It was one of those mornings where everything seemed a bit extra complex and crisis-like. Our numbers were up the night before, hitting around 112 at the emergency shelter. It seemed the most vulnerable people from the shelter’s history had come to stay that previous night and were then hanging around that morning.
As the shelter manager and I sat in the side conference room of the emergency shelter we tried to figure out next steps with a few of the most urgent situations that morning. When we, as staff, were in this mode, sadly it was only the most pressing that got any discussion time. And if anyone thought that we could for even a brief meeting escape to discuss the sacred chaos going on around us, two full walls of the small conference room are windows, and every couple minutes this one man would lean over the window and stare at us with eyes dancing, as if reminding us that there was no forgetting the urgency of our decisions.
I was struck again by this tragic irony that it seems that the most urgent situations are also often the most complex. Each of the people spoken of below could have used an entire team of support staff to walk alongside them and pull together resources ensuring their success and safety. And yet, here we were, two people, in a fairly empty side office, with 20 minutes to spare and nearly 100 precious people right outside the door.
It is these moments where I am reminded again of the story of Jesus with the loaves and fishes. Often in this work, we come with this measly amount of time, people, energy and resources, and yet again and again, He multiplies what we bring and provides abundantly for the men and women that walk through our doors. After being in this work over seven years I can forget the enormity of what we embark to do daily. Yet, when speaking with other agencies and people I am reminded of the craziness of this work when they look at me shocked and with disbelief that we often are running an emergency shelter with one staff person and 100 guests. And yes, we have volunteers, and sometimes overlapping staff, and a good portion of the day guests further along in their recovery coming back to help and there is always another staff person connected by radio, but often it is 1 with 100.
So, here we are again. Low staff numbers, not much time, and not a little need. And I think of Jesus looking out amongst the crowds, having compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd (paraphrased Mark 6:34). And I thought, what would Jesus see looking at these people, this morning at our emergency shelter?
- What would He think of the woman who was back with us after being restricted from our services because of assaulting a past team member? Would He see a woman causing turmoil through the shelter, yelling and stomping, or would He see a beloved daughter, struggling to make sense of the voices she was hearing?
- What about the woman who I was case manager for over five years ago and had just come back? Would He, like the world, see a vandalism risk or addict when looking at her? Or would He see a young woman reaching out for help and trying to numb the sadness of having no earthly parental support and trying to navigate this world alone, longing for a Heavenly Father that He could point to?
- And then there was the person who seemed to need unique sleeping accommodations. Would Jesus see a special opportunity to love someone or another complex problem that needs to be resolved? Would Jesus be able to cut to the heart of what shalom and justice was for them in the midst of the complexity of their situation and the rest of the community?
Yes. Jesus. His wisdom, His mercy, His vision for people is what we needed that morning. He faced crowds much greater than we. He saw even more need than us with our limited, distorted vision. We sit with our measly time, and our confusion, and our urgency, and then there is Jesus promising to be with us, promising to set people free with the Truth, promising the Counselor, the Holy Spirit and promising peace.
Our vision can be oh so blurry. We can get bogged down in chaos, in the muck of toilets overflowing, in the sheer numbers of people, in the mire of meetings, in the dancing eyes that continue to peer in at us.
And then our vision is refreshed. Renewed through Jesus’ vision of the crowds. Yes. He saw them harassed and helpless, but He saw their spiritual need, their need for a shepherd.
Oh Lord, refresh our vision. As we engage in this work of social justice, in this social work, in this ministry on the margins, clear our vision. Please, help us see people with your eyes. In the midst of us rallying around people supporting the individual and the community, help us to see clearly the spiritual need in the midst of the sometimes more obvious physical needs. Give us Your eyes, Your vision, Your wisdom. Thank you Lord, In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
(All views expressed in this blog are solely those of myself, Bridget. I do not speak for my family, my workplace, my church, my denomination, or for God. Names and identifying features of people in the stories of this blog have been changed to protect their privacy and confidentiality.)