Tag Archives: poor

balance

balance.

my life is a constant struggle between balancing and rebalancing.

relationships, jobs, education, ministry.

priorities.

balance brings with it peace, thus why our (or maybe just my) balance is so important.  it feels good to have a solid foundation underneath your feet.  especially where you are juggling a few too many balls.

one of the places i feel most balanced is at st andrews church on sunday evenings.  getting to share a meal and socialize with a lot of my poor and/or homeless friends is a gift that continues to keep giving me back way more than i put in.

pizza is always a guaranteed component of the meal.  each plate comes with a slice of pizza, then your option of a small plastic bag full of small slices.  this past sunday, the church that was hosting made a delicious (and from what i could tell nutritious) meal for the community.

kat and walked into the gym a few moments after the 5pm public prayer and grace. randy spotted us his way.

‘lucas!’ randy shouted.

i turned to see randy smiling, his right hand upon his now shaved head, rubbing the hairless surface.

‘i shaved my head just like you.’

randy is one of our original members of street soccer.  he competes in several special olympics events and does quite well considering he’s pushing 60.  he doesn’t move the fastest on the soccer pitch nor does he have the strongest kick, but he works hard and celebrates like no one else.  even a bad case of asthma can’t keep him away from playing.

‘my stomach still isn’t feeling well,’ randy said to me.  ‘the doctors at the emergency room told me to take it easy.’

randy can’t play but stays around to watch and cheer on his teammates.

that’s loyalty.

we had another big turnout of players.  international students have been coming more steadily, i guess seeing us as a place where they can play the game they love and integrate into canadian society.  our players have embraced and welcomed them into our little sports community.

i love how we do that.

i end up playing with sim, adele and holly on my team.

sim and adele go to school together at one of the local high schools.  both have immigrated here with their parents from countries in the middle east and north africa.  both have experienced difficulties fitting in here in halifax.  can’t tell if it has to do with bullying or just a difference in cultures.

it’s no fun when you don’t fit in.

but not at street soccer.  they fit in perfectly here.

sim is a talented, young soccer player whose only weakness is that he is so skinny that he gets easily bumped off the ball by larger players.  he took a hard spill this past sunday, knocking his elbow hard off the pitch.  two minutes later he was scoring goals for us again.
what adele lacks in soccer skills he makes up in sheer effort, though his skills have begun to develop considerably in the past while.  adele will often shout ‘no!’ after the opposing team or even his own team scores a goal.  it seemed quite odd at first, but after a while we noticed a pattern similar with that of tourette’s syndrome.  while it often takes visiting players a bit off guard, the rest of the players have become used to the loud outbursts.

just as some of our guys are dealing with depression or schizophrenia or anxiety or adhd or bipolar or whatever else, this is just part of what adele is dealing with.  street soccer is a no stigma community.

and i plan it keep it that way.

holly is one of kat’s friends who started coming out and playing with us several months ago.  holly is an athlete.  a former university basketball player, she holds her own on the soccer pitch quite well.  she plays with a knee that needs major surgery soon and an ankle that not long ago that was one of the craziest colors of purple i’ve ever seen.  she’s tough.  she recently bet val she could beat him in a game of one on one basketball.  not the wisest decision.  valentin won himself two weeks worth of dinners.  ha!

after two and half hours of soccer we are all worn out.  it so happened that someone had left the heat on in the church gymnasium, which was a good explanation why everyone was drenched in sweat.  after a brief team stretch we all gather our things and turn off the lights.

whatever balance issues i had walking into st andrews were no longer there when i walked back out.  another week of street soccer is over.  i’m so grateful that i have such an amazing, authentic and inclusive community to belong to, and one that brings a good dose of balance into my life.

i love this game.

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memory of a midnight mission

my blog reminded me today that 3 years ago i started this blog.  it sure doesn’t feel like that long ago.  crazy how time passes by so fast.

in light of that, i thought i would share a memory from 2010.

***

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it’s a bit past 1am before i get to new beginnings church where lou has been living during his internship.  if you didn’t know any better, you’d think we were robbing the church.  we whisper and creep inside the side doors of the church and into the basement.

that’s where our stash is.

two large garbage bags full of pastries, donated by a local baker who cares for the poor in his community.

tonight is going to be good.  lou and i are both psyched.

new beginnings was a church just on the fringe of the downtown eastside of vancouver.   just a hop, skip and a jump from the glow of the dtes.  surrounded by cheap public housing for first nations and immigrants populations, the church was created to help the local community in any way they could.  pastor joe was a large man (i felt like a dwarf beside him) who had an even larger heart and a crazy redemption story he didn’t mind sharing.

back outside, we sat on the ledge beside the church contemplating our midnight mission.  we had about 70 pounds of sweets between the two bags we found in the basement.

south.

we would head south until we found someone or we hit the industrial park.  bags slung over our shoulders we set off.

bill was filling his cart up with new cans he had found in the gas station garbage bin when we crossed paths with him.  his haul was quite substantial.  he had been working hard for several hours before he met us.  pushing the cart around all day had made him really hungry.

