Vancouver. Downtown East Side.
My first day.
The sky is grey. So are the rundown buildings. So is the crush of humanity on the sidewalks.
I trail behind Aaron as we weave our way through the crowd. We’re passing the bottle return depot, local entrepreneurs lined up toting large bags of recyclables. Cans are big business, it seems.
“Watch your stuff” he warns.
I tighten my grip on my satchel bag as we break through to the other side.
Aaron points to a room high up one of the many slum hotels in the area. “That’s where we had our five years of 24-7 prayer for the neighbourhood. You can see the main drug dealing corner from the window, so we could stand there and pray for our friends when we see them.”
Aaron and his team of Salvation Army soldiers and civilians don’t see themselves as missional.
“We don’t see ‘being missional’ as sustainable. We’re incarnational. We’ve moved into the neighbourhood. We’re here to stay. We’re here to love our neighbours and pray for them.”
To Aaron and the 614 community have all moved into the Downtown East Side. They live in local co-ops and shared apartments. Aaron, his wife and four children live across from the Hells Angels strip club. Many work part time jobs in the community, often with the multitude of agencies that serve the desperate needs in this, the poorest of postal codes in Canada. They make friends with the prostitutes, the drug addicted, the down and out. By the end of the first day, they are my heroes.
My last day.
I head over to the coffee shop I’ve been frequenting each morning. Part of the way to make friends in a community is to have a routine, so people know where and when to find you. As I arrive, I bump into Anne*, as I’ve done almost every day this week.
“Someone stole my coffee! I put it down for just a minute and someone grabbed it and walked off with it! I can’t believe it!” She is flustered.
“No problem, let’s go get you another one.” We head into the shop and smile at the baristas, both of them “614-ites”. I comment on the beautiful blue dress Anne is wearing, and find out that this morning her boyfriend is graduating from his recovery program. We chat over coffee and then she heads off to celebrate with him.
A little later in the day my friend Caitlyn and I pick up a cake and head up to where our other friend, Dan*, is volunteering at a Support Centre. “I’m glad to be able to give back. They’ve done so much for me.”
It’s his birthday, and 614 is his family. “Mmmm, black forest cake,” he tucks the box away. “I’ll share it with the kids program later.”
Loving God and loving your neighbors. Being the loving presence of a people of prayer.
Below is a video clip of Aaron talking about incarnational living…
*not their real name – wanna protect their privacy