Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage . . . They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion.
~Psalm 84:5

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Hard Work

During my weeks here in Bedford I've learned that working with the poor is extremely hard work. Our church back in Waco is big on missions, which is great, but sometimes missionaries and missionary work is glorified. I only work in the Night Shelter Wed-Sun, but I am so emotionally and physically exhausted by Monday that I end up sleeping most of the day. I have yet to venture out on my days off and see the countryside!
I apologize for the length, but below I'm posting an email I sent to friends and family back home. All the events took place last week, and I've changed the names of the residents for integrity sake (I'm sure they wouldn't want the details of their lives floating around the internet). This is just a glimpse of what life is like at the moment...

The weather here in England is very unpredictable. In the morning the sun is shining and the sky is beautifully bright blue. By lunch time the wind is howling and the dark menacing clouds overhead threaten to release their contents at any moment. The wise quickly learn never to leave home without a sweater and an umbrella. Then there's me, who gets caught in a drizzle nearly everytime I leave the flat. 'It's not that bad; I don't need my umbrella.' Fifteen minutes into my trek to work I'm mentally kicking myself and desperately missing my car.

The spiritual climate seems to mirror the physical. The first week of 'real work' here was relatively peaceful. I went to work at 2:30; we all cleaned house, prayed, visited people, cooked, etc; the guys came in at 7 and we served up their dinner; we hung out until residents found their way to bed or our shift ended at 10:30. Such nice, peaceful weather. But this week I learned that storms can blow through at any moment, with no warning.

Sunday started off stressful because dinner wasn't ready on time. Some of the guys came in hungry and cranky. Their mood started rubbing off on me and it took everything in me to keep from telling them that they didn't have to stay and wait for their free, hot meal and later crawl into their clean, dry beds if all the staff was so inconsiderate as to not have everything ready on time because we obviously goofed off all afternoon and failed in our mission to cater to their every need. Nope, I kept my fiestiness in check.

Tensions have slowly been building in the Night Shelter and it all came out that night. It was aided by Pat, a guy I had never met before but who the other staff members knew. He came in around 7:30 and by 8:15 K, another resident, was yelling and threatening to cut off Pat's head. Apparently Pat and someone else walked in on K while he was in the bathroom and Pat started hitting him. Pat claimed that K had said something about his buddy. Hannah and Sarah were working with me that night and they were able to separate the two men. K was fired up, though. Hannah finally got him to calm down and he explained what happened. Then he decided to leave because he was afraid he might hurt someone if he stayed. Normally, residents get two warnings before they are barred from staying at the N/S. K could have been given a warning b/c he was definitely verbally abusive and threatening to another resident, but Hannah felt he was very distressed and decided not to give him one.

Meanwhile, Sarah was in another part of the house dealing with two other guys who had disregarded her during the situation. They kept trying to get into the lounge where Hannah, K, and I were b/c they wanted to go through to the kitchen for coffee. Sarah ended up giving them a warning b/c they were unresponsive. That set everyone off. About eight guys started loudly complaining abt the unfairness of the staff and abt how K always gets away with things. They went on for abt two hours.

Later, Hannah was talking to Pat. I don't know the particulars, only that he started getting verbally abusive. Sarah called me over and told me to get ready to call the police. Hannah asked Pat to step outside so they could talk more privately, but he refused to go out first and grabbed her arm to drag her out. At that point I decided to call the police and as I ran to the office I heard him tell Hannah that he would hurt her before I could even make the call. The Lord intervened b/c right after saying that he just let go of her and walked out. We were all shooken up. I was thankful to have the following three nights off. Unfortunately, Thursday night wasn't much better.

Every Thurs afternoon guys who have been barred meet us in the town square to discuss their barring and to see if they could get back in. Hannah and I set out loaded with sandwiches and coffee. Two residents, Kas and "Peter" (the guy I asked you to pray for last week) were in the area and sat and had coffee w/ me while Hannah talked to another guy abt his barring. I could tell "Peter" wasn't ok and I asked him what was going on. He told me that he had his court date in the morning (Fri) but that he couldn't go b/c he didn't have the money to make it out there. He said that meant they would issue a warrant for his arrest, but he said he wanted to go to prison b/c then he could get clean and sober. The temptation is too much for him and it's too hard for him to stay clean now. I was floored by his desperation and assured him there would be a bed for him that night and we could talk more then. (((In my last email home I mentioned "Peter's" situation. He accidentally overdosed two weeks ago. He only does drugs every two weeks, when he gets paid, but he ends up spending at least £120 on drugs (abt $240). He hates the way his life is now and above all, wishes to be clean and sober, walking w/ the Lord. He wants to work in a Christian rehab someday, and many of us believe the Lord's hand is upon him and he'll have a powerful testimony of God's faithfulness that will reach those in a similar situation.)))

Unfortunately, "Peter" showed up drunk that night. Four of us were working: Hannah, Fiona, Justyna, and myself. I went outside to help Fiona while she talked to residents coming in. When "Peter" was told he had to go to bed he flipped out, yelling that he wasn't a child, that he was perfectly ok, and that we didn't know anything abt him and we didn't even care. I knew Fiona would take this esp hard b/c she is very close to "Peter." I was taking it hard and I had only known him for two weeks.

The way things works at the N/S is one person leads out in dealing w/ conflict and another 'seconds.' The person seconding doesn't interact with the resident so that he doesn't feel ganged up on by two staff members. But it was almost too much for me, not being able to talk to "Peter" or even look at him. When he said we didn't care abt him I wanted to scream, 'No, we do! In fact I told all my friends and family in America to pray for you!' But I had to keep it all in.

I don't know how long it lasted. Maybe 25 minutes. He got progressively worse. He couldn't understand why we were refusing him a place to sleep and a meal to eat. At one point, when he was slightly calm, he did turn to me and ask for a cigarette. When I looked up to tell him I didn't have one my heart broke. There was a tear rolling down his right eye and he looked so hurt and confused, like a lost little boy. I was gutted and am surprised I managed not to lose it.

He eventually started trying to destroy property. But God covered Fiona and me because neither one of us felt we were in danger. "Peter" also seemed to consciously avoid our general area. Hannah had called the police by then and an officer showed up shortly thereafter. Unfortunately, "Peter" resisted arrest and had to be taken by force. Hannah led us inside but we ran up the stairs to watch out the window and make sure he was ok.

The whole experience was probably the hardest thing I've ever had to endure. Fiona and I wept, prayed and wept some more for nearly two hours. I still ache whenever I think about it.

But I haven't given up on "Peter!" I know the Lord has promised to prosper him and not to harm him, to give him a future and a hope (Jer 29.11) and I believe that His word does not return void but will accomplish what He desires (Isa 55.11). And I know that God is faithful to complete the work He has started in "Peter's" life (Phil 1.6). So many people are believing he will make it. Please continue to pray for him.

Although I am emotionally drained and physically tired at the moment, there is no place else I'd rather be. This afternoon I heard someone say on tv that you have to weather the storm in order to catch a glimpse of the rainbow (seems there can even be wisdom in Dawson's Creek!). So I chose to keep loving and serving the least of these, having faith that in the end I will see His face.

Again, I thank you for your prayers. They are my shelter in this storm.

Much love,

"Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless;
maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed.
Rescue the weak and needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked."
~Ps 82.3-4

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