There are some people that leave a lasting impression on your life. They aren’t all saints, high flyers or anything like that…I think of people that I’ve just had the utter privilege of being able to ‘sit in’ on their lives. Let me tell you about a few (names changed).
Jimmy – lived on the streets of London in the district of Soho where I used to do a weekly patrol whilst at SA training college. Jimmy was Scottish, came to London for the big prospects but it got the better of him. We met him almost every week, that was until he was missing for a couple. Thankfully, he turned back up but he was very shaken. He had been ‘on holiday’ in another part of the city but had witnessed a terrible assault. I remember sitting listening to him recount in vivid detail to the extent that sometimes I wonder if I was present when it happened! There was little we could do for Jimmy, but we sat in the cold street and listened, chatted, joked.
Anna – lived on the streets in Glasgow, often sitting outside Central Station. I’d quite often stop and talk to her, she was usually drunk, usually very much on edge, and incoherent at times. She’d never remember you from one day to the next. One evening she was very excited to see me. “Ah…Lord’s Prayer” she said.
“You want to pray the Lord’s prayer?” I replied
“Oh yes, that would be lovely… Our Father what is up in heaven, helloed be your name’
Anna died within a few weeks of that event. Found on the streets. People laid flowers in her memory.
Sue – lived in the east end of Glasgow, had attended an infant dedication we conducted and was interested in faith, searching. She came round to visit, decided she wanted to come along to something that we’d organised. She came for a few weeks then nothing.
A few weeks later, a knock at the door, and her fiancé says she had committed suicide. It was a sad day.
Vicki – in a high rise flat in Glasgow with no heat, no carpets, little furniture and a one ring electric fire. Its Christmas eve and she has three kids running round dirty, partly naked, she’s there because she’s fleeing domestic violence. I’m there with toys for the children following a social work referral. Tears, sadness, transformed just a little bit…but heartbreaking.
Leanne – is on the game and about 6 months pregnant. Selling herself to try and buy clothes, nappies and baby equipment. Beyond words. She trembles as she drinks her soup. I’m fighting back tears but glad to hear her story and offer any support she needs but know that we might not see her again. We didn’t.
Gordon – used to meet him when selling War Crys in the pub, his heart drawn to God but alcohol had him in its grip. He’d come into our service and cry all the way through sitting at the back. Trying to pull things together for his family…trapped.
Jamie – on the streets of Aberdeen. Has a more than typical story. Absent dad, distant mother, literacy problems, drug habit, feeling hope is lost. A pair of clean jeans, clean socks/underwear and a fresh t-shirt. Never seen again.
Bob – recovered gangster, bouncer, alcoholic and homeless guy now service as security for the soup run. Loves Jesus. Rough diamond. Rarest type. Doesn’t like church. ‘The streets are my church.’ It was true enough.
I could name so many more. All people who came to me as Jesus in ‘his most distressing disguise’ as Mother Theresa used to say. I didn’t really help any of these people in any massively significant way but I always count it a privilege to have been sustenance for one more day…just one more day. Their stories deserve to be told and honoured….human beings dealing with what life throws at them with varying degrees of success and determination. But, remarkable people they all were/are. Uniquely precious, loved and needed…accepted by not many but loved by God nonetheless.
Jesus said in Luke 4, quoting Isaiah:
‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’
May God bless us each with that same Spirit that we might participate in the mission of God to ‘least of these.’ Allow people to make their mark on you and inspire you on to a deeper humanity.