‘how about some muffins or donuts?’ lou offered.

‘can i have both?’

‘you can have a few of each if you want.’

bill didn’t need to be told twice.  out came four pastries of his choosing, a few oozing with icing and creamy filling.

a big smile came across bill’s face and our own.  we talked with him for a while, hearing his story about life on the streets.  he gave us some wise advice which he repeated for emphasis.

‘don’t you boys forget this now, ya hear?’

we promised we wouldn’t and shook hands to seal our new friendship with bill.

we veered left heading towards the dtes.  a few street girls were working on the corners as we passed.  they all looked like they hadn’t eaten in days, maybe weeks.  i felt a bit bad giving them sugary, innutritious food but it was all we had and they needed something in their bellies.  they were very grateful. we wished them a safe night and kept going.  their pimps don’t like you hanging around for very long, even if you are feeding them.

oppenheimer park was empty but the streets surrounding it were crawling with action.  drug deals were being done in the shadows of sunken door ways on the street corners.  a group of people were huddled up against one of the buildings have a bit of a party.  we asked if they were hungry, knowing full well what their answer would be.

‘yeah!  what do you got?’ came the reply.

‘donuts, muffins and other sweet stuff.’  i replied.

arms shot up like i was a teacher in an elementary school class room asking who wanted to go next for show-and-tell.  everyone was hungry.

‘why are you guys doing this?’

lou and i looked at each other and shrugged.

‘we had food and figured there would be hungry people on the street to share it with.  we also figured it would be a great way to make some new friends.’

‘well, i’m definitely your friend now!’

and with that one of the guys stumbled to his feet and threw his arms around us to give us a big hug.  a couple of others joined and the group hug got bigger.

donuts + conversation + late night walking in the ghetto = new friends

i love that kind of math.

we meandered our way on to east hastings where most of the action was happening.  a cop car races by on their way to something important as drug dealers offered us ‘some of their best stuff.’  persistent guys considering i’ve walked by them for the past 8 months having said ‘no, thanks’ every time.  we offer them some sugary snack but they wave us off.  they can afford better food with the money they make of selling crack to the addicts in the neighborhood.

part of me wants to drag them into the nearest dark alley way and beat the drug dealer out of them.  it might work but there’s too many of them and more waiting to replace them.  it’s an unending battle.  drugs kill here.  overdoses are far too common in this neighborhood.  and, before it kills you, it robs you of everything else you ever had, keeping you chained and in slavery to the poison that’s slowly killing you.

ugly stuff.

i hear some drug dealers carry guns.  at the very least they have large knives.  i’m mad but not stupid.

another cop car passes by us slowly.  their suspicious eyes are easy to spot.  i don’t like the police here and it’s not because of the way they look at me.

far too many of them treat the homeless and poor in the neighborhood as sub-humans.  i’ve seen cops do some pretty nasty things and get away with it.  the pivot legal society, an organization that tries to create social change by focusing on breaking down systemic barriers to the full realization of human rights, has their hands full with complaints against the vancouver police dept.  accountable policing is a serious issue here.

lou and i meet a young guy (i can’t remember his name) who is roughly our age.  he is partying with friends and heading to another bar when we cross paths.  he asks what we are doing and we tell him a bit about our midnight mission.  the look on his face visibly changes.  he tells his friends to go on without him and he will catch up.

he doesn’t.

he joins us and we continue walking down east hastings, feeding anyone with a hungry belly and a desire to satisfy their sweet tooth.

he comes from a good family but has been running with the wrong crowd for a while.  he knows he shouldn’t but the allure is too much for him.  he has a weakness for strong drink, cocaine and easy women.  he feels trapped.

we walk around for hours with him, talking life and becoming friends.

as he leaves us to head home, he swears our time together has changed him.  we hug it out and say goodbye.  we walk away hoping that

it really has.

lou comes back to my place and we debrief.  he falls asleep in the big, comfy chair in the corner of my room.  i grab a pen and paper to write down everything that happened.  i don’t want to forget this night.

i never did.

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giving up to gain

there wasnt much to do when i arrived at hope cottage on friday morning.  soup was on the burner warming up, coffee and tea were brewing in their respective pots, and sandwiches had all been made up for the day.  brian make quick work of the morning routine.  i found him at the back of the dining room hall nose-deep in his new book, the hunger games when i came in.  we exchanged a nod and a friendly morning grunt.  yes, we grunt when we see one another.

primitives, we are.

morning meal didnt draw much of a crowd.  gst cheques came in on thursday.  tim came into help serve and we got talking about life.  tim is only a couple of years older than i but with his grey beard seems about 20 years my senior.  i dont tell him that though.  its too soon in our knowing one another to tease about silly things like that.  tim limps a bit when he walks because of an old injury and serves coffee and tea with a giant smile on his face.

thanks for all you do, tim.

after breakfast, andrew asked me if i was interested in making soup.  having never made soup before i decided to take him up on the offer.  but first, lunch.  eggs, chorizo sausages and toast with a glass of orange juice.

