Since the middle of my first year at university I’ve been involved in a ministry of the campus Christian Union called Streetwork (not to be confused with a charity in the city that goes by the same name). Almost every Friday night a team of students would go out with hot chocolate and biscuits to meet with those begging on the streets and show them the love of God through a simple conversation and listening ear.
It’s been a pretty major part of my life ever since and for the past two years I’ve been one of those responsible for its week to week running. However, after some careful consideration, the decision was made a couple of weeks ago that we would not continue with Streetwork in the new academic year and last night we ventured out one last time.
It’s been an odd ministry to run. It doesn’t really fit with the CU’s vision or come under their remit so we’ve pretty much had free reign at their expense. While this does have some advantages it means that there’s little driving force behind the whole thing. We’ve been fortunate to have a small group of very committed volunteers but outwith that small circle there’s been little vocal enthusiasm. Also, it has been difficult at times to discern our purpose or motivation. Our hope is to share something of God with those in need by meeting a relational and spiritual need often not met in soup kitchens or food lines but it sometimes feels that we as volunteers may be getting more from it that those we are supposed to be serving. Maybe that’s okay? Maybe it’s not? There is also little to no way to build on what we do: we can’t plug them in to other more practical programs and there’s only so much of a relationship you can build on a chance meeting every couple of weeks.
A friend once told me that if you’re going to finish something, you’ve got to finish it well. So, rather than just let streetwork peter out as the semester came to an end as we tried to scrape by, we gathered as much of the team as possible last night and went out in style. It was surreal but wonderful to gather for orientation, to go out together, to debrief and pray together one last time. There is pain in it but also joy because God has been so faithful throughout it all and done such work in and through us all.
There are so many nights I won’t forget quickly. Like meeting L, she was thin and pale, couldn’t have been more than 21. She was very quiet and conversation wasn’t easy but someone else on my team ended up doing press-ups on the pavement beside her and when we joked with her her smile could have lit up any room. Or one night when we were on North Bridge speaking to G and his huge boxer dog. All was peaceful and we were having great chat when next thing we know we’re surrounded by about six guys, all looking for hot chocolate and some attention. Some people were praying, some were talking, all in this big guddle on one of Edinburgh’s busiest roads. Or J, sat outside a store one night, so high and out of it, telling us his plans to move to Barbados. I saw him a few months later, selling the Big Issue and getting his life sorted. Only last semester I was able to get to know T over a few months and the last night I saw him, the day before his court date, we discussed issues of God and faith and he shared his real name with us. Or my friends S and S who’s attitude towards us has transformed completely in 6 months so that now we can sit with them for thirty minutes each while they pour out their hearts.
We have been in positions of incredible privilege these past few years. I know that our hearts have been transformed, that God has not once let us go home unchallenged or without revealing more of Himself to us. And, as I look to careers in housing and homelessness, my life has been irrevocably changed by all of it.
Praise be to God!