It’s 1995 and we meet at church.
I tell you my name is Danny. You came to my town to speak in my church.
Well, it’s sort of my church. Fred, the minister, likes me and his wife brings me dinner sometimes. I don’t think the people like me too much but at least they’re not mean or anything. They just ignore me but that’s OK cause Fred lets me play the drums when nobody’s around. I tell you how I live with Mum and how Dad took off when I was little. I don’t remember much about him anyway. You’re OK. I don’t get all the stuff you talk about but you treat me OK, so I like you.
It’s 1999 and this time we meet in front of Evergreen.
You know my name but call me Buddy Boy. I think that’s ‘cause I’m from down east like you. I wasn’t sure I liked it but I guess it was OK and you were just trying to say ‘I know where you’re from.’ You tell me that nothing good is going to happen to me in Toronto, and that I should go home. I say I don’t know where ‘home’ is and you suggest I should be with my Mum. But she has a new boyfriend and they moved and forgot to tell me where they moved to. You remind me of the minister who befriended me but he moved too and the church people didn’t treat me so good after that.
You were kind of stumped then. I know you weren’t rejecting me. I guess you did want to help. But you didn’t know what to do with me either. Some of the things you suggested were lame. Us talking just kind of went flat and I moved on.
It’s 2003 and we meet on Church Street.
Now my name is Irish. It’s tattooed across my neck. It looks like the flag of Ireland and I like it a lot. You don’t mention it. I have a big white supremacist logo tattooed on my cheek. You try to ignore it but I know it bugs you – that’s the point. It bugs everybody, so people give me my space. You ask how I am doing and I tell you about the gang I joined and how violent we are. But you know I’m not tough and that without the gang I can’t even protect myself. But I tell you about how bad we are anyway. I don’t want you to think I’m weak.
Now it’s 2005 and I get you on the phone.
Not sure why I called. Maybe it’s because you’re from home or at least sort of from home and it’s been so long since anybody really talked to me.
I tell you I quit the gang. Truth is, they kind of let me slip. Everyone lets me go eventually. I tell you how good things are and about the great job I have and how great my place is. But you know I wouldn’t be calling if things really were good. I know that you know, but I tell you anyway and you pretend not to see through it, and you tell me “Good on yah!”
You invite me around and I say “sure!” but we both know it will never happen. You probably think I’m homeless but I got a place. Not so nice as I told you but it’s a place.
So why did I call you? Maybe ‘cause you’re the only person who knows about my life and I don’t really connect with anyone else. Maybe the closest thing to home is the times I see you every once and awhile.
I gotta go now. Things to do. Catch you later. Or not.
By the way, do you have any idea why God put me here?
It’s 2016. It has been a decade since I’ve had contact with Danny.
I think about him often. Is he dead, alive, in prison, gone back east?
Twenty years later, YSM’s Evergreen Centre now has more staff, they have more training and our programs are more sophisticated. If Danny arrived today, perhaps the outcomes would be different.
Like thousands we met, Danny was dispossessed (Hebrew: rush) – a term used to refer to a range of people who are poor, destitute, forced from their homes or otherwise dispossessed. To be dispossessed is to lose your stake hold, to have no place you can call home, nowhere that you belong. Imagine – if you disappear, no one knows you’re missing.
Danny was, in every important respect, an orphan, abandoned by his parents. The church had no time or aptitude for him. In fact, there is really no place for any version of – Danny, Buddy Boy, or Irish – in Canadian society.
So I often think of Danny, and of the Apostle James who wrote that “real” or “pure” religion “visits” orphans and widows – which at the least means that the faithful find ways to show hospitality, to include and to embrace.
The church that had no time for Danny now has no time for anybody: it closed its doors some years back. But some young innovative people got their hands on the building and have opened a center for homeless and needy individuals in their town. Impossible to know, but had they been there in 1995, Danny’s journey might have been different. To me it seems that in that space, Jesus has reestablished “religion . . . pure and undefiled before our God and Father . . . ” – James 1:27.
– Blessings … Rick Tobias
As a child, Georgia Lee Moses, of Petaluma, California, routinely fled a home that has been described as dysfunctional and abusive. In August 1997, at age 12, she disappeared. After eight days her naked and strangled body was found dead in a ditch. Her murderer was never found. Local firefighters built an angel memorial to honor her. Singer Tom Waits wrote this song to remember her. Her memorial was recently moved from the crime scene to a parkette by the Petaluma City Hall. (With material from Lori A. Carter, The Press Democrat, Nov. 2, 2012)
DOING THEIR PART
Doing their part is a way for me to show appreciation for people I’ve met who have been influential over me (and often many others), or who simply are impressively committed, insightful or effective in pursuing compassion and justice.
It is no secret that the single most effective way you keep youth off the street or out of gangs is early relational engagement. Julie MacLean, an extremely invested and caring community worker, created and leads Yonge Street Missions’ “Tree of Life” project. Here’s her commentary. – RT
My family and I are blessed to have been part of the life of the Regent Park community for 22 years. Eleven years ago I became the Children’s Program Coordinator at the Christian Community Centre which really opened the door into the splendor and chaos of Regent Park.
When I started, The Centre provided a framework for the “Tree of Life” children’s programs; inclusive, fun and holistic learning environments incorporating homework clubs and summer camps. We have become a tight knit community of around 60 children and 30 “youth in training” who pour into the Centre to develop their talents, experiences and ideas. They bring the pre-existing values of Regent Park’s cultures with them; hospitality, respect, family, faith and self-expression.
My role has been to encourage our children and youth in their gifts and provide opportunity for growth and leadership. Longevity and the creation of safe space have been key to the healthy growth and development of our children and youth. So strong are the community ties that our alumni still visit frequently and many have begun their own community development projects such as overseeing the new community garden, running fitness classes for people with diabetes, and working with other community based agencies.
One of our youth blossomed this fall when we started a project to help children and youth to choose a short term goals. His goal was to get a “six pack”. The boy who struggles in school wrote out a detailed five-part plan, enlisted six of his friends to approach the manager of a gym to see if they could use the treadmill, found a gym supervisor to run an after-hours training program and helped all the other children in homework club with their goals. He managed all this despite being bullied and threatened at school and battling family problems that have resulted in him being removed from his home.
This is not the end of the story. I believe that his resilience, strong bonds with friends and multilayered support and love from YSM will see him thorough this challenging time. And beyond that…..I believe God has his hand on this 11 year old.
“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”