We gained some “LIFE Skills” today: Living In Faith Everyday. The goal of LIFE Skills is to demonstrate to teams how they can bring some of the lessons they’ve learned home with them. LIFE Skills stands for “Living In Christ Everyday.” We broke our team into three small groups to walk around an area where there is a high concentration of people experiencing homelessness. Each team spent time in prayer, service, and storytelling.
We were encouraged to devote time to pray for each other, for us to apply the lessons we’ve learned this week when we get home, and to pray for those in need around us. After praying for opportunities to serve in Christ’s name we walked around with our eyes open, looking for opportunities that lay before us. One group bought a $10 McDonald’s card and chose a man to give it away to; upon receiving it he immediately went to the McDonald’s on the corner to buy something to eat. That same group and another group also met and talked with a man named Joe. Rather than panhandling for money, Joe “sells” jokes each day as a way to get money. Joe has a college degree from an American university, was married for 20 years and had a solid job for many years. The other group saw a group of people in the park with bicycles and folding chairs and it was clear they lived on the street. The group approached them to ask if they could buy them food at McDonalds, and our group was surprised that the men only asked for a hamburger and a coke. The woman asked for a Filet of Fish and said “I haven’t had one for so long, that would be so good!” She didn’t ask for anything else. Encounters reinforced that stereotypes like “Homeless people are lazy and stupid” just aren’t true. Many of them are well educated people for whom, one way or another, life began to somehow unravel.
The group I was a part of went to St. Michael’s Cathedral (which was right across from the park) to spend some time in prayer in their sanctuary, which was open to the public. The sanctuary was beautiful and filled with stained-glass windows telling the story of Jesus’ life and death and resurrection. The cathedral was so filled with images of the Gospel, and yet it was also lined in candles which were lit in order to get loved ones out of purgatory quicker. There’s just something about entering a sanctuary which is set aside for prayer and worship which is ornately decorated in a way to intentionally draw your attention to the glory of Christ. How I wish the Protestant Church could learn to adopt some of the strengths of Catholic Church. (enough of that soap-box…)
We then ate our sandwiches and drove to the park to meet our kids and their families! We were so excited and saw some of them waiting for us as soon as we pulled into High Park. We threw the frisbee around for a while and then organized a three-team soccer tournament with our team members paired up with their tutoring kids while the girls made pictures with sidewalk chalk and played other games together. It was a blast, we all had so much fun! After the soccer tournament was over we walked to a small zoo within the park grounds and then made our way to the most amazing playground I’ve ever seen.
After saying goodbye to our tutoring families we drove to a Japanese Sushi restaurant for dinner. Half the team like the sushi, half the team didn’t, but everyone tried it – Craig’s face when he had his first taste of wasabi is something I don’t think I’ll ever forget! The rest of the meal was a bento box with teriyaki chicken, rice, tempura fried veggies and a salad. Again, the food was a highlight of my day (although even I was glad to have the salad, as we’ve all been feeling a bit heavy this week and aching for some veggies and healthier food).
When we returned to the church we went to the park next door (where we had the Praise & Worship Night on Wed.) and spent some time debriefing on the day and on the week. We each drew pictures with sidewalk chalk representing something we had learned or been challenged by this week that we wanted to take home with us as a life-lesson. Honestly, I was overwhelmed by the depth of insight everyone in the group displayed. Later on we also circled up again to share verbally one practical change we want to implement when we get home. We also broke into groups of 4-5 to rehearse our 30-second answer to the question “How was Toronto” (which we’ll get asked A LOT in the next few weeks). Here are some common themes I’ve observed:
- Stereotypes of “Homelessness” are not even close to being accurate. Yes, many are addicted to drugs and alcohol and turn to theft in order to get by – but for most people experiencing homelessness those addictions are the result of poverty and homelessness, not the cause of it. And many of them are educated people who were hard workers, but they simply lost their jobs and couldn’t find a new job before losing everything they had.
- We take what we have for granted so much. Rather than being thankful, we complain when we don’t have the latest and greatest instead of being grateful to God for blessing us so much.
- We are so blessed by serving and want to do it way more often.
- It doesn’t take much to be a blessing to someone in need. I can’t change that person’s world or give them a job or a house, but I can give them respect and listen to their story.
- There are so many more ways to serve the homeless and needy than simply giving them food or money. Just look at the previous posts this week if you need evidence that there are many great ways to be involved in ministry to the needy aside from giving them a sandwich or money.
- God’s love is far greater than we usually recognize it to be. While we are judgmental towards those who are “less fortunate” than us, God doesn’t judge us by our bank accounts. How can we grow God’s eyes to look around where we are today (home, work, school, church, etc.) and see the needs in people’s lives around us… and do something about it!
- We are hoping to be on the road around 6:45 am on Saturday. (Parents, that means your kids will be home earlier than we originally told you – you’ll be getting phone calls once we get into the States again). Pray for Van and Lynn and Mike to be alert and safe as they share the driving duties for the two vans we drove out here.
- Clarity, wisdom, and boldness as we come home and answer the question “How was Toronto?” about 100 times in the next two weeks. Pray that we would really think through how to talk about our experience with friends and family in a way that is Christ-exalting, eye-opening, and honest.
- Pray for those in need and the ministry partners that CSM partners with. This is the final week of trips CSM has scheduled for the summer, so that means the stream of volunteers they have been deploying over the past few weeks is now over. Pray that the work these many organizations do would continue to flourish and bear fruit as they continue year-round.
- Pray that we would have left a godly and humble witness with the families we spent time with through Iskaashiga Minisntries. Most families have had a few different tutors over the course of the month (all of the tutors have been Christians), pray that collectively we have welcomes these foreign families and have represented Jesus Christ well to them so that they will increasingly grow interested in learning about and following Christ.