100 Miles for HOME

“Darryl, I need you to come with me….. Like Now!” Today, just as we were cleaning up from drop-in, one of our younger friends crashed into the atrium and begged me to come with him. His eyes were desperate enough that I knew this might just be one of those ‘God-ordained interruptions’, and that I had better drop what I was doing and go. I gave Gil one of those looks as if to say, “You good here if I leave for a bit?”, and he gave one of his, “I got this, you better go” looks in return.

“We just found out that my girlfriend is pregnant a few weeks ago, and now she’s sitting on the toilet bleeding like crazy and I don’t know what to do.” Skippy is relatively new to our community, and honestly I don’t feel like I know him very well (not to mention I hadn’t even met his girlfriend at this point!). It always amazes me when one of our friends is so filled with humility that they have the strength to share their brokenness with us. And so together we walked a few blocks over to the building where he lives.


At the very heart of poverty, at least at the heart of most of North American poverty, is a lack of connection. A lack of relationship with other human beings. This is often the pain that cuts so deep that when things begin to go wrong, there is no one left to call. This is why Gil and I are cycling/running 100 Miles on September 20th. Not only are we trying to raise awareness and funds to allow the work of Sanctuary London to continue, but we also want to experience a day of potentially painful endurance so that we can relate to and stand in solidarity with so many of our friends whose daily lives are battles of endurance.

Transformation in Darkness

When you hold a tiny seed in the palm of your hand, it looks plain. Insignificant. Smaller than a grain of rice. But inside that tiny seed lies something uniquely beautiful that God is creating deep in the soil’s darkness. This past May, we planted seeds for Sanctuary’s community garden. After we had carefully pressed the seeds into soil in their small seed containers, there was nothing much to see—we began waiting for what seemed the most remarkable: tiny green sprouts emerging from soil. Except this year, I was aware that the remarkable often happens long before we ever see that first green shoot emerging…

Screen Shot 2014-06-26 at 11.33.16 AMOne year ago May, we planted our community garden for the first time. As our garden filled with tomatoes, carrots, beans, peppers, brussel sprouts, and more, I was constantly reminded of how these plants were symbolic of new things God was creating in and around us: moments of his Kingdom in our Sanctuary community—God was growing beautiful seeds in each of us and in our relationships. Many 

Screen Shot 2014-06-26 at 11.34.46 AM

of our Sanctuary friends struggle in various ways: mental health issues, poverty, addictions, trauma, unhealthy relationships, homelessness, social disconnection, loneliness, and more. But there is also hope and resilience, healing, wanting better, and seeking joy. As the garden plants sprung up, and I witnessed the abundance of green filling the garden, it was a symbol for me of God’s faithfulness: “Behold, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?”

I thought I understood what God was showing me: the importance of celebrating and proclaiming these good things that I perceived with my very own eyes—the plants I could see growing in abundance. But then, this past winter, God showed me a deeper meaning of his promise of a new thing—a trust in what we could not see. During a season of darkness both for myself and a few of our Sanctuary friends, God felt far away. And with darkness often comes a time of questioning: where was God during the darkness? Where was he when we had lost hope, wrestled with grief, depression, and illness, and longed for family, belonging, renewed marriage, reconciliation, healing, forgiveness, and recovery?

Screen Shot 2014-06-26 at 11.31.43 AMIn the midst of darkness, God showed me that he often does his very best work in a place we cannot yet perceive—under the heavy soil, where that tiny seed is held in the fullest darkness, and where no human eye can see. I began to think more deeply about God’s transformation in our darkness. For a seed to become a plant, it must first crack open and come apart; it must go through germination, deep in the darkness of soil. The seed absorbs water, and its coat swells and softens. The cells of the seed divide and the root grows down into soil, anchoring the plant and letting it absorb nutrients. The curved neck of the seedling emerges from the seed, pushing slowly up through the soil and finally into the light, where the first seed leaves open.

Screen Shot 2014-06-26 at 11.19.41 AMIn our own human darkness, what feels like death can actually be life—a transformation of our heart and spirit that causes our own leaves to open fully. Perhaps a call to change, growth, healing, and deeper relationship with God. Or something else uniquely wonderful. But in the place where it feels like no light can reach, God is doing a new thing in us! This year, as we planted seeds, I finally understood that the waiting time—when seeds are below the soil’s surface and all we can see is plain, bare soil—is actually the most beautiful part. He is working in ways we cannot yet imagine or perceive. Without this waiting time, we would never have the chance to behold the new and remarkable things God is doing, to see them transform, take root, grow, and spring up, and to trust and celebrate the harvest that is coming. 

