Monthly Archives: April 2010

yes!!

great news.

a celebrate recovery program is going to be allowed in the downtown eastside after 10 years of trying.

a bit of background first…

i started going to a small baptist church just outside of the downtown eastside last month. small congregation but big hearts. it stated vision as a church is to reach out to those lost on the streets. its not about comfy pews (which they dont have) and programmed church, but spending time helping other people. loving thy neighbour. good place.

just over a month ago, some friends and i met at the church for a night of street outreach. we filled up several coolers of very chocolatey hot chocolate (everyone said ours was the best-win!), and brought frosted cupcakes and bibles. we walked through an area where prostitutes usually frequent, handing out our sweet gifts ( yes pun) and speaking with some talkative ladies. that night i met this cool dude named daniel. he had been a missionary in south america for 10 years, planting churches and helping them grow. now back in canada he worked as a youth/street pastor for the small baptist church. so he gets talking about celebrate recovery to me..

long story short, daniel and another dude have finally been able to open up a celebrate recovery program in the woodwards building. epic win!

for those that dont know, celebrate recovery is a christian-based 12 step recovery program. music, testimonies, teaching and small groups. i had the privilege of being part of one when i lived in ontario, playing worship music with my buddy rick. i also had the privilege to see how well celebrate recovery works for addicts and junkies. it works great. the reason why it works great is because it acknowledges and stresses the importance of the spiritual component of our lives. God is that vital component. since it might be bordering on heresy to call God a component, ill instead say that Hes everything. Hes hope, peace, kindness, holiness, righteousness and love all wrapped up into one. Hes for us and wills the very best for us. He promises peace with Him and offers it freely. when broken people come to Him, trusting His words and obeying His way, lives are changed dramatically. ive seen junkies turn away from a lifetime of drugs to follow after Something else. ive seen alcoholics break their dependancy on booze and live healthier and more purposefull lives. ive seen it with my own eyes. God can radically change lives. its pretty awesome! (semi-sermon concluded)

so thats why im stoked that this program is going to open soon to the dtes population. also jacked cause daniel asked me to help out with the ministry!

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east hastings story

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whats it gonna take?

we humans can be incredibly compassionate beings, capable of incredible love. we’ve all heard stories. we’ve all heard something that made us a bit fuzzy on the inside (is that just me?). music and movies need only to use one theme to create huge industries – love. cant really seem to escape its influence on us. tina turners big question was “whats love gotta do with it? its safe to say ‘everything’. love is the engine that drives most of our engines. its the leading motivator, the greatest emotion and an even greater gift.

yet being capable of such an amazing feat doesnt necessarily mean it will always be used. or used appropriatley. sometimes we can chose to be the complete opposite. we can choose to be selfish people who think mostly about themselves. we can ignore the problems of others in order to live our comfortable lives. but how comfortable can someone get who knows how bad their neighbour is suffering.. and do nothing about it? do we bury our guilt or just feel none?

theres a big problem in the eastside of vancouvers downtown district. its a giant social problem with no easy fixes. drugs and crime litter the hastings corners and alleys. drunks and addicts stumble the streets. people in need of medical help, both mental and physical, walk alone. historically the area has been in trouble since the beginning. not two months incorporated, the great vancouver fire happened in the summer of 1886. it wiped out everything except a few buildings. lots of lives lost. lots of homes lost. poverty was the gift awarded to vancouver in its first year. if you drive down east hastings on your way to stanley park, youre bound to see that its “a gift that keeps on giving”. poverty is still very much there. girls not old enough to graduate highschool turning ‘tricks’ to feed their drug addictions. young men robbing the elderly to to feed their crack habits.

unless we start addressing the root causes, we’re grasping at straws. unless we begin to act, its just going to get worse.. and worse.

unless we rediscover that old adage “love your neighbour”, many more people are going to be lost.  lost to addiction lost to prostitution. lost to mental illness. lost in their society by their society.

daughters. sons. fathers. sisters. grandmothers. our neighbours.  do we ignore their plight and continue on our way? or do we help?

it was mae west that said, “love conquers all things except toothaches and poverty”.

itd be great to prove her wrong.

so whats it gonna take?

