There is a homeless lady who wanders around downtown Brantford you've likely seen but never spoken to named Brenda Lee. We met about 5 years ago during our "Flippin' Friday" street barbecue. She would come and have burgers with us along with her personal motley crew. We got to know her story... because we talked with her.
At the time, Brenda Lee summered under a pine outside of the Market Square Mall where Freedom House is now located. She would come to the BBQ smelling minty fresh. Well... at least her breath was minty fresh. This is because she gets drunk on Scope mouthwash every night. We'd chat a bit about life. As much as was possible. We'd share a burger and she'd be on her way into the night.
One night during the BBQ, my friend Sam and I were taking a walk around downtown inviting folks down Market Street to biggest free street-meat party in Brantford at 1AM Saturday morning... and we found Brenda Lee. She was picking cigarette butts with some tobacco left in them out of ash trays. We learned that summer that there are people who come in from the reserve and pay the homeless pennies to collect used tobacco out of butts for them. They then take it out, re-roll and sell it for profit. Heartwarming.
We said, "Hey there Brenda Lee!". She turned around sharply and with a wry grin replied, "How the hell do you know my name?" We reminded her of the BBQ she'd been at an hour ago and that we talk every week. Then she said, "Ah yeah... that's nice of ya. Well, um... do you want to grab my ass?" seemingly as a form of returning the favor. As tempting as the offer was, we declined and prayed for her again.
Yesterday morning, Brenda Lee and her motley crew showed up at Freedom House. It's not abnormal for us to have the homeless/semi-homeless crowd in attendance. Freedom House is not a church really intentionally geared toward street ministry. In fact, we've at times been accused of the opposite ironically, since we do more than most. Because on the other hand because we DO do it, we've been labeled that way too. Our thing is the people are people. We all have the same need for God... food... love. From prostitutes to politicians. God's desire is to impact them ALL. One is no more important than another.
We were having a pancake breakfast and word of food seems to travel like a shout across a quiet northern lake. But this could be the first time Brenda Lee has made her way into a Sunday morning service. It's honestly a challenge sometimes to "manage" when cultures come together in a setting but our people are AMAZING. As our post-worship prayer time came to a conclusion, there came a bit of a ruckus from the back. Brenda Lee made her way loudly forward and approached the front. I came up to her and said, "Hello there Brenda Lee." She gave me her traditional, "How the hell do you know my name?" Thankfully the ass-grab offer didn't follow this time.
She smelled overwhelmingly of vodka (which is better than Scope I can testify to) but God doesn't care so why should we. He just wants people to come... as they are. She said to me, "Pastor asked if there were people who wanted to give their life over to Jesus... and I wanna do it". I prayed with Brenda Lee that God would flood her heart with his love, compassion & peace. She smiled at me and told me about more hard times she was going through but she's making it through with God's help.
Brenda Lee turned to my son and the other 2 boys sitting in the front row beside me and taught them to do the "pound it" fist bump thing because there are, "Too many germs when you shake hands". Then she and her crew disappeared into the Sunday morning sunshine.
There's no great moral to this story. No real grand lesson. I don't know if what happened Sunday Morning "took" in Brenda Lee. I don't know if she woke up in pine tree this morning feeling refreshed and new. But here's what I do know. The poor/very poor are real people with real struggles and stories... just like me and you. Too often we look at the problem and not the person. I'm going to suggest that the problem shouldn't define them to us... just like YOUR problem shouldn't define you to others.
I'll say it again. Meeting FELT needs opens the door to meeting REAL needs.
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?
So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
Matthew 6: 25-26, 31-33