Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Friday, May 18, 2007

Meat Markets and Shopping

Saturday night. It's chilly and finally dark at 10:30 pm. I am sitting on the floor in a 15 passenger van as we drive through the North End of Winnipeg. There are still 3 pink roses left. Wrapped up in blue paper, held carefully by three nervous, teenage girls hoping to send a beautiful message of love- the words that flowers speak so boldly. The street we are on should be quiet: its near the railroad tracks, beside some industrial factories and warehouses, off from Main Street and away from any open business of building.
But it's not.
Mini vans with 'honor student' bumper stickers and small, sporty cars carrying anywhere from one to three men in a car are slowly cruising, shopping.
And guilt-stricken, shamed, desperate, sometimes boldly-strutting, women are slowly walking, pausing, standing, strolling down the unlit sidewalks or through the overgrown grass. It's sickening and sad. I ask if anyone wants to give a rose to a woman who we just passed. A thin, quiet girl who is older than she looks pipes up that she will. Three people exit the van- two to walk and pray, one to give the rose. They begin talking.The conversation is quite long, especially considering the situation and environment. A car drives by, slowing as he passes the two girls.
The woman takes the rose and the two women hug. As the girl from the mission trip walks back to us, the woman turns, opens her arms and yells 'Jesus!' and then with a huge grin on her face says, a little more quietly, 'there, I finally said it.'

And she turned, and with a power and energy in each step walked away- towards where there are actual residences and civilization- towards life. When the girl returned to the van she was in tears and unable to talk about it. Later that night, again, she was still unable to explain what happened. All she could say was, "I'm not even sure what happened, I don't know if I can tell you, because I don't even know myself." I have my assumptions about what happened- that the Holy Spirit began speaking through her so much- that since it was Him talking, she can't explain, put into words or really even wrap her own head around it. It couldn't have been demonic- anything of that realm would never scream out the name of Jesus with such triumph and joy.
There was alot of talk about love later that night. God's love for her- how his unconditional love means he loves her no more or less, standing or walking. He loves her so much that he cannot love her more- but yes, of course he rejoices when she walked away. I can just imagine him jumping around with joy.
And every time I do this ministry, God reminds me that he loves the Johns- every single one of the men in those cars. Perhaps because I'm often offered or propositioned or outright asked, the anger grows towards bitterness. I think the anger is a righteous anger, but that should never mean that love stops.
But how to respond in love? How do I show that man, through the brief conversation I have with him that God loves him, too? How can I discourage his part in the ongoing problem of prostitution from my short time talking to him?
Later, our talk moved towards our society and it's response to the 'sex industry'. What is wrong with our world? I'm suddenly offering myself to any man willing because I am walking by myself from my office to the bus stop. Women are 'bought' and every female becomes an option. The way women are treated and looked out is wrong.

I know that the prostitution across the river from me, along the corner of our office, or even on our front doorstep doesn't shock me the way that it should. I get too used to it. Being common is not an acceptable excuse for me to let it become 'normal' for me, or for me to become lax in my response towards it.

The other day I swept off a very recently used condom from the front doorstep of the office. Then I went into the office and shut off the bathroom light that we leave on to discourage prostitution right outside our door- it doesn't always work, of course

Saturday, May 12, 2007

340 Vaughn

It's Saturday, and a beautiful day outside at 12:30 in the afternoon and I am sitting in the office waiting for a scan to finish, so that I can finish all the details for returning to college, wishing I was lying on the roof of the garage where the girls in the family I am staying with go tanning. (yes, its over 80 some degrees and sunny- it's a miracle!)