To Be Seen

a.aaa-Invisible-Homeless-ManTo be seen and known, to matter to someone else—this is one of our deepest universal human desires. The heartbreaking opposite is to be invisible—to have others look right through you as if you are a part of the sidewalk. When others don’t see you, you start to lose yourself; you disappear little by little…

It’s mid-evening, and the Richmond sidewalks are a mess of melting spring-snow; damp air and drizzle sting my face. I notice a man a little ways ahead, in the shadows of a store front; he’s agitated, his posture tense, his voice loud. Soon, I can see his disheveled dark hair and scars on his cheek. It’s Freddy, a man I’ve come to know during many walks downtown, where he sits on the sidewalk day after day, ready to talk with anyone who will listen. 

I’ve never seen Freddy so upset before. When I pause and say hello, he seems surprised and relieved to see me, and before long, the hurts of his day pour out, his words tumbling faster than I can catch them. He tells me how a couple of people walking by that day said unkind things to him and judged him; but worse, he explains, were all the people who pretended they didn’t see him and said nothing at all…

“I’m a nice guy! I’m a nice guy, and I say nice things. Even the police know I’m nice, and they leave me alone, because they know I don’t cause trouble, don’t hurt no one. But the people who walk by me… they judge me! They say mean things, or lift their noses at me. But the worst is when they ignore me. I say hello and they walk right by, like I’m not even here… Why won’t they talk to me? Why am I invisible?”

The truth in his words overwhelms me. He tells me even his family won’t have contact with him. “No one in my family calls me when someone dies. When my aunt died, no one even told me.” To feel invisible is an unbearable loneliness. “Someday I’ll die on the street, and nobody will even know.”

I wish more people knew Freddy. For me, he’s always been welcoming and kind, inviting me into conversation, remembering my name, and making me feel at home. He tells me about his family, his sons, his life regrets and hurts. I’m blessed by his trust and openness. It seems easy now, to stop and talk, but I’m aware there was a time when it wouldn’t have been as easy, when I didn’t yet know the beautiful ways that God would reach me and love me through someone like him.

My story in learning about homelessness and poverty goes back a few years. I was new in London and attending Western, when I first began hearing confusing advice from well-meaning people: ‘don’t go downtown. Maybe go as far as Richmond Row, but not all the way to Dundas.’ They advised it wasn’t safe, I wouldn’t like it, the people there were ‘different’… I know they were trying to help. Truth was, some of them didn’t seem to even know why there were telling me—it was a message passed on from person to person. A never-ending cycle of fear perpetuated by lack of understanding.

Thankfully, I ended up exactly where they told me not to go… living out community in the downtown. Thankfully I became involved with Sanctuary London, where I began to meet many people at street-level… some of the most warm-hearted and caring people I’ve ever met. During my walks downtown, I started to chat with Freddy and others in his shoes—I started to really see them in new ways.

Someone who doesn’t know Freddy might have misunderstood his frustration that night as unkind or unsafe, and avoided him. But the very reason for his anger and hurt was that no one knew him—no one cared… the chaos in his heart was born of a deep longing for human connection.

How do we get there, I wonder? How do we stop closing our eyes and pretending the hurt right in front of us doesn’t exist? How do we treat those we meet on the streets like they matter, as God’s sons and daughters, as his beloved? How do we follow God in loving those we are afraid to love? Often it’s through these very friendships that he gives us eyes to see, eyes to behold his glory. And as we see the ‘other’ with love, we also receive the eyes to see ourselves with love, and the deeper knowing that we too are God’s beloved.

Warming the Cold

“It’s been 20 years since I slept outside in the winter…but when we get temperatures like this, I can still feel that cold. It’s a pain filled cold. Empty… yeah, I still feel that,” Manny shared with us a couple of days ago at one of Sanctuary’s drop-ins.

With the terrible cold snaps we’ve had this winter in London, and temperatures lower than 30 degrees below zero at various times, we have been asked so many times and by so many people, how do your friends survive out there? It’s a great question, and the answer is somewhat complicated.

