I know Hugh Hollowell of Love Wins would hate to be put on a pedestal, what he does is so down to earth, so humble and beautiful that it comes out of the midst of everyday living. Living conscious each day of what it is to live in the midst of a broken neighborhood. Brokenness that is so impoverished in all aspects of reality and spiritually. It's not something that we can wave a magic wand over and fix, but, also it is not something we through our hands in the air and walk away.
As soon as he said, " ministry of presence " some thoughts came to mind like a flash bulb going off. A few years ago when we first started going to the Paquachin First Nations Reserve the first thing you notice is the level of poverty. Dilapidated houses, broken plumbing, poor nutrition, alcoholism, broken family relationships, teenage pregnancy,illiteracy, high school drop outs...and a deep mistrust of white people, and religion. If you were to assess it, add the brokenness up you would never come back after the first visit. Where does one even begin to fix?
It did take time. There were the initial weeks that we were completely ignored. I still remember the first time being called " white trash...what are you doing here." But we came back, and we kept coming back week after week; same time, same place. We were becoming a " presence."
First it was a few young kids, we played games; soccer, road hockey, and dodge ball. We ate snacks, just hung out and talked. Next it was elders, and single moms and babies coming; we did crafts...ate more and talked more. We started doing home work with kids. It was a chance to talk about issues in the community. It was a chance to hear their stories. It was a chance for us to listen and learn. It became a chance for " all " of us to pray together. " Presence " was becoming " relationship."
Another story from CARTS, and inner city street ministry where we see a lot of the same folks week after week; working poor, drug addicts, alcoholics, mentally ill, homeless...people down in their luck. Again it is a level of brokenness that can overwhelm you. But we keep coming back again, and again...out of love. The reality is, we may never " fix " any of our friends, but, that doesn't stop us from coming back. Some might say it is a waste of time, resources and money, but, we still keep coming back. The weather might be bitter wet and cold, but, we still keep coming back. We might not have any socks one week, or underwear the next, but, we still keep coming back. This is what " presence " is. I have made a lot of friends over the years, if I don't see them on a Sunday I miss them...I worry about them.
A few weeks ago one of our friends ( S ) showed up quite intoxicated. ( S ) is an alcoholic who occasionally falls of the wagon, and this was one of those nights. He took nothing from us, no food, lemonade, socks, underwear...nothing. He just sat on a park bench in our midst. One of the ladies went over and talked to him for quite a while before we moved on the Salvation Army Hostel on lower Johnston.
It was interesting last Tuesday I had to go into town and pick up some art supplies for some paintings I'm working on. Well, who did I bump into on the street...it was ( S ). He looked much better, clean shave, no smell of alcohol...and happy. We had a great talk, and it was interesting, he mentioned the Sunday a few weeks ago. He felt really bad about it, about showing up that way. But he said, " I just had to go...it was like I was being drawn there." A pause, and again, " I just had to be there with you all."
I think that is the profound mystery of what Hugh calls the ministry of presence. There is an incredible power in it beyond us...it has a gravity that pulls us together. It knows brokenness better than we do. It doesn't need a whole lot of " push this down your throat " type of fixing. It doesn't need me casting a stone of scripture at the person. Its a power that comes from us knowing we need each other. As much as ( S ) needs us...we need him. Presence is sitting with one another...and knowing in the midst is God. In presence there is always that tender embryonic shoot...that becomes relationship.
I know presence has the power to fix things...with out anyone pushing an agenda.