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suicide is a thief

 

how do you convince someone that ending their own life is the wrong decision? that their life is worth living?

at my job i get to know a lot of people who have been broken by something in their life. they have deep wounds and hurts, often masked by excessive drug use and risky behavior. its tough stuff to deal with. i dont mean to come across so casual by using the word ‘stuff’ in reference to such a heavy issue. i know how serious suicide is. ive had to deal with suicide in my life. it has killed family and friends. its stolen people i love. suicide is the thief. maybe using ‘stuff’ is my styled euphemism to keep the bad imagery from invading my mind and having to deal with its reality.

next to overdoses, suicide is one of the leading causes of death in the downtown eastside where i work. i could argue that drug addiction leading to overdoses are a slow suicide (and im sure many would agree) but for the sake of simplicity ill leave them in their separate places. each year roughly 500 people in BC take their own life. 500 families are affected. hundreds of communities affected. poverty, drug abuse, sexual exploitation, depression, mental illness and scarred hearts from past traumas are some of the major problems that lead people to such an extreme decision. in the downtown eastside, its usually not a matter of either or but how many of the above.

the people on hastings have been abandoned. forgotten to the streets of old vancouver.

left to hide in alleys to get their fix, stand in cold lines for food and die without remembrance. is it any wonder why…

i dont think i need to finish that sentence. we all get it.

so my friend ashley pushed me the other day at work. surprised me. first violent action directed towards me since ive been at the church. ive been inadvertently hit while breaking up fights but nothing worth fussing about. the push came from the most unlikely place. ashley is a native brother of mine (ya, thats right… my ancestors shot bows and arrows) that struggles with a heavy drinking problem. i unfortunately dont see him sober too often. he spends most of his waking hours drinking and being drunk. numbing himself his wounds from the past. the other night was no different. what was different was his behavior towards me. when i stepped into separate two other gentlemen from fighting, ashley stepped in as well. he felt that i had been ignoring him, which i hadnt, and he was very angry with me. so angry that he wanted to fight me. so he pushed me. twice. it took me a few minutes to convince him that he didnt really want to fight me. i asked him if he’s like to sit down and talk about it. he did. as we sat and talked he apologized for his actions and broke down to me. he expressed to me that he hated what his life had become. he knew that he needed to get into a treatment center or else he would kill himself drinking, but in the same breath told me he didnt seem to care if he killed himself. he thought about killing himself instead of living like he currently was. i told him that he wasnt allowed. i told him that he has to go to treatment and get better so we could go fishing. he seemed to like that idea. i got on the phone and called the treatment center access line. closed. had to call back the next day during office hours. i told ashley and he promised to call the next day. now i know theres a slim chance he will. the conversation will probably be a lost memory of his due to the booze and the damage that years of hard drinking has done to his brain. if he doesnt then ill just have to drag him down to the treatment center myself.

im not willing to let suicide steal another one, especially another friend of mine.

but how do i stop it?

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answered

 

so the other day im just starting my graveyard shift and who walks in..?  the young woman i had screaming in my face several days earlier.  ignoring me she whisked by me on her way to the bathroom.  days earlier i prayed that i would “…be given another opportunity to talk with her”,  now here she was but i couldnt figure out how i should go about starting a conversation with her.  she was anything but happy with me last time we talked.  talking with me is probably the last thing on her mind.  wihile im sitting on a pew,  she comes hurrying out of the bathroom and heads towards me.

“can i have five rigs?”  looks like i didnt need to start the conversation afterall. 

i asked her why she needed so many.  she told me that five rigs was nothing compared to the 30-40 she put in her arm a day.  30-40?!   i asked her about her addiction and how long she had been into it.  her current relapse has been 15 months long, mainly heroin but ventures into other drugs at times.  at age 23 she had been on the streets seven years, having run away from foster care at age 16.  she told me how she hated her life.  i had no idea what to say. 

what could i possibly say to that?  im sure i could have made up something about kicking the drugs, leaving her profession and finding a new life away from the dark alleys of east hastings.  i had feeling she had similar advice/encouragement before.

 theologically/spiritually,  i could have told her that theres more to this life than the self-destructive nature of our desires and all its sinfulness.  i could have told her that theres freedom through the gospel of Christ.  freedom from the chains of drug addictions and prostitution through the cross.  i could have told her that God has the power to change her life and would change it if she repented and believed.  i could tell her that Christ has won and peace is here, if we’ll just pick it up and trust Him. 

but i didnt say any of these things.   

after finding her some food, she decided to leave.  i told her it was good getting to actually know her.  she agreed and smiled back.

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craigslist

this is how i justify my craigslist addiction.  while im usually the first guy to nix peoples justifications for addictions, i believe the following to be ample evidence that its a very beneficial one.