If you’ve ever been to a Sanctuary drop-in, you will likely know that the majority of our people do not physically sleep outside on the streets every night. The living conditions of our friends vary drastically. Some people attend our drop-in even though they might live in really nice houses. These houses just don’t feel like home. The largest portions of our people live in shelters or government-subsidized housing. Others are couch surfing. These people have a place to sleep at night. On particularly cold days, when there are cold weather alerts, the city will open up ‘warming sites’ at certain community centers, where anyone can go, free of charge to stay warm during daytime hours. This is particularly helpful for people staying at shelters where they are required to be out of their rooms during the daytime.

Still, roughly 5-10% of the people we serve will struggle to survive sleeping outside: under bridges, in abandoned buildings, in phone booths, hidden in storage units, and alleyways. I heard on the radio station one morning in January this year that it was -42 degrees with the wind chill, and they warned that, “Any exposed skin could be severely damaged within 5 minutes”. How do stay alive trying to sleep in conditions like that without the proper equipment? The answer is quite simple. You don’t. You will not wake up when your body is that cold.

So what do our friends do? On nights like this, we have learned that some of our friends will feel like they have no other choice but to sign into a shelter, no matter how scared they are, or how hard they have resisted doing that in the past. But some of our friends have been so abused and hurt in the past that they cannot get themselves to go to a shelter. Often mental health plays a role here as they feel that going to a shelter would be making themselves vulnerable to be hurt again. Some fell like they would rather be dead. Others have been kicked out and banned from the shelters for previous negative interactions.

For these people, the game plan is simple. Keep moving. They will walk the streets all night long, trying to keep their blood flowing. When possible, they will walk from 24-hour coffee shop to 24-hour coffee shop and sit there until they are asked to leave. When morning comes they will hopefully find a community meal somewhere for breakfast and then quickly head over to a warming station, or to a public building such as a library, where they will hopefully find a few hours of rest.

The next and perhaps more important question is this: What can we do to support and care for these people? And, you might have guessed it, the answer to this question is even more complicated than the first. At Sanctuary, we believe there are no ‘quick fix’ solutions. We might begin by speaking to our local politicians. Make sure that they are aware of the pressing need of more housing. The waiting list for government subsidized housing is often over a few years long. We need houses. 

But we need homes even more so. When we begin to look for the root causes of poverty, we find that the problem is often not a lack of money or other resources, but usually a lack of relationships and connection to other people. So what can we do to help? Get to know them! Come on down to a Sanctuary (or any other community) drop-in. Don’t just serve people. Sit down beside them and get to know who they really are… and allow them to get to know you too! Play cards and share a meal together. This is the beginning of connection, and hopefully the beginning of a journey of healing for all of us. 

In the meantime, if you know someone has no place to go, and it might be a particularly cold night, try giving him or her a gift card to Tim Hortons. Just five or ten dollars will be enough so that they can buy a drink to stay warm, and maybe they won’t be asked to leave as quickly as if they came in without making a purchase.

Maybe we can begin to see this homeless problem not as an issue to be solved but instead to see friends, like Manny, that could use a little love. Maybe in the midst of it, you can admit you could use a little love too.

YOU are Invited!

Sanctuary’s 3rd Anniversary Celebration

Return to the 80’s! Power bangs and mullets, Rick Astley and Twisted Sister, moon walks and Rubix Cubes! Join us for a night of fun, music, and an air band contest!

Friday, February 28th, 7pm-11pm

513 Talbot Street

If you already know a little about Sanctuary London, then you probably know we love to gather for community celebrations! Sometimes we gather for a special holiday or occasion, sometimes to celebrate our arts and creative gifts, and sometimes for no other reason than we love to be together! Similar to the story of the prodigal son, we all want a place to come home to—at Sanctuary, we are continually called ‘home’ by each other and by God, and this calls for a celebration, a party, a banquet feast!

After three years of being together, we have much to celebrate! We celebrate our weakness and we celebrate our belovedness. We celebrate new friendships, many shared stories, and a deeper loneliness transformed into belonging. Every tiny act of welcome, inclusion, love, forgiveness, trust, healing, and acceptance calls for celebration. Most importantly, we celebrate each other—our gifts and love, and our deepest woundedness. Embracing our completeness in Christ allows us to be human together in our process of becoming the community God calls us to be, where all who are poor and excluded are welcomed and loved with open arms.

