The rain is falling and our guests are streaming in, mostly wet and hungry. It's Thursday evening at Toronto's Bloor Central drop-in, and staff and volunteers are ready to serve dinner and minister joy. Regularly, close to 300 people will receive hot food and companionship in this friendly environment.
Greetings are exchanged and familiar faces take their seats, usually where they were the week before. A message of hope and a thankful prayer kicks off the evening, which, as an echo of the lunch served earlier, promises to be a busy one.
God's beloved misfits assemble at Bloor Central like a great human tsunami … homeless, unemployed, lonely, challenged, depressed, edgy, out-of-touch, drunk, tattooed and weary. These people are our family. At Bloor Central, there is no “them” and “us,” but “we.” Everyone here matters.
Some welcome our smiles and can't stop talking, while others hurry in, avoiding our gaze, their spirit heavy from the day's troubles or their minds blurred by meds.
Paul* walks hundreds of kilometres every week in $10 shoes to find a place to eat. Theo insists he is “exxxxcellent” even after his girlfriend “dumped” him. Jake lunges into philosophical tirades. Mute Miss Claire lights up the place with her sweet smile and colourful attire. Chris, a recovering alcoholic, has been clean for seven months and so we celebrate with an extra dessert. Chico worries about his immigration papers. Howard twirls his white cane, hoping for a sympathetic ear. Matriarch Vena leaves her bucket near the kitchen for left-over food she will bring back to her ageing, nameless dog. Out of nowhere, Michael belts out an opera tune. Rick proudly announces that he attended church for the first time on Good Friday. And there are those we got to know and now miss, like Mister Ho, the gentle homeless man we never saw again.
Whether the guests are quietly eating or loudly chatting about the weather, sports, movies, housing, job prospects or personal history, God is at work and the message of the gospel is shared.
Bloor Central is a community church with a heart for outreach. Since the arrival of Majors Doug and Karen Hammond, corps officers, God has continually enlarged our “coast.” Our activities are expanding beyond the food bank and Thursday night drop-in to family services, day care, summer soccer camps, movie nights, barbecues in the park, day-trips and Bible studies. And there is more in the works.
As I take an inventory of early fears and what God has done at Bloor Central, I marvel at how simple and easy ministry has become in spite of the challenges and sorrows we face individually and together.
I see the fruit of our prayer and perseverance, not only in our friends' lives, but also in our own. And I thank Jesus for leading us away from the safety and comfort of the harbour, into the deep waters of servanthood and self-effacement.
“Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness.... The Lord will guide you continually, giving you water when you are dry and restoring your strength” (Isaiah 58:10-11, NLT).
* Client names have been change to protect their identities.