You Don’t Know Them

John Eldredge put it best when he said, “No single line comment tells a story.”  I want to take that a little further and say, “No single line comment, no single look, no glimpse into a situation tells a story.”  I think far too often we, myself included, make quick judgements that are based on very little evidence.  There is so much more to a person’s story than the situation that they are currently in, the place that they are working, what they are wearing, or what they say or don’t say.  You really don’t know until you ask for the story.

          A couple of weeks ago we took our youth group on the MCC TOOLS (Mennonite Central Committee Toronto Ontario Opportunities for Learning and Serving) trip.  As a youth group we went on this trip to better understand what homelessnessis.  We went to listen to the stories ofpeople who are homeless, and to understand what life on the streets required ofsomeone.

This trip had a huge impact on the youth that we took, but it also had a really big impact on us as leaders too.  There are a lot of new stats that I could tell you about homelessness, I could give you the itinerary of what all we did while we were there, I could tell you about how Isaw each individual youth grow through this trip, I could tell you horrifying facts about sex trafficking and homelessness; but I won’t.  Instead, I want to tell you one person’s story that impacted me.

          I was sitting in a coffee shop alone because I had acquired terrible blisters from the previous day and decided I should probably stay back and not hold everyone up.  I sat there with my coffee ready to prepare debrief questions for the trip and to process the things that I had seen and heard during this weekend.  I finished those two things on my agenda and then started to wonder what I was going to do for the remaining time as I waited for my team to return. 

          As I sat there I had noticed this woman sitting across from me, she had kind brown eyes, mousy brown hair that was starting to grey, and she was wearing baggy clothing.  Behind those kind eyes, I could also see fear and loneliness.  I felt this nudge from the Holy Spirit to sit down and talk with her. I admit that I didn’t act right away. I took in my surroundings noticing that everyone, with the exception of myself, seemed to know each other.  I felt like an outsider in this coffee shop. One person would read the newspaper and pass it along to someone else who would do the crossword puzzle; from one person to another, this newspaper would go. 

          The people who attended this coffee shop were of low-income housing or were living on the streets that much I could tell.  Apart from that, I had no ideawhat these peoples’ lives were like or how they all knew each other but theyall in some way seemed to be looking out for one another.  After about 10 minutes of taking in mysurroundings and smiling at this lady off and on and noticing that every fewminutes she would retreat to the washroom, I took the leap and said hello.

          I then asked if I could sit and talk with her while I waited for my friends to return.  She smiled and accepted me into her world for the time that I was available.  I introduced myself and she told me that her name was Bonnie.  Bonnie was kind-hearted and lovely.  She offered multiple times to buy me a coffee even though I had one sitting in front of me. Bonnie was generous even though one could plainly see that she didn’t have much to give.

          After a few minutes of smalltalk I wanted to get to know Bonnie better.  I asked her where she was originally from to which she responded, England.  Without further questioning, she started telling me her story.

          Bonnie was from England.  When she was about 8 years old her family moved to Toronto.  A couple of years after that her parents got divorced and Bonnie and her siblings were put into child services.  She was then separated from her siblings and was moved from home to home for a few years until one family decided to keep.  Bonnie doesn’t know where her siblings are or how they are or if they are even still alive.  She told me that her fostermother was unkind to her and that she did not like her.

          Bonnie developed schizophrenia when she was in her late teens.  She had a few kids but due to her condition the child services deemed her unfit to take care of her children, she doesn’t know where they are either.  She says that no one will tell her, child services have only told her that she has a couple of grandchildren that she may not see.

          I asked Bonnie what schizophrenia was like for her.  She said, “That’s why I have to excuse myself from the table every now and then, I get too overwhelmed.”  She has some medication for it but she can’t afford the strength that she needs for the symptoms to be controlled properly.  She told me that the reason she likes to be at the coffee shop is because then she knows that the voices she hears are real people and she can get outside of her head for a while. She explained that she did not like what the voices told her and that she doesn’t trust them and she doesn’t know how to get them to leave.