Many of our friends at Sanctuary come with poor and weakened spirits. They’ve seen much more than their fair share of hurt, trauma, and grief, and much less than their fair share of true joy and celebration. Often in communities of poverty, where many have experienced rejection, exlusion, and woundedness, God’s presence and love and healing becomes that much more visible to us—we see God in ways we’ve never seen him before. And it is this communion between each other and with God, that calls for intentional celebration.

We are not always used to the image of God throwing a party; often we become so deeply affected by the pain and hurt in and around us, that we forget to intentionally seek ways to celebrate and claim joy. In his book The Return of the Prodigal Son, Henri Nouwen reminds us that God has a heart for rejoicing: “When I think about the ways in which Jesus describes God’s Kingdom, a joyful banquet is often at its center… Celebration belongs to God’s Kingdom. God not only offers forgiveness, reconciliation, and healing, but wants us to lift up these gifts as a source of joy for all who witness them” (p. 113).

On February 28th, we will be rejoicing in all that God is doing in our midst! We welcome our Sanctuary friends, we welcome new people coming for the first time, and we welcome the larger community and churches who have supported us. Everyone is welcome at the banquet feast—Jesus left nobody out! Our vision of a community celebration is ‘everyone together’ with an abundance of food, singing, joy, and fellowship, and especially an abundance of God’s love. A taste of the Kingdom right here on earth.

Will you join us?

Sanctuary is ‘Together’

It had been a long, stressful, and difficult day, and my heart was not in the best shape. To make matters worse, I was arriving at the Wednesday drop-in later than usual, and I dreaded entering the large, crowded atrium in the middle of dinner time. The room would be packed, every seat filled, and conversations underway. And, although I knew I belonged here, I suddenly felt like an outsider arriving for the first time, anxious and a little intimidated. I didn’t want to go in. Even though I normally felt at home and comfortable at Sanctuary, I found myself praying: “God, give me courage…”

Entering the room, I crossed quickly between busy tables, wishing to be invisible for a moment. The room buzzed with dinner activity and chatter, and I had trouble feeling at ease. I headed for the refuge of the kitchen, but before I could get very far, I heard someone yelling my name, and then saw Jake waving at me. “Over here! I saved you a seat!” Jake came to our drop-ins every week, desperate for friendship and support. He’d been struggling with anxiety, depression, and loneliness for months; it took every ounce of his focus and energy just to keep himself together and above water, let alone help others. Yet, today, he had thought of me.

And as I sank into the empty chair beside him, I immediately began putting away my own anxiousness and hurts from the day, so that I could care for Jake. But to my surprise, he had a different idea. Giving me a big heartfelt smile, he somehow sensed my need, and was completely ready to care for me.

“How are you?” he asked, handing me a plate and cutlery, and welcoming me to the table. “Would you like some lasagna?”

“Yes, thanks,” I said, feeling surprised. He leaned over and asked the next table if they would share what they had left. When they handed him the glass dish, he served some hot lasagna onto my plate.

“You want some juice?” I nodded, and he filled my glass. “Salad? A napkin?” Again, I nodded, and he quietly and gently served me, giving me a kind look every now and again. Glancing around, I took in the familiar faces of my friends around the table—they were talking, laughing and sharing stories, and I finally relaxed a little into that feeling of knowing I was ‘home’.

Later, after supper was over, Jake came with dessert, and brought me some tea. I felt so grateful for how he loved and cared for me through these seemingly small gestures. Though to be honest, my pride tempted me to swing back into the predictable pattern, where Jake was the vulnerable one, and I was the one he turned to for help. That way he could need me, and not the other way around. That seemed easier; more what I was used to. But God spoke insistently to my heart: “All you need to do right now is let yourself be cared for. Let Jake love you, and let me love you through him. Just receive this love.”

Suddenly in that moment, I understood that in Jake was Jesus, washing my feet. And there was nothing to do but receive. I was reminded of something a good friend had said to me the week before: “We need to be a sanctuary for you, too.” These words came true as God showed up in Jake, giving me a space to be weak. Even with nothing to give, I was enough.

