Every Thursday morning in May, a cluster of people from St Nicholas Church, All Saints, and Christchurch Isle of Dogs, rose before the crack of dawn to make their way over to St Nicholas Church Hall. Some bore toasters, others bacon, hashbrowns, and milk. We had the privilege of cooking and serving breakfast to guests at the Night Shelter.
Between 7-8:30am, we tidied away bedding, cooked and served hot food, and chatted with the fifteen or so guests. The organization that co-ordinates the shelter, GrowTH, encourages volunteers to sit and eat with the guests – as you would with a guest in your own home. As I got to know some of those using the shelter, was impressed by the openness, friendliness and optimism many of them displayed. To my surprise, several were keen to share their faith journeys with me.
One man told me that just a few weeks previously, his life had been together. But suddenly, over the course of five days, he lost everything, and found himself on the street, no money in his bank account. In this impossible situation, his dormant faith in God came into focus once more. Relying on God took on a new meaning. His abstract belief became his life source. Now, he begins every day with ten minutes of prayer and meditation, and turns to God throughout the day to find strength.
Another guest, a 21 year old, described to me how becoming homeless had enabled him to find Christian faith for the first time. Displaying a faith I still can’t get my head around, he explained how he saw God’s hand working through the negative events that had left him in dire straights. By taking away everything that was valuable to him, God had freed him to discover what really mattered in life. We talked together about doubt, trust, and Jesus’ suffering and experience of homelessness (Matthew 8:20). This young man’s words will stick with me for a long time: “If God puts us through difficult times, its because he wants to use us for great things later.”
Photos are from the previous year, when the shelter was hosted at All Saints.