For your reading pleasure, I thought I'd post this article of hers.
The people to whom I’m called to minister are often viewed by society as lazy, welfare cheats, alcoholics, drug addicts; in short, as the ‘dregs of society’. It is true that some are involved in these activities, but the overwhelming majority have completely rejected contact with what I describe as ‘day people’. This is the term I use, theirs is far more explicit, but I choose not to use the language that is necessary to reveal it to you.
Other Christians often view my ministry as a ‘difficult and thankless’ one. As a result, there are few who undertake it. There are many who minister to those in the shelters and short-term accommodation places that are still in existence in the City and suburbs, but the people I know rarely make contact with any of these, their feelings of rejection are so deeply entrenched.
Since they are without a valid address, ‘the hole behind the dumpster up the second lane on the left’ is not counted as an address, most are not receiving any welfare benefits. Centrelink payments are paid into bank accounts, and it is extremely hard to open a bank account these days in normal circumstances, it is impossible without an address.
The night people, again this is my term, are largely an entirely different society in themselves. There is a high prevalence of the mentally ill among them, as well as the addicts. They span a wide range of age groups. The youngest I’ve encountered claimed to be 15, however I doubt that he was more than 12. It’s hard to determine actual age. The night people’s lifestyle tends to harden and age quickly. I don’t know how many of you know of Fr Chris Riley’s ministry among the street kids of Sydney. If you haven’t had the opportunity, then read “Mean Streets, Kind Heart” which details the type of ministry that he does. Mine is a similar ministry.
The night people are often portrayed as violent, who regularly accost people on the streets, demanding money and/or cigarettes, and then use abusive language no matter what the result. It is true that there are many who do this, but what is not often realised, is the fact that these same people are often subject to the same type of verbal and sometimes physical abuse from the day people. I’m not offering this explanation as an excuse, but it sometimes is helpful to realise that they are only mirroring what they themselves have experienced from society.
These people are extremely generous, despite the hardships of their lifestyle. They are also very protective of each other, again, despite their apparent violence. They are capable of detecting the approach of a social worker, student completing his thesis, or do-gooder long before these are able to contact them. I’ve often warned people who have come with me, that they are likely to recall a lot more names than there were people. This is because the names the night people use are extremely portable and disposable, sometimes I’ve referred to someone as say “Bill”, and immediately realised by his expression that it is not his name in this particular location. Luckily, I am usually quick enough to explain it away with something like “I’m so sorry, you remind me so much of Bill, but he’s from Wheeler’s Hill”.
The death rate among these people is very high. Some die from the effects of overdose, or the results of years of abusing alcohol. Some suicide others are victims of violence. I’ve often been criticised for not giving cash, usually being accused of robbing a person of his or her dignity by buying the food that is requested rather than allowing the person to make the purchase. Many wrongly assume that it is because I am worried that they will use the cash for drugs or alcohol, or even on the pokies. The reason I rarely give out cash however, is that the having of this commodity increases the risk of being bashed and robbed, maybe even killed, and I fail to see what dignity is found lying dead in a gutter.
Most of my ministry is involved with providing food and sometimes clothing for these people. However, I have found myself conducting Bible studies with a steadily increasing number of them. Participation is entirely voluntary. Often they are held in a drain or a squat, even in a park. I provide Bibles to anyone who requests them; often it is one of the few things that they actually possess. There is a high incidence of illiteracy among the night people, and so often I find that I’m called to teach some to read and write. I can recall one who became my dearest friend, Jordan, asking for a Bible, which I provided. However, it soon became apparent, largely because he was holding the Bible upside down, that he could not read. This was one of the first times that I was confronted with the problem of illiteracy. I bought a tabloid Bible for him and that was the beginning of his reading and later his ministry. Just before Jordan was killed in a streetfight, while protecting someone else, he was the proud owner of a parallel Bible, such was his eagerness to learn. I was proud to call Jordan my friend and he made an excellent pastor to his companions. Despite their lack of education, I’m constantly amazed at the profound insights many have into Scripture, especially the way they can interpret certain passages and relate them directly to their lifestyle.
Inspite of the perceived ‘thanklessness’ of this type of ministry, I find it extremely rewarding. It is true that at times, I have been so disillusioned that I’ve questioned whether I’m suited to it, but these times are short-lived. I have been fortunate in witnessing quite a few of the night people asking Jesus into their lives, and I have seen some startling transformations. I don’t mean that, suddenly, they re-enter society, because most never do, but I’ve seen attitudes and choices change.
In closing, I’d like to share one of the stories with you. I’ve received permission from this young man to share his story. I first met Azzle three years ago. He came into one of the groups in search of food. At the time he was heavily into the heroin scene. Eventually, he began to trust me enough to tell me of his life. Azzle had been on the streets since he was 10, supporting himself and his growing dependence on drugs by selling his body. When I met him he was about 17, although he looked more like a 60 year old. After a time, he joined the Bible studies and asked for a Bible. A very short time after that, he asked Jesus into his heart and then almost at the same time decided to stop using drugs. I asked him if he wanted me to try and get him into a detox centre and a drug rehabilitation support group, but he refused, saying that Jesus would help him with our group being the only other support. I knew that what he was intending to do, come off drugs after having abused them for so long a time, would be extremely hard and that many had failed even with professional help. Azzle went ‘cold turkey’ and withdrew totally without any other medication. I was amazed that he persisted, but eventually he was ‘free’ of the effects of heroin, and his body began to recover to a certain extent. Azzle then began coming around with Jordan and me. One time I was visiting a friend who owned a bakery, and Azzle appeared very interested in the workings there. My friend asked if he’d be interested in a job as a ‘roll boy’. I was hesitant at first because Azzle’s previous lifestyle choices meant that he could be HIV positive, and if he were, then he wouldn’t have been able to be easily employed in the food industry. But he was eager to get the job, so I arranged for him to have the necessary blood tests, fully expecting that the results would reveal that he was HIV positive. I was very surprised when the results came back negative, and so was the doctor who had done them. He was re-tested, and again they came back negative. Azzle started work the next day. But the day after he didn’t show up, and the baker was angry and contacted me. I suspected I knew the reason, but asked my friend to listen to what Azzle told him and treat him with respect, which he agreed to do. I then went and found Azzle and told him that the baker wanted to talk to him, that he was worried when he didn’t show up for work. I also told him that I knew why he hadn’t shown up and that I was sorry he hadn’t felt able to ask for what he needed. When Azzle did go back to the bakery, my friend was surprised to find that the reason for the no-show was that Azzle had been wearing his only set of clothes on the first day, and didn’t have anything to wear on the second. He had asked for an advance on his pay, but my friend had assumed that he wanted to use it up at the pub and refused. Azzle was too ashamed to reveal that he wanted it to get more clothes, so that he could get the ones he was wearing cleaned.
My friend immediately organised a clean uniform for Azzle, as well as offering him a room in the unused flat upstairs. He also arranged for the uniforms to be cleaned. Azzle has proved to be a very reliable worker, and this year proudly told me that there were only two apprenticeships on offer at the bakery and that his boss had given one to him. Azzle still regularly attends the Bible studies, and readily testifies as to how good Jesus has been to him.
Yes, my ministry can seem to be thankless and at times hopeless. But then someone like Azzle comes along, and the negatives are forgotten. Not all the transformations are as marked as Azzle’s, but every one is wonderful.