I'm hoping to move soon. I want my own place for the last few months that I am in Winnipeg. I am short on words for how thankful I am to God and each one of the families that housed me and took care of me during these past 9 months or so where I haven't had a 'home' (or was it an abudance of homes? I guess it depends on perspective). But now I'm ready to have my own place.
Not that I don't love being with the family I am with now- they are awesome. Last night Alana and I went back in a cubbie-hole in the basement and acted like little girls. I love freaking Vanessa out by smacking her butt- they are so much fun to live with.
But I want to live downtown again. It's getting too crazy to go back and forth, back and forth- especially because its usually 11 o'clock at night and then I'm up at 7 in the morning, not that I think either one of those are too early or late, I just never get to see the people who I am living with. I'm like this ghost, or a bum that lives in the basement walls that no one actually sees- just finds traces of.
And there are other reasons, too some of them I can't even seem to put my finger on- maybe its just wanting something that I have more ownership of, when I've not had that for almost a year.

Anyways- there is this delightful apartment: it's all brick, no elevator, just stairs, beautiful wood floors, a tub in the bathroom, huge one-bedroom apartment for sublet until the end of September which is ideal. It's on a some-what busy corner downtown, less that a block from the mall, two blocks from Central Park, 5 mins walking from my office, set just beside the Salvation Army College and the University of Winnipeg. It's perfect!
I've been praying for it for about 2 weeks now, and am actually delaying looking at any other places. All the other ads are 'sketchy': I do not want to live somewhere where there a drug deals going unhindered from the caretaker. I don't want to live somewhere where prostitution is commonly happening in the room beside me, I don't want to live in the same apartment building as many of the people I work with (I can only imagine the late-night, perhaps drunken or high knocks I would get on my door). I realize that with living downtown, there will be drugdeals always happening and prostitution along the street corners, but that is different that paying rent to someone who is endorsing or even promoting these things.

This scan is taking way too long and I'm not wasting any more of my partially free Saturday with it. Mom, you'll just have to wait and get it on Monday- no one will be at the SAU office until then, anyway.

Friday, May 04, 2007

God Does Not Love Gang Members

Sometimes I feel that periods in my life have themes; that almost everything I deal with; all the joys and frustrations are birthed from the same place. This week it has been gangs and more frustrations than joys, but so much passion has grown from that, too.
A few days ago on the bus I heard God tell me that he does not love gang members.
I looked frantically for a pencil to write down what he was saying, because I didn’t want to forget something said by God to me. But then I remembered I had left the pencil on the bed where I was writing a poem the night before.
The poem was about how we view those involved in gangs as non-people (I know I did before I got to know them). Perceiving them this way helps to perpetuate and even create some of these issues. They are people, too. They have feelings, they can be hurt- they bleed the same blood as you.
I remember walking down the street with one of my friends as she mentioned she would like to meet one of the drug dealers I know, just to see what they were like. I giggled as I told her that she already had. I brought it back to her memory and her first words were, “but he was so normal!”

One of the main things I do when getting to know one of these guys is learn their real name. For some of them, it’s no big deal and for others, it takes a long time. There are several who’s names I only learned so I could visit them in jail, they weren’t ready to tell me otherwise.
Knowing a name, the one their parents gave them, the one they grew up being called makes such a difference. It doesn’t have all the layers; the scary titles, the tag of being in a gang, the ‘bling’, anger or power. The whole thing with a ‘street name’ is getting a new identity and hiding your old one; hiding it from the police, friends, or even yourself. A new name is a new start. In many cases, their original name does hold a lot of ties to their past, which is often hurtful. However, I believe that has to be recognized and dealt with for real change in their life, as that is often the root of many of the other problems which they face or choose to be involved in.
‘Slick’ is hard to be a person; but John is human, loved by God.
God does not love gang members.
Back to that thought/word/prayer on the bus. He knows and sees all that they do, but his love isn’t based on them being in a gang or even being Christians- he will love them just the same. He doesn’t see the gangs, but groups of broken- His broken children.