There is a song we often sing on Sunday nights during worship: “Lord prepare me, to be a Sanctuary, pure and holy, tried and true…” What does this mean exactly, to be a sanctuary? Perhaps becoming God’s dwelling place for one another, a beautiful place set apart and made holy. A safe place to be honoured in our weaker moments. A place where someone says, “You have cared for me. Now let me care for you.”

When I finished eating, Jake gracefully took my dishes without a word. “Thank you for your kindness,” I said. “When I arrived tonight, I was feeling…” I hesitated, not wanting to admit how anxious I had been. He gave me a knowing nod. “You felt awkward. Out of place. I get it.” He knew that feeling all too well. And as we kept chatting and hanging out that night, there was no more rich and poor, strong and weak, helper and helped—no ‘one above the other’. There was only genuine friendship and understanding, both of us caring for each other, and walking together in the same direction.

A Closer Look Into Sanctuary’s Monday Drop-ins!

Ever wonder what we are up to Mondays at Sanctuary? This photo story will give you a closer look into a typical Monday drop-in. The fun, friendships, community, support, meal… but most of all, the togetherness and belonging, and walking through life with friends beside us. Please visit us anytime at our drop-ins. We’d love to meet you and spend time with you! We are learning to be a healthy and welcoming community — will you join us?

Before the drop-in even begins on Mondays, members of our community gather to prepare the lunch meal. Everyone is welcome in the kitchen, as we hang out, talk, joke, catch up on our lives, and get to know one another better — all while slicing bread, preparing sandwiches, cutting tomatoes and pickles, and making coffee and juice. For many of us who live alone, we feel blessed to prepare meals together as a family. And of course… depending on the day… there is always a little bit (or lot) of off-key singing! Any requests?

We keep the Monday meal simple… sandwiches, and sometimes a side of soup, rice, or hot chili, especially during the winter months. We are grateful that we partner with churches and community members who bring us snacks and dessert treats, which are always deeply appreciated by our friends. We’ve also been lucky enough to have a volunteer who has been baking bread for us, which means the sandwiches are delicious, the bread is hot from the oven, and the drop-in smells like home.

Every week, in the bright atrium with windows from floor to high ceiling, we set up enough tables and chairs for a large crowd. Usually 6-8 people per table, because we love to eat together, play cards, and spend time just hanging out and being present with one another. We love it when everyone gets involved in set-up and clean-up, because it means contributing and participating together as a community. Through the atrium windows, we’ve seen sun, rain, snow, wind, storms, and all the seasons. No matter what the weather, season, or holiday, the drop-in is always open!

We don’t serve our friends from behind a table or counter. We would rather sit with them, eat with them, and be around a table with them. This eliminates the power imbalance of ‘server’ and ‘served’, and lets us all be on the same level, as people in need and children of God. It means that no matter what our struggles, barriers, or different walks of life, we get to be sanctuary and receive sanctuary. We find healing. As we share our stories with each other, we also find our place in our larger community story and in God’s story. 

If you ask us how you can help with lunch, we will tell you where we need you most: sitting with our friends and getting to know them. We recognize at Sanctuary that poverty stems largely from a lack of social connection. Many of our friends are homeless — not in the sense of lacking a physical structure where they can sleep at night (though many of them lack that too), but lacking a place where they have friends and family, a place where they belong and feel cared about. The more we get to know one another, and the deeper our relationships and connection, the more we find home together.

We are the same. We are different. We all want to be wanted. As you sit down with our friends, you might be surprised to find how much God meets you through them. How his truth and grace is for everyone. Many of our friends have been lonely, hurt, and excluded from community in the past. At Sanctuary, we get to make mistakes and we get to mess up, and we are always welcomed back and loved no matter what. We are learning what community means and what forgiveness means… and the learning never ends.

Most importantly, we love to have fun together! We love to laugh together, and relax together. We love to be ourselves. If you swing by a drop-in to visit us, you might find yourself caught up in a friendly game of euchre, crazy eights, or crokinole, doing a crossword, or learning to knit. While our community has experienced much sorrow and pain, we also find joy! We want to celebrate together the healing and good times God gives us, the amazing things he is doing in our midst, and his light that comes in darkness: “Behold, I am doing a new thing. Do you not perceive it?”

