It’s 6:40 pm, and the doors are at last open. Some have been waiting for an hour or more in the cold to ensure they get dinner tonight, but there are no guarantees. Many shuffle in from the street with a nod to those who count them in on a clicker and greet them with a smile, not a few by name. Others are clearly sick, with sticks, crutches and a few wheelchairs, nearly all clutching a plastic bag of prized belongings. But there are some smiles returned by regulars and they do have something to smile about, although you might not think so.
Once they wandered the streets, near to death, smashed on drink and drugs, bruised and abused from unhealthy relationships or prostitution. But someone came to them, fed them, clothed them and gave them emergency shelter while guiding them back to some sort of normality. En route many recognized the hands of grace and the touch of God; they heard the voice of Jesus who said, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). This is the Church of God in Vancouver’s input into work amongst the homeless of Vancouver, as is done in many other Canadian cities.
The centre on East Cordova in downtown Vancouver serves three meals a day, 365 days a year and runs many rehabilitation programs. It was back in 2005 that the Church was introduced to this work by one of its number and some inquiries led to a door of opportunity being opened to share in the gospel area of their work. For five years now, between 8 and 10 of us have been going on the third Thursday of each month to serve a group of 80 – 100 and lead them in praise, followed by a short gospel message. Usually there are two services which means up to two hundred people are ministered to with words and works of kindness.
As people file out to the dining hall, each is offered a further gospel opportunity in the form of a gospel leaflet. In 2010, one of our number was able to extend the opportunity and begin a weekly visit taking the Monday lunch time service. Sadly for many western churches, the decline in numbers or static congregations have left many services lacking in wholeheartedness. Here, you enter the domain of the homeless; you’re their guest and if anyone is a stranger or looks out of place, it is most likely to be you! The very knowledge that there are so many unredeemed souls before you brings a sharpening to the message preached. Believers among those who attend express their appreciation for the visits in no uncertain terms and rarely do we depart from the centre not uplifted ourselves and grateful for the time we have enjoyed.
As for the results from such work, we can say for certain that one man has come almost every week for over two years now to the Breaking of the Bread by the Church of God in Vancouver. Furthermore, we would be reminded of the teaching the Lord gives on such work. Matthew 25:31-46 is strictly about help given to saints in the future, but we can draw from it how the Lord may value even menial tasks done for others in His Name: “Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see you sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ The King will answer and say to them, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, you did it to Me.’”