I’m away on vacation, so KC Hall is guest blogging for me today about her experience last week serving Bridgetown through our Heart the City campaign. What can you do to Be Present in your world today?
Bridgetown Nightstrike – by KC Hall
Having never done any kind of volunteer activity that required direct interaction with the often homeless down-and-possibly-out folk of the world, I must admit that I very nearly bailed on the Bridgetown Nightstrike for which I had signed up both myself and my daughter. How on earth did I ever think that this would be the best use of my precious, hard-earned vacation time?! The hubbub of the check in at the church did not help my nerves. What did help was meeting a new friend who was just as nervous and likewise doing this for the first time.
After sorting out the travel arrangements and a short drive into Portland, we packed ourselves into the Liberation Street Church like sardines. The room was hot and the explanation of “street culture” made it seem even hotter to me. The nerves had returned full force. My daughter kept looking up at me for reassurance. All the while, a little voice inside my head was telling me to do the one thing that made me the most nervous. As this is not the typical advice I give myself when experiencing some peak levels of anxiety, I took it as a directive. When the call went out for volunteers to do the prayer walk … which is a very nice way of saying “just randomly walk around the city and talk to complete strangers” … I raised my hand. My daughter’s eyes just about jumped out of her head as this was also the most intimidating thing she was imagining we could do.
One piece of advice from the “street culture” portion of the orientation that I clung to like a mantra was that every group needed a man’s presence for safety. I looked around for the burliest man I could find. Unfortunately, he had already been snatched up by another group. My group, which somehow I seemed to be in charge of, was comprised of four middle school girls of the petite variety and a young twenty-something couple who seemed awfully quiet. This did not seem complete to me until I spied a man who was standing by himself. I went up to him and asked him what his plan was. Happily, he wanted to do the prayer walk as he has been doing weekly for many years. So, placing his hand on my shoulder, I led our blind guide to the group and made introductions. With our group now feeling complete, we set out.
Sometimes I wish that I could see myself from someone else’s eyes from across the street. I think we were quite the parade: a gaggle of girls led the way, me and a blind man in the middle, and the young couple bringing up the rear. What that person across the street would not be able to see, no matter how good their vision, is the comfort a friendly hand and a confident voice of experience at your shoulder can bestow. From the moment our blind companion joined us, my anxiety ceased.
… and I knew exactly where to steer our little parade. Because I work downtown and take the bus everyday, I pass this one corner where everyday I see the “down-and-outers” congregate. We took a slightly meandering route to that location. Oddly, the streets on our way there were nearly vacant. This allowed the gaggle of girls to get a little too comfortable with where we were and what we were doing. Just as they were getting to be out of hand, we reached the intended destination.
The girls were corralled by two women standing at the corner. These women were quite alarmed that the girls might be feeling too comfortable and thus proceeded to “school” the young ladies with their street wisdom. As the tales unfolded, we learned that both women had been on the streets since the age of 8 or 9 years old. From that young age, both had done hard drugs and prostituted themselves for money, food and drugs. In words that were intentionally sanitized and free of profanity, we learned about life with a pimp and underground warehouses where the services of child prostitutes are sold to the highest bidder. Despite of … or maybe because of … these horrendous experiences, these two women poured out their love and wisdom on the gaggle of girls. They were protective of our young ladies while educating them about some hard and ugly things.
Towards the end of our time with these two wise women, we learned that one of them was speaking for the first time in three weeks – just coming off of being high on drugs. The other had been clean for three and a half years BECAUSE someone was out on a night just like this one and told her that Jesus loved her no matter what. And while all this was happening, while I was focused on watching out for the gaggle, the quiet young couple was making a deeper connection with the woman who had not spoken in weeks. The advice against hugs with the people we met was thrown out and it was hugs all around as we said our thank yous and farewells to the two women.
Walking back to the bridge under which everyone was to meet, we were all overcome with the sense that while we may have set out to “heart the city” it was we who were the recipients of a profound love.