“The Greater Vancouver German Language Meetup Group” (complete with a table of individuals drinking what i can only assume is quality german beer).  id be lying if the picture alone doesnt entice me to join, but learning one of my native tongues has been on my list of things to do for awhile now.  beer + language learning = the closest ill probably ever get to oktober fest. 

1 for 1.

“Wanna play DODGEBALL?  Super cheesy and super duper fun! Great team!!! Looking forward to seeing you on the court.” 
  i didnt even need to read the rest of the message.  i love super duper fun and  for 30 bucks i get to hit people with balls AND i get a t-shirt. 

2 for 2.

“Meet Active Singles” – now this one i had to read to fully appreciate it.  the company is for singles looking to do something adventurous while trying to pick up the opposite sex.  activities are currently being picked alphabetically with ‘g’ being the current letter of choice.  golfing, ghost tours and glider soaring. “So what are you waiting for?”  nothing.  where do i sign up?  “Go to http://www.meetmarketadventures.com and see how much fun our members are having!”  thats right.  meet market adventures.  im not making this up.  only on craigslist..

3 for 3.

so in 5 short mins i successfully found a way to learn another language, play on a dodgeball team and meet women while im hand gliding.  win/win/win.

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drained

… and draining.

yesterday was particularily so for me.  sometimes i feel like we function as a hospice and not a church.  people suffering in late stages of cancer, hiv, blown livers and kidneys.  sometimes these are the result of years of hard drug abuse, sometimes the hard drug abuse is their way of escaping the pain of their diagnosis.  one lady im happy to call my friend has advanced stages of bone cancer.  she volunteers at meal times, serving food and helping clean up.  lately its been less and less frequent because of her pain.  she has her good days and her very bad days.  the medication her doctors give her doesnt help much for the pain so she turns to the streets for help and help she does find.  crack coacine (“rock”) im told does wonders for ones pain, though quite temporary.  after that you had better have another hit or a bag of weed on hand. 

one of my native dad’s (an old aboriginal fella) had a bad day with the “rubby”.  he drinks rubbing alcohol mixed with water to make it paltable.  if not rubbing alcohol, then listerene or its no name knockoff will do the trick.  pure poison for the body.  fries the brain and eventually leads to severe seizures.  makes him angry, violent and completely numb to the psychological and emotional pain he hasnt learned how to deal with yet (paraphrased slightly but his words, not mine).  recounting his time spent in the residential school system to me, i begin to understand why he drinks to forget.

another lady breaks down crying when i ask her how shes doing.  late stages of cancer, a bad heart and a bad rock addiction.  the doctor gave her two months to live but shes convinced she wont make it through the week.  i dont know what to say or do but hug her.

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being humbled

humility, im told, is a great virtue.

it was john bachan who said with a dash of wisdom, “without humility there can be no humanity”.

my recent story of humility requires that i backtrack a moment and set the background.  itd help if i tell you what i do for a living.  since i left school back in december ive been working at a church in the downtown eastside of vancouver (aka. the original skid row).  first united church/mission serves as a low barrier shelter where people can sleep, eat, get clothes, a warm shower and legal advice from an advocate.  by “low barrier” i mean that the people every other shelter in the area has kicked out, can come to first united and use our services.    we’re peoples last refuge.

my role at the church is that of a host. those that come into the church are our guests and we treat them (or at least try) as such. our guests come in all sorts and varieties – drug addicts, alcoholics, thieves, thugs and prostitutes.  as a part of host services at first united, my role is a rather diverse one.  on any given day or night ( i do shift work as we’re open 24/7/365) i can be found serving meals, breaking up fights, handing out clothes, picking up syringes/crack pipes and monitoring the sleeping areas.  in between that im usually found sharing a few laughs with a client or listening to someone gets something off their chest.  the clients usually have a fair bit to get off.  i should probably refrain from using the technical term ‘client’, as it probably implies a rather impersonal connection i have with people who live and use the church’s facilities. while the church (for legal reasons) labels them as clients, in my short time at first united ive grown to call many of the people i work for my friends. i know their names, their brother or sisters names, their likes and dislikes, their favorite words, their hometowns, their family heritage, their addictions and their problems.  family and friends ive known for most of my life still hesitate to talk to me about their problems… ironic, isnt it?  all this to say that ive developed some pretty interesting relationships where im at. some of which have already begun to impact my own life, mostly in positive ways.

