Tūrangawaewae To Come: Encounters with Jesus in Berhampore and Island Bay #2
Recently I read the section of Luke’s gospel where Jesus gives his disciples their missionary training regime. He sends them out to the villages to find ‘people of peace’. He tells them to stay with the ‘person of peace’ (Luke 10:1-12). My purpose in this series is to update you with stories about people of peace that I encounter in my wanderings in the vicinity of Berhampore and Island Bay. The names I use are fictional.
Encounter 2: George
My wife Jan goes to the market more often than I. She also goes up to strangers and talks to them more often than I do. And she talks to them about things I tend not to. All of which means she sometimes makes friends quite quickly with diverse people. She had gotten into the habit of leaving our dog Beano tied up outside the market next to George. George is a warm, gentle and grateful soul who sits on the side of the street as people come and go to the market. He is missing a few teeth but it doesn’t ruin his wide smile. He has a sign asking for contributions for food. As it turns out George has a dog who means everything to him, but it is quite big and he doesn’t have much money to feed it. We didn’t know much about George. But we started to enjoy stopping and talking to him. A few weeks ago there was a cold snap. The rain was icy and we weren’t even sure we wanted to walk to the market. But George was there. His feet were bare as usual and his blanket had holes in it. Jan immediately said. We need to get George a new blanket. We dropped into the Sallies and bought a second hand blanket for George. He was on my mind over the next few days.
Later that week I had the chance to watch a short film that had just gone public online about the early life of a member of our congregation. Regina Tito (her real name) grew up sleeping rough on the streets of Wellington. She sometimes slept on the floors of the public toilets for safety. And now she works for Downtown City Ministries. Following Jesus takes her back to the streets to work with the homeless of Wellington. I watched Regina’s film and listened to an interview she did on National Radio about her experiences. The thing that spoke to me from both were her comments on what it was like to be sitting at street-level and watching the legs of people go by. She talked about the difficulty making eye-contact from down there. I woke up early the following morning. It was crystal clear what I had to do. I needed to sit down at street-level with George. I didn’t see George for a couple of days. There was no market. On Thursday I had a day off and was in town near the Beehive (NZ Government Buildings) doing some shopping – nowhere near the market where I usually see George – and there he was, greeting the suits. I chatted for a moment before I sat down. For a while there I forgot about the people passing by. George started talking about his life on the street, his chances of housing, his friends and rivals on the street. George had a story, a life, hopes and fears. He wasn’t just a ‘beggar’. Things were complicated. I asked him, do you know Regina Tito? Sure enough they went way back. I left with mixed feelings to continue my shopping.