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

Friday, September 10, 2004


Has God ever called you to do something you didn't think you could do but once you obeyed you found there was an abundance of grace to do it? Did you gain confidence in what you were doing? And did something occur to make that facade of confidence shatter? Well that sure as heck happened to me last week.

My first month working in the Nightshelter was spent in the kitchen serving dinner, washing dishes, and disinfecting surfaces. I gradually moved out of the kitchen into the hallway, answering the door when the guys started arriving. Then I was given the daunting task of "being on gate." At 7 the guys start lining up at the gate and we check to see if they are on the list as having stayed the night before. We also see if they've been drinking because if so, they'll have to go to their room until they sober up a bit. The final question we ask before clearing them to go to the door is, "Do you have any drugs, alcohol, weapons, or solvents?" Only once have I had a guy say "yes" and pull a pint of lager out of his bag, which he promptly chucked in the bin.

I was fairly confident being out on gate last Thursday night. But then ten guys walked up at the same time and they were all tired, hot, and hungry. Only two were a little tipsy. The last guy to walk up, Steve M, was clearly angry and a bit drunk. Now, the thing about Steve is he is probably the most hostile man I have ever met. I never know what to say because everything I say is wrong. So when he walked up cussing, saying someone had just put a knife to his throat and took his mobile and money, I didn't know how to respond other than saying I was sorry it happened to him. He even had red marks on his neck where the knife had been shoved into his skin. Seeing he had had a traumatic experience I cleared him to go inside even though I suspected he had been drinking. But Nilesh, the Nightshelter manager, asked him to go to his room. When he refused and grew more verbally threatening, he was asked to leave. He tore into Nilesh and when he went inside to get Steve's belongings, I was left alone with an angry, swearing man who was basically calling down curses on Nilesh and the Nightshelter. Again, Debbie doesn't know what to do in these situations. Anything I say, anything, will be misconstrued or fall on deaf ears.

Ten minutes later Micha, another staff member who has a good relationship with Steve, came outside. She tried talking to him and he got started again on how he was robbed and then came to the Nightshelter only to be sent away because he didn't want to be sent to bed like a child. He also had some nasty things to say about Nilesh and the staff. He was livid. Then, he started talking about all his illnesses - he has hepatitis as well as cancer and various other health problems. He said how he should just kill himself and get it over with, that way his death isn't drawn out and the pain would be over. He talked incoherently for a few more minutes, and then the next thing I knew, his head was in his arms and he was leaning against the gate weeping. Steve was weeping. This hardened, hostile man who is virtually impossible to love let out gut-wrenching sobs that tore at my heart. It only lasted mere minutes, but it was long enough for me to see that he was a broken man.

Brokenness is all around the Nightshelter. Broken lives. Broken hearts. Broken spirits. Broken wills. Broken bodies. Broken relationships. The residents' brokenness is sometimes visible in their facial expressions, in the way they converse with people, in their posture. Others hide it beneath a thin mask of mirth and happiness. Then those like Steve, bury it deeply beneath anger, resentment, and bitterness. Some use drugs to deaden the pain. Others alcohol. Some can't cope and block it out completely. A few turn to God, and sadly, even fewer seem to make it to the other side.

How can you reach these broken men and women? How can I reach these broken men and women? Me, who has never been addicted to drugs or alcohol, who has loving and supportive friends and family, and who has never been hurt the way these guys have been. When compared to theirs, they would scoff at my brokenness. But even though my brokenness has a different face, I'm just as broken as all these men and women. But I can't seek a method for deadening my pain. However, I have a hope: "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise." And I can only pray that Steve and all the other men and women who come through the Nightshelter will open their hearts to this hope and truth.

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