Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Toronto Snapshot 1: Birthday Boy

On November 14-17, I led a team of college-age students on a pilgrimage to the streets of Toronto. It's one of my favorite GCC short term trips, and it's hard to return without a bundle of incredible and thought provoking stories.

Over the next week or so, I will be sharing a few of those stories here... Enjoy!


On Sunday morning, our team visited The Church of the Holy Trinity. It was an old building, smack in the middle of bustling downtown Toronto.

Because of its location, the church has become something of a beacon for homeless men and women in the area. They serve soup and bread after their service, have a memorial for the homeless right outside and the atmosphere of worship is one of welcome, hospitality and grace.

Our team visiting The Church of the Holy Trinity on Friday night.

This was made quite evident by the drunk homeless man that I met after the service. Somehow I can't imagine his presence going over quite as well in suburban Indy! He was sitting half-asleep in a chair after the service, and grabbed my attention as I walked past him.

"Hey. How are you doing man?" he asked through squinting eyes. "I'm David."

"Hey there. My name's Barry. How are you?" I replied.

"It was my birthday yesterday."

"Cool! Happy birthday man! What did you do on your big day?"

"Well, in the morning I pounded the pavement and got a few dollars. I told people it was my birthday and I showed them my ID so they would know I wasn't lying to them. Then, I drank four bottles of wine and had two joints."

"Woah," I said, smiling (and trying to imagine what one bottle of wine would do to me!). "Sounds like you had a pretty crazy day!"

"Yeah... Hey. That wine they used for communion. Is that... like, for anyone to take? What do they do with the leftover wine?"

I looked around for the bottle, but I didn't see it on the communion table. "I don't know." I said.

"Because it was just sitting out so I thought..." He opened his jacket and pulled out the half-full bottle of communion wine. "I thought it would be ok to have it. Is that, like, ok? To take the communion wine? I mean, is it ok to drink wine used for communion?"

I laughed and replied, "Well, I'm going to let you wrestle with your own conscience on that one..."

A quarter of Toronto's population lives under the poverty line.

He closed his jacket and shut his eyes. I thought the conversation was over, and I started to say goodbye. Before I could get the words out, he continued.

"She was like an angel man. I think she was 16. She was just a little angel."

"Um, who was?" I asked, wondering if the alcohol was starting to get the better of him.

"This girl I met yesterday. She was 16 and her parents were pushing her in a wheelchair. She had cancer. Cancer! She was 16! Just a little angel." As he said this, tears began streaming down his face.

"And I thought, what did she ever do to deserve that? I mean, I thought my life was hard, but then I saw her and now I know I've got nothing to complain about."

After taking a few breaths, he continued, "And you know what I did? I asked her straight up, can I pray for you? I did. I said, can I pray for you? And then I prayed. I prayed that God would bind up the cancer. That he would heal her! Because I believe in the power of prayer."

"Woah," I said, "that's amaz-"

"And you know what the father did? He tried to give me five dollars! I said, no way, sir. I'm not taking your money. But then he put it in my pocket and told me if I didn't like it, I should give it to someone else. Well, I didn't like taking money from him. It felt like he was paying me for praying for his daughter."

"Hmm. So what did you-"

"So then I was out walking and some other homeless guy I know asked me for a light. I said, 'I'll do you one better.' and I gave him the five dollars. He was shocked."

Someone from the team came up to tell me that we were leaving. I turned to David and said, "Well, it was really nice to meet you."

"You too, man. And hey, would you remember to pray for me? You do believe in the power of prayer, right?"

"Sure, David. I definitely will. And yeah, I do believe. Thanks. Thanks for... talking."

I walked away wondering if I really did believe, and reminding myself once again that God speaks in the most unlikely of places...