Posts Tagged ‘Ministry’
For the last six months, I have been spending every Thursday night at the Hamilton Night Shelter. I have to admit, this is not an easy ministry for me. My first difficulty was to make the people there understand who I was. There was a combination of factors that probably played against me: many of them had no idea of what a religious order is about, let alone a franciscan one. On top of that, I was a foreigner with a funny accent from a very faraway land. I suppose some of them saw me as an alien when I first arrived! I also think some others saw me as an “outsider” like them. That probably helped me to break down cultural and language barrier and build up some trust. Moreover, I believe they appreciated that fact that, despite being associated with a church, I wasn’t there to preach or convert them, which is something that always puts some people off. In fact, I was there in a spirit of service to them.
The first few weeks were quite hard: very few people were willing to have a conversation of any depth with me. But I kept on going, week after week, without really expecting anything in particular to happen but just being open to whatever could arise.
I have to say that the staff working there were amazing from the very beginning and made me feel welcome all the way through.
I soon realized some people had made the night shelter their permanent home, so I kept meeting them week after week. I could see changes happening in their life, sometimes good ones, other times quite bad. Other people were more transient and able to move on to a new address very quickly.
Working there as a volunteer has surely opened my eyes on some situations in life I didn’t know. Most of them come from very dysfunctional families, some have been lost everything they had like jobs, friends, partners, nearly all of them have an alcoholic problem. I listened to their stories with respect and interest, trying to share their burden and pain.
I learnt a lot from them but sometimes it was very frustrating as I was wondering if I was doing enough for them. Was I really able to help them get through all of that or at least give them a sense of hope in the future and dignity to themselves?
Almost all of those men have been quite nice to me while I was there, with only some occasional abuse fueled by too much alcohol. Even though the shelter has a very strict no-alcohol policy, some of them are already intoxicated when they arrive but are asked to leave immediately. Let’s say that they don’t take it very well and always find the time to swear at some staff member, me included, before leaving the premises.
But generally speaking, they usually comply with the rules without a problem.
The night I am in is usually quiet, sometimes they are all in bed by 9 o’clock! However, there is a smoking area at the back of the building which is a favorite spot to have a chat before bedtime. I usually sit there with 2 or 3 of them, even though I don’t smoke, and use that time to try to talk and listen. I also share some of my experience with them and some of them seem to be interested in my way of life and even amused! They don’t quite understand the reason for celibacy, especially.
I believe that this experience may be useful to me as much as to them. I certainly have the chance to live out an important aspect of the franciscan spirituality which seeks to see the face of Christ in the midst of this broken and wounded humanity. And, on the other hand, I hope I can help them to look beyond their immediate pain and suffering, to prove that there is someone who cares and they are not forgotten by the rest of the world or by God. I don’t know if I can make a difference in their life but I hope that someone may feel, at least for a moment, that their life really matters. I notice sometimes that this is best expressed in silence rather than words. No preaching, no theology spoken, just an open heart and mind to welcome them as they are and the awareness that we all the same is what I bring into that place every week.