my shift the other day was pretty routine – served breakfast, broke up a fight, kicked out some older gentlemen for drinking inside, served lunch and told some bad jokes (my bad jokes are becoming imfamous!).  it was less than an hour before quitting time and off home into my bed for a much-needed sleep. my walkie-talkie blared requesting that i come to the womens side to help with something.  a young woman was taking her sweet time in the bathroom, creating quite a lineup and some very unhappy ladies.  now, some women (mostly those that dont use the church for residence) come in during the day to use the bathrooms are their own personal stalls for fixing (street slang for doing dope) so we’re constantly monitoring the area.  after telling her she needed to hurry up (quite politely i might add), i peaked my head inside (i cant see through stalls so im not infringing upon anyones privacy) to see a cloud of crack smoke billowing up towards the ceiling.  the last vestiges of my patience from the day had been worn thin and my voice grew that much louder and more insistent that she leave the property immediately.  with that the young woman began calling me every name in the book (sticks and stones…) and verbally tearing down the church and what it stands for.  i wasnt particular fond of the offensive names i had been called but took exception to the insults hurled at the church.  i snapped back at her and questioned what she did to make the world such a better place.  wrong decision.  by this time, she was out of her stall, out of the bathroom and in my face.  i could tell by the mini skirt, high heels and caked on makeup that she was a working girl (prostitute) and a very angry one at that.  instead of telling me anything she did to make the world a better place, she proceeded to tell me everything she did wrong – from her choice as a profession to the drugs she consumed to anything and everything else to came to her mind.  she had rendered me completely speechless.  now for those that know me and know me well, placing the verbal handcuffs on me isnt an easy task and one which very few have accomplished.  yet this young womans all-too-graphic disclosure about her own addictions and problems struck me harder than i was prepared for.  my seemingly innocent, but provokingly self-righteous question had opened up this hurt heart that tore to the center of mine, humbling me in a way im still not sure i fully understand.

i prayed and continue to pray for her.  moreso, i selfishly pray that ill be given another opportunity to talk with her and this time keep my questions and pride to a minimum,

apparently i still have some work to do with being humble..

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enter the dragon

so im what some might call a craigslist addict.  ive spent hours scouring craig’s plainly designed website reading peoples creative political ideas, trying to sell my car (i love my car but gas goes through it like a fat kid goes through belt notches) and checking out discussion on the benefits of diet on esp ability (i couldnt make this up). 

so a few weeks back while i was deep in my addiction, i stumbled across a gentleman who was offering a free kung fu lesson.  instantly my mind thought back to my childhood watching van dam movies, playing mortal kombat and pretending that i could take on 50+ ninjas just like bruce lee did.  my first email to my new kung fu teacher couldnt be typed  fast enough.  he responded promptly and we scheduled my first wing tsun (thats the fancy name of this king fu art) lesson. 

fast forward to yesterday… kung fu teacher and i decide to meet at one of the skytrain stations in the city and head to a local park to train.  he brings me through some basic movements, explaining everything in medieval war analogies.  kings, cannons and castle walls.  my inner kid is relishing every minute of it.  after a bit he tells me to hit him as hard as i can.  its not every day that someone tells you to hit them and its even more rare that they tell you to hit them as hard as you can muster.  i decline.  he insists.  now, while my kung fu teacher looks like a rather built gentleman hes also the young ripe age of 59 and my subconscience is quietly telling me that this might border on elderly abuse.  after more persisting on his part i give in..

he barely moves.  im impressed, a little disappointed i didnt knock him over but also relieved i didnt kill him (not that my punch is devestating but more that hes almost retirement age). 

yada yada yada, we wrap up the session, he convinces me that kung fu is pretty cool and i hop back on the sktrain for home.  i decide that kung fu might be the new hobby ive been looking for and tell him id like to train again with him.  he informs me that next time he gets to hit me… 

cue getaway music.

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oh bloggin’

ok, now i realized awhile ago that blogging had become quite a big trend but i had no idea it had become this big!  ive already begun to lose sleep (i barely sleep enough as is!) because im staying up past my bedtime reading blogs from every corner of the world.  i realize now that this whole blogging thing is going to be more like a part-time job than anything else.  luckily for me there’s a  tim hortons close by to satisify the caffeine requirements for such a task.  now if i can just learn how to properly balance the whole reading blogs vs. writing blogs thing ill be set..

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