          She told me that she also has problems with seizures and that she has broken her collarbone multiple times from falling while having them.  She told me that she doesn’t know how or why she is still alive.  I told her that God must have a purpose for her here on earth since she is still here. She responded with, “Well I guess so but He has not made any of that very clear to me.”

          I told her that I understand why she would want to be around people then.  I asked her if she has any connections with any family.  She lives with her boyfriend who is a baker and they have been together for five years. She said he brings home lots of fresh bread because it doesn’t all gets old in a day.  Bonnie is pretty tired of bread but her boyfriend explains to her that its free food and they need everything they can get.

          Bonnie asked me why I was in Toronto and what my group was doing.  I told her that we were all trying to gain a better understanding of homelessness and to hear people’s stories.  We came here to learn to meet people.  Bonnie thought it was wonderful and that more teenagers and young adults should learn about the difficult side of life in the city.

          Before I had to go, Bonnie told me about some of her hobbies.  She likes to write books and make jewellery.  I asked her what she wrote about,  Bonnie explained the book that she was currently working on.  The book was about a woman who had a hard life and then a handsome man who was a cop comes to rescue her.  The two of them get married and start to make a home together.  They have children and a lovely family who goes on adventures. As Bonnie was telling me about her story her eyes brimmed with some tears and I realized that she doesn’t just write fiction, she writes about her dreams.  Bonnie is a dreamer.

          I asked her what kind of jewellery she makes and she took some out of her pocket. They were keychain attachments made out of pieces of metal and bottlecaps held together by a wire.  Each wire was a different thickness, the keychains were chunky and some of the pieces were slightly rusty but you could see by her face that she was proud of her creations.  I told her that they were beautiful because I could see the beauty that she saw in them.

          After that, my group walked by the coffee shop and I had to go.  I thanked her for telling me her story and for showing me her artwork.  I told her that she was lovely company and that I thought she was beautiful.  Then I left.  I left knowing that she would probably sit there for another couple of hours. I left knowing that she had a greater impact on me than I likely did on her.  I left understanding a little bit more about the awful cycle that can occur in some of our systems in Ontario.  I left feeling a heavy sadness that I couldn’t just rescue her and give her the dream life that she told me about.  I left knowing that I would most likely never see her again.  I leftthankful that I met her.

          From just sitting in a booth across from Bonnie I never would have understood why she would leave every couple of minutes.  I would not have known why she seemed scared and lonely.  Sitting down with her and talking helped open my eyes to the real story.  How often do we just walk by people and silently judge them without giving them the time of day?  How often do we read the sign of someone whois standing on the street corners and then look away and maybe even doublecheck to make sure that our windows are up and our doors have locked?

          I would challenge you to sit down with the person who is sitting on the street and treat them like a human being who has dignity.  I would challenge you to carry an extra subway card in your wallet for just a moment like that. But do not just toss the card at them and think that you have done something fantastic and can check that off of the list of good deeds to accomplish.  Say hello, ask for a name, get down on their level and look them in the eyes, shake their hand, and listen to their story.

          Every single person on this earth is a child of God’s and is created in His image. Treat each person like they are.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne.  All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as ashepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He willput the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? Whendid we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

1 Corinthians 25:31-39

3 thoughts on “You Don’t Know Them”

  1. Wow Maddie, so glad you have grown into such a beautiful caring soul. It is so true we never know what others are going through until we take the time to sit and actually listen to stories. You make me a very proud daddy. Love you keep going with your blogs.

  2. Yes!! Maddi, thank you for sharing this story, and for sharing Bonnie’s story. You got to a level of depth with her and that is so special! I loved reading about your heart and how it was changed during the trip, and you described the scene at the coffee shop so beautifully, I felt like I was right there with you ❤

  3. This is by far the best of your writing Maddi….it speaks into the heart of the gospel.
    And when we have His spirit within us we share His heart. The heart of the “God who SEES”. The lonely, the broken, the shepherd, the prostitute…..the soul weary sister or brother who has forgotten, THEY were created by Him and HE loves them very, very much.

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