What is our dream for these gang members?
For a non-Christian, it is probably that they become productive members of society. For Christians, it is probably that they know God and live a full life, following Him.
So what are we doing to help that? I believe we all have a responsibility in that change.
I see these people constantly prejudiced against. A tall boy, originally from Africa, wears no flashy jewelry, but occasionally a hooded sweatshirt in summer and corn-rows in his hair. People stare with disgust, won’t sit beside him on the bus, and eyes are always following- watching all his movements.
He wore the hood up in July because he lived on the equator and is cold in Winnipeg summers. He likes the cornrows, but never wears them now because people treated him so differently. He has never been in a gang, never touched a drug, but people still treated him as a ‘thug’ when his hair was done in braids.
If I do homework, interviewing 2 boys, (who are involved in gangs) as they answer my questions and sit and bother no one, a police car pulls up across the grass and sits for half an hour, writing down our profiles.
Teenage boys who are immigrants from Africa are not allowed to sit in the waiting area of the YMCA, but are told that no one is allowed to sit there anymore; but say nothing to me. They don’t let any of them stay, when most of them there are not in a gang.
Again and again they are treated as just waiting to screw up; everyone watching in expectation for them to make a mistake. We call them gang members, thugs, ect, treat them with caution, fear and bitterness and still expect them to change?

Now I realize some people enter gangs for the power, the money. But when I think of all the ones I know: the money is a pull, the respect is a plus, the power is a benefit- but they have been so hurt, so broken and forgotten that this seems somehow better. I remember the quiet boy who would hardly talk to me and that I stayed with his cousins for 2 weeks, seeing where he grew up, the place he went to school and understood a little better the truly poor life he lived; a refugee (illegal, at that), family dying all around him, hunted, threatened, people literally waiting to kill them all- it’s never an excuse, but I see it all so differently, knowing what he’s been through.
Or even that they want me for a friend, because it is so rare that someone might take time to be their friend, to want to see them and ask for nothing in return- a friendship that gives and doesn’t take, and doesn’t use them or abuse them.

I’m waiting for a friend right now, he’s recently released from jail and hoping to find a job. Though there are many opportunities, I’m scared about his prospects. He has a record and tattoos which tell about his past and all his clothes are black and camo.
What is your responsibility in helping this guy change his life?
Are you willing to take the risk and hire him? To be patient as he has a hard time controlling his anger. To realize that arriving at work on time is hard without a car and bus drivers that can be jerks. He has no previous experience and would have to learn even the simplest things.
Are you willing to be his landlord; to rent a place to him when he has no good references and not even a checking account?
Are you willing to drive him for his interviews, to help him shop for more professional clothes, to counseling (if he consents), or rush him home so he doesn’t miss his curfew?
To help him write a resume, or even be a reference for his future job?
Would you be his friend, to talk to him and listen, too- because he is walking away from most of his relationships.
Would you fight to get them back in school? Stay up at night to study? Let them use your computer for printing and internet? Would you help them to get loans and scholarships?

Because if no one is willing, how do you expect him to ever change?

And this extends beyond just gangs:
What is your role for a pregnant teenage girl who you tell shouldn’t get an abortion?
Are you willing to drive her to her doctor appointments, take her grocery shopping so she eats right? Would you help to buy the baby clothes and show her the many ‘how to’s?
Would you sit beside her in the labor room? Let her squeeze your hand to bits? Would you stay up all night, and congratulate her in the morning?
A baby becomes a toddler, then a child, then a teen- would you be an aunt or uncle all throughout that child’s life? Would you babysit so the mom could rest?
How much are you willing to do because you really want that baby to be born?

For a girl involved in prostitution, are you willing to drive her to counseling, to support meetings, to group sessions?
Would you take him or her for whatever Anonymous meetings on a weekly basis?
Would you help him or her to find an apartment, far away from where they’ve worked? Would you wait beside them at the bus stop, help to keep them accountable?
Would you answer your phone at midnight, would you drive to pick them up?

Christians, would you take them to church, or drive them to one which you don’t attend, but they want to? Would you make your own Bible studies for you to do together? Would you pray for them regularly? Would you pay for them to go to a retreat, conference or camp? Would you weekly mentor them?
Would you?
What are you willing to do?

Because if we want change- if we want the best for these people, these humans- we have a responsibility to be a part of their lives. We must do what we are able so that it makes is just a little bit easier for them to change.