with words but in the things you actually do.” (What an encouragement!!!) My kids are used to me going away for a week or two for work. They’re also very young (3 & 1), and so far every Christmas we’ve had together has been very different from the previous. Although we do have a few family traditions that I want to maintain – we are free to chop and change the family liturgy of Christmas as much as we want without hurting the sense of family togetherness our kids already feel. Although, making a conscious decision to be away from my family for Christmas eve, and morning has prompted me to ensure I am building other, (somewhat flexible) family traditions throughout the year that help my wife and kids to feel that they can rely on a couple of special traditions to bring us together to love each other.
- Aren’t you worried about the danger?
I wasn’t until I read a couple of “Street life Survival Guide” articles online. Yikes! The street really is a dangerous place. But I’m confident that I am following the will of God. I am laying my life on the line to follow the lead of Jesus Christ. So the truth is I actually feel more secure living on the street with the confidence that whoever loses his life for Christ’s sake will gain it in heaven, than if I were to sleep in a safe suburban home wondering what in my life is actually sacrificed for Christ. The worst thing that can happen is that I get terribly mutilated and permanently injured. But even if that happens, it will not happen outside of the grace and providence of God almighty. God never says oops, and I know he’s got my back. Any danger I encounter will be an opportunity for me to trust and depend on him.
- How can I help?
It’s easy to hear this and nod with superficial agreement, but please understand – I want you to pray for me! Right now if you think you’ll forget later. I am making myself available to fight against the powers and principalities that enslave the people of the DTES community. The task is great, much greater than any humans could accomplish. Please pray that the Holy Spirit would do a work of transformation in DTES and that the advent of Jesus Christ would be understood and celebrated by those living here who are otherwise blinded by there selfish sin.
Also, before I left I put the word out that I would like to take as much winter clothing as possible. Specifically shoes, socks, toques and jackets. There is an abundance of shirts and sweaters in thrift stores and shelters for the homeless to take freely. The more protective and higher quality wardrobe items are much harder to come by and much needed here on the street in Vancouver. Once your clothes are wet – you’re kinda doomed. Shoes are a high priority! I left Campbell River with a trunkful of clothing and some money donated to the cause. Unfortunately I didn’t leave with any extra pairs of shoes. I have already given my own shoes away to a person will bruised and bloody feet, while writing this blog post. I will be buying some more sneakers for myself when I’m done typing. So here’s the deal:
The more money I receive for this cause, the more generous I can be. If you want to help me help the people here – please send me some money to buy quality shoes and socks. If I have any money left over by Christmas eve, I will use it to purchase quality shoes as gifts to the friends I meet here. If you want to give, please leave a comment on this post and I will contact you via email
Lastly, please pray for and look out for my wife and kids. Maggie’s in her first trimester of pregnancy, so everything is that much harder for her right now. Caring for our boys, and organizing Christmas on her own is a huge task and she might not admit it, but she would love for you to lend a hand, or just spend some time sharing an adult conversation with her.
Well that’s it. I’ve already been here in DTES for 2 nights and I have lots to share, but I’ve just authored an enormous blog post and I’m running on very little sleep and food – so I’m gonna close this computer before I crash.
Thanks for taking a look, and thanks for your prayers!