We all want to see people we know and love be changed by the love of Christ. But sometimes that change just doesn't happen…then what? In the story below, we meet Dorothy, a friend of Sanctuary London. Her life has left her in a place where ministry is tough, if not impossible…does that mean we just give up? Or does Jesus offer a different response?
Dorothy has been with our community for two years. Her story hurts to hear. Her mother knew she was too young and poor to care for her so Dorothy entered the system just after her birth. Over the next 15 years, Dot (as she likes to be called) saw many foster homes, a girl's home, and a few detention centres. Dot was on the streets of Detroit at the age of 16. She learned to survive the way many of our friends do – live for today. Nearly 50 now, Dot is a product of the world she has known her whole life.
“I don't blame the system,” she shared with me last week. “I'm just telling you what I saw.” She recalled her past with great detail. At the age of 13, she was living with a friend of an aunt. Her older sister was there too. “But my sister was reckless. Didn't care…just wanted to be free from it all.” So she robbed a convenience store for a few bags of chips using a knife and then she just waited around. “We ate the snacks together down the street from the store.” When the police came to pick her sister up, Dot chased the police car down the street hitting the car repeatedly. “My sister was my only friend and they took her away…I never saw her again.” She stopped. Looked around the atrium in which we were speaking. Cool morning light poured in. Dot was lost in thought and would not make eye contact. After 37 years, this still hurt. Eventually, she began her narrative once more. As a street kid, she got into drugs and alcohol. Keeping a healthy relationship was impossible for her. The last time she served time in prison lasted for over 10 years. She was released when she was 45. “I really hurt someone, Gil. They put me away for a while…I've been trying to be clean since I got out…it's so hard.” Watching my reaction to her stories, she could sense I was hurting for her and released me. “Don't feel sorry for me. I made my own decisions. I'm the one who screwed up…” then in reflection and perhaps not even to me, “I just wonder if I've got time to make anything of my life.”
How should we walk with friends like Dorothy? Let me share what we've learned along the way. Keep loving her. And keep walking with her. No matter what.
I used to see people as an emergency in need of 'help.' If I could provide what they needed immediately, they would 'get better.' So I provided immediate needs – food, money, stuff…and they didn't get better. I was frustrated a lot (still am at times to be honest). I gave and they didn't get better. What was wrong with them? Slowly and at a pace I didn't appreciate, I was learning patience…and perseverance…and the true meaning of discipleship and love. It takes time. And never giving up.
Soon after I began ministering on the streets of London, I met Dr Rick Tobias from Yonge St Mission in Toronto. Rick has worked among street level folks for 35 years. I asked him how to treat our friends on the streets. His answer stuck with me to this day, “You love them. Some of the people you love have a spark and with your love and patience and perseverance, that spark tuns into a flame…I've seen some wonderful fires in people! But some people, you love and it never really gets better. The pains they have experienced in their lives were too deep and too much to come out of…But at least they have a home.” I asked a follow-up question, “So, how do you tell the difference? Between those who have a spark and those who don't?” He gave me a knowing look and answered, “You don't! You love 'em all the same.”