mmm.

what looked and seemed like a great combination turned into anything but.  a collective belly ache came over the three of us (terry, our director joined us).  it made for an uncomfortable early afternoon.

never.  having.  that.  combo.  again!

on to soup making.

andrew got me to do most of the work.  something about learning better from doing.  sure, sure, lazy boy (kidding).  he lead me through the process.  boiling the chickens, tearing off all the meat, dicing up the meat, adding spices, veggies and rice, and voila!  chicken rice soup.
ill have to see how the crowd likes it on monday morning.  if any get sick im blaming it on andrew though.  thats legit, right?

in the midst of making soup, andrew and i got to talking about homelessness and poverty in our city.  what i learned was valuable.

a few years back, andrew went on a missions trip to the ukraine.  while there he witnessed what he described to me as the worst imaginable poverty.  it rocked his world and changed his perspectives.  upon returning back home, he felt some personal changes were in order.  he told me he felt a calling from God to give more of himself to the local poor and homeless community in halifax. unfortunately, working two jobs didnt afford him much time to do much of anything. so he did what any reasonable person would do – he quit his jobs.

with ample free time on his hands he devoted himself to volunteering at hope cottage, serving food and helping with whatever he could.  he loved it.  it filled a need in the community while also filling a hole in his heart.  that hole in all our hearts that can only be filled when we love our neighbor as ourself.

shortly after volunteering at hope andrew was asked if he wanted to be hired on as a member of the fulltime staff.  his desire to gives himself more to the local poor and homeless community lead to a completely different career. what a great example of what it looks like to really trust God with ones life; to step out in faith and sacrifice your comfort for some thing much larger than yourself.

inspiring to say the very least.

andrew is just another guy trying to follow Jesus the best he can.  im darn glad we are friends.

“human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable. every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” -mlk

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hugs and cabbage casserole

the guys were outside smoking as usual as i approached the side door of the cottage.  it was snowing a bit and the walkway was slippery under my running shoes.  today was officially a boots day but i didnt plan it that way.  dont you hate when nature doesnt consult you first?  i do and so do my soggy socks.

without fail, every day i show up at the cottage we hug.  big manly hugs.  we call each other brothers and slap each other on the back.  its pretty rad.  i love the guys i work with and am blessed to serve alongside them.

after the manly hugs and back slaps have been had, coffee is poured, soup is tasted and conversation flows from one topic to the next.  today breakfast was quiet.  only 59 people came in to dine.

only 59.

some times i have to catch myself.  its easy for my mind to think strictly in numbers.  high and low numbers create a barometer of sorts.  the number on our counter becomes another number i plug into the invisible barometer.

but people arent numbers, the voice inside my head screams.

i swear im not crazy yet.

59 human beings in my city, who cant afford to feed themselves, came in to dine tonight.  59 low-income, poor men and women came in to share a meal together. 59 people of black, white, yellow and brown skin, many with some sort of disability (mental and physical), came in to eat our cabbage casserole.

i know what you’re thinking: ‘what kind of grubby ass food you serving down there?’

when someone told me cabbage casserole i, too, had a similar reaction, but let me tell you: the church ladies from a local church can whip up a mean casserole!  i didnt think cabbage could taste so good before today.

volunteers were sparse so i was main course server.  usually we get the volunteers to serve the food at the kitchen window, and we do the rest.  but not tonight.  tonight i scooped cabbage casserole and doled out cupcakes and mini cinnamon buns.

i was mr popular.

i got to talk with everyone that came in, if only for a brief 15 seconds.  112 people dined tonight.  im too tired to do the math on that properly but im pretty sure thats 27 minutes or so of hello’s and enjoy your meal.

i really enjoyed it.

i bet you would too.  try it out.  find a local soup kitchen in your city and volunteer this holiday season.

you wont regret it.

i promise.

soupkitchenblog

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dtes poorest area code in canada?

ok, for a few years ive been hearing from many different voices that the downtown eastside is the poorest area code in the country. looking down the streets its easy to see why people say that. if you had the chance to watch the video i posted (if you havent, i implore you to go now and watch it) they guy in it states the same thing.

but is it true?  i decided to find out for myself.

comparing the top ten poorest area codes in canada by lowest median income, the dtes comes in 8th with the average annual income being $13,600. not surprisingly the other seven area codes all belong to first nations reserves. the reserve that i take half my heritage from – eel ground, new brunswick- sits at number six on the list while burnt church, new brunswick sits on top (the bottom?) with a devastatingly low average of $9200. when you measure by comparing the percentage of people who live in households that are below the poverty level, the dtes sits at fourth with 47%. flip a coin. every other person is sitting below the line.

if we look at a third set of data, using a narrower definition, we finally get the dtes on top of the list. looking at the median income in large urban areas with at least 3000 tax filers, the dtes edges out a neighbourhood in montreal by a difference of 800 dollars. so for urban poverty, the dtes has the nations number one spot.

whichever way you want to dice it, the dtes is a very poor neighbourhood.  one in need of more help.

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