What Starts Out In History Class

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This is a blog post about three awkward, shy dudes who have been spending time in increasing measure with members of the homeless community in Auckland. But before it begins, they’d like to add a disclaimer:

It is with a lot of hesitancy that I’m writing this blog post. For one, I’m writing on behalf of a group of friends, some of whom are very cautious about our story being told for an array of reasons. (Because of that, this will all be anonymous). Secondly, none of us really feel like our story is something to emulate: 1) We are stumbling through the things that we do, and others are far older and wiser and far more worth listening to than us. 2) More importantly, we are learning what it is to emulate Jesus. If you are to become like anyone, let it be Him.

However, with that said, we have agreed that it should be sweet to share what I have written below with the Grace Collective because it seems timely in light of the theme ‘HOPE’ which we have been talking about. Hopefully in the words that you read below you will find traces of a God at work in ragamuffin young adults like the three of us. He is the one we always point to. After all, He is pretty sweet as.

*       *       *

“Hope is not a rumor

Heaven is not a mile away.

It’s as close as the blood within my veins.

Steady as Your stand-sure-name.”

-Edge Kingsland

At the last Grace Collective event we talked about Heaven, Hell, and Hope. The final message we were left with was that the Gospel of Jesus and of the Kingdom of God gives us Hope that, because of the cross, our world can be better than the one we have made for ourselves without Him. In Jesus, God is restoring all things in Heaven and Earth and that in the end, Heaven will come to earth to complete what God began in Adam and Eve in the garden. Jesus’ Good News of the Kingdom of God gives us Hope because it tells us that God doesn’t have a plan B for creation. He doesn’t want to start new somewhere else because He loves what he has made, and is grieved over the mess we caused when we chose life without Him. In fact, He loves the world so much He came to model what a life fully wrapped up in God would look like, and then died a criminal’s death to make it possible for us to enter into that journey with a clean slate.

So…

As you do, in a history class at the end of last year I zoned out big time to think about other important, but not necessarily pressing, things. Nonetheless, being spaced out was actually productive. It was the beginning of some pretty big changes in my life. Many of the ideas I ended up thinking about were really similar to the thoughts that were shared last time the GC gathered. I started asking questions like, “How can I share the Hope of the Kingdom of God with others better?” “How do I embody the Hope of a Kingdom of love, freedom, reconciliation, redistribution, peace?”

“In what ways can I follow the footsteps of Jesus, which led from tax collectors to beggars?”

Sometimes the questions got pretty simple. Like…“Yo, God. Up2 G? How can I get involved in what you’re doing?”

Or even…”Jesus bro, help me be like you?”

As it turned out, though, in the same class was an old friend I happened upon as we arrived late to a lecture together. As we caught up, we quickly realized that we were both wrestling with similar questions about what we could do to follow Jesus more closely and before long we were talking regularly about how to find our questions some answers.

One thing we knew was that we had found Hope in our own lives, and we wanted to share that with people that were in significant need of it. After a few weeks of tentative discussion about what this could look like, and after filing through different types of actions we could potentially engage in, we decided to start close to home. So we began putting aside our Saturday nights to make relationships with the homeless community in Auckland’s CBD, discovering what it meant to do life together along the way.

8 months on and lots has happened. A few months into things another mate started coming too, bringing life and wisdom to the table we never had.

We have seen fights, and people step in front of punches for their friends to break fights up.  We have reunited families with estranged relatives, wept with women as they tell their histories of being abused, been embraced by an elderly woman chuffed to be on the latter side of a big surgery, and even cracked open a few beers in the park to celebrate with new found friends. I should point out that we have also spent a lot of nights out where essentially nothing (whatsoever) has happened.

One night which was pretty instrumental early on for us is also one that I’ll never forget. One of the first nights we went out we met a really cheerful ex-con on K-road who was in his mid 50s, drinking Kingfishers at $3 per 500ml bottle, and who’d had his radio stolen during the day by some young people cheated of their childhood and left with nothing else to do but make trouble. We sat down with him and listened to his stories, heard about his struggles, and dreams and past hopes. All of a sudden, behind his glazed eyes we watched his mind change tack. He put his hands in air to stop the conversation, reached into his bag and asked “OI! Want a donut?”