Children are very important to us in our Sanctuary community. They allow us to be present and feel joy in the simple moments. They teach us about vulnerability and trust and faith. They teach us to see the world through new eyes, through the eyes of Christ. They love us unconditionally and remind us that we are all children of God. They bring smiles to the faces of our friends, and allow us to be a part of a family that some of us have never had before.

Every week, at the end of our drop-in at 2:00pm, we gather together for an hour of informal bible study. We love to ask questions, wrestle with hard topics and truths, and share our worries and burdens. With God’s grace, we seek to know and love Christ together more deeply, to become more like him, and to pursue his love constantly, just as he pursues us. Each of us come with different backgrounds and levels of understanding, but we learn from each other, and everyone is always welcome.  As we gather at the feet of Jesus, the gospel comes alive, and we realize we are the Samaritan woman, the tax collector, the blind man, the paralytic, the bleeding woman, Martha, Mary, Jairus… it is in them that we find our identity and value in God.   

Amazing Grace

It was an early spring day, rainy, mid-March, and the drop-in was crowded with people coming in from the damp cold, stamping water off their boots, and gathering around tables for warm soup and sandwiches. Luke and I were sitting by the piano away from the crowd, chatting about his week, and the piano reminded me of the songs we sang during our worship service the night before. I asked him if he was happy we’d sung Amazing Grace, remembering how he had told me he loved that song more than anything. I began to play a few of the piano notes absentmindedly: Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. Suddenly, taking me by surprise, Luke became upset and began to yell, his eyes turning red with tears: “Stop it! Stop playing! I can’t stand hearing that f—ing song right now. I hate it!”

I tried to understand what was upsetting him, as he threw his most honest and challenging questions at me: “Why would God ever love me?” he asked. “I’ve made so many mistakes! Why would he ever forgive someone as stupid and screwed up as me? Where is his grace?” I tried to reassure him that God loved him so much, that his grace was pouring over him at that very moment.

“No!” he said. “Stop saying that! God’s grace is for everyone else, but not for me… ” After some time of sitting in silence, he finally told me that he loved that song because he wanted so much to have God’s grace, but he hated that song because he didn’t feel he deserved the grace he so longed for. And the more we talked about grace, the more I became aware of the feeling that God’s grace was pouring over me too, in the middle of this very conversation—and it was pouring over me through Luke. I felt a space opening up inside me where my own hurts could more freely emerge, and I felt blessed that Luke trusted our friendship enough to be so real with me. His brokenness made room for my own brokenness.

Then, very slowly, I became aware of something else lingering deep down–something I didn’t like and didn’t want to admit to myself, something I felt embarrassed about: the realization that along with those feelings of blessing, were much deeper feelings of envy. Envy that Luke could just pour it all out so easily… I was frustrated with myself. Here I really wanted to respond with love, and instead, found myself envious of his honest outpouring, his blunt way of sharing, his comfort with saying exactly what he felt while trusting I wouldn’t walk away from him. I envied the space he had to really be himself—and I longed for that.

A couple of weeks later, Luke and I were at a coffee shop with another friend, celebrating his birthday, and I was reminded of our earlier conversation. I told him what a gift he was to me through his honesty, and I thanked him. “You are one of my teachers,” I said. He looked at me, beaming, but also confused. “I am? Really? Why?” I explained how sometimes I, like so many others, hide behind a mask, and that he teaches me to take it off.

“A mask?” he asked. “What do you mean?” As I shared how so many of us wear a mask to hide our pain and convince the world we have it all together, Luke looked at me in total disbelief, astonished that anyone would do this. “But why?” he asked. “Why would you do that? Why??”

Some of my friends at Sanctuary have been my best teachers, because they are not afraid to really be themselves—to be weak and vulnerable, and to fully express their needs as they come. I learn from them that God’s glory is found in our weakness. That heaven and earth overlap in the very place we don’t think the Kingdom would ever want to show up in us. In what feels like an ugly mess, God’s grace is waiting. When Luke lets his weakness shine into my life, he gives me a beautiful gift: a safe place where God finds me and tells me that my own weakness is also loved by him. Luke teaches me that the cross is found in our moments of trusting that when we reveal our brokenness, God will not leave us nor forsake us, and that maybe, just maybe, neither will our friends.