“I got given these today.” From inside his pack he pulled out a bag of like, I don’t know, 10-15 donuts freshly made that day at a bakery round the corner. “I can’t eat all of them,” he said, “and in a world like ours, I’d hate to waste food.” So we chowed down on the donuts together and laughed and mourned and chatted for an hour. And in some small way we saw God’s kingdom of abundance, redistribution, grace, love and peace invade earth around us before we could quite understand it. All he wanted from us was a radio, if we could find one, maybe another Kingfisher if were really generous, and to come back and see him again.

Having experienced a lot over the past 8 or so months, we have also met all kinds of people on the streets: from drug addicts to drug dealers, from “sober for 5 years now” to alcoholics for as long, from street walkers to street sleepers, ex-cons trying to go steady to couples living rough who have been going steady now for ages, from ex-lawyers, tradesmen and hairdressers, to generational beneficiaries; you name it. Anyone can end up on the street if life gets tough enough. For us this reminds us of our own frailty, the humanity in all of us, and more than anything it helps us find the image of God in every unique face we meet.

In the past 3 or so months we have been concentrating our efforts a bit more on the younger members of the street community. We have met people as young as 16, some turned 21 around the same time as myself, others remind us of our older brothers or the young adults we looked up to throughout our teenage years.

Nearly every week we get together with them, eat pizza, share stories, celebrate the good and mourn the bad; laugh, banter, hug, high-5. Sometimes we bring food parcels to hand out too. Other times we share poems, and raps, or learn how to dance badly from really good street performers.

We have grown increasingly close to these people over the months and it has been a privilege being allowed to be a part of their lives.

But with that privilege comes hard questions about where to go next with what, myself and my mates have been doing. Ultimately we have become friends with the people we’ve met on the street. So, the first question we are asking ourselves is “what does it mean to be a good friend, when our mate has ended up homeless, and we have the means to help them?”  It means we remember each other’s birthdays. It means we respond when one of the crew is desperate for some help. When storms hit, it means we drive in to check on our mates and give them blankets, food, jumpers and rain coats. When they need to pee, we hustle for them and watch their stuff while they run into McDonalds for a wiz or go round the corner to take a dump. What are friends for, after all, right?

However, looking increasingly long term we know that the things we have been doing so far are a little simple–minded and, though helpful, will not be enough. We have toyed with the idea of living together with some spare rooms available as a half-way house between the streets and “regular” life. We have toyed with the idea of just having a flat, simply because it would be fun…I mean, friends are the best people to flat with anyway, and who better to do it with than mates who don’t have a place to stay? Essentially the possibilities are endless, and we will keep dreaming and asking questions, and praying and working out what our friends want and need, as they continue to do the same for us.

The reality is there are a lot folks in the world crying out for a people who embody the Hope of the Gospel of Jesus, and some of them are probably not too far from your front door. The more we sit with all kinds of people in some of the darkest of places, the more we are convinced of that. But we have also become convinced that Hope and Heaven are as close as the blood within our veins, because by we’ve seen them invade earth around us as we stumble our way through spending our lives for God.

Like I said in the disclaimer at the start, we are not necessarily trying to encourage you to do what we have done. But we are praying and hoping that somewhere in this you find inspiration to ask Jesus where he might be calling you to go and that you would have the resolve to follow through. We also truly hope you find comfort knowing that, like us, God can use you even if you are gumby, shy, still learning, and still making mistakes.

May we all hold to the truth that Heaven is here and is closer than we could ever imagine. May we all cling to the Hope we have found in Jesus; the Hope that is not a rumor, but which truly gives life and freedom, forgiveness and peace. And may we prayerfully ask God to show us what we can do to spread that Hope far and wide for all of creation to experience and may we have the audacity to trust that when we do, God is able. Would it ooze out of your pores, your smiles, your sweat and your tears as you follow the Homeless King, Jesus, as extremists for love.

Shot uce.

Amen.

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