Keith’s Sabbatical Journal — Late July, Early August

Late July, Early August (London, England)

Rochester Row is the name of a street located about 5 blocks from Victoria Station in London. I traveled there from White Chapel (East London) on the Underground to volunteer to “sit with” as we call it. I am learning the discipline of listening. Rochester Row is also the name given to little the Salvation Army Church built in 1912 where the outreach center is held. There is a sign out front which says “The Salvation Army Outreach Centre. For Homeless people jointly sponsored by The Rotary Clubs of greater London and the Salvation Army.” There are no pews, only a large room with tables and chairs. They are allowed to have up to 35 people at one time. Everyone who enters must sign in. There are several sky lights in the building and this brings a great deal of light. There is a small kitchen and an office in addition to the large meeting room. They also have a computer room but I am told that the management has recently stopped allowing the clients to use the internet there. The room faces the large room so it is easy to see what someone has on the screen. They also use a web-filter but the management felt it was not necessary for the clients to use the internet. So the clients only play games now. People frequently ask for a warm coat, a sweatshirt or a sleeping back at RR. They store these items in the basement. There are also two bathrooms and a shower. I have observed several people using the shower. One man put on the only clean clothes provided to him while his clothes were being washed: a dress.

I arrived at 4:00 pm as requested by the schedule Jill Patient gave me but there was no one there. There was a sign on the door stating that the SA would open at 5:45. I walked around the neighborhood a bit and then got some tea and waited while I read the paper. In the paper there was an article about how the Westminster city council had just voted to “get the rough sleepers (the homeless) off the streets.” I’m told that Westminster is the area of London where most of the tourists go. The article stated that in 1998, there were more than 200 ‘rough sleepers’ each night in Westminster but that this year, there were only around 100. The city’s plan initially is to have officials walk around the area, wake up the sleepers and move them on. Then, in about a year, their intention is to get the names of each person sleeping on the streets in that area and to officially begin denying them any of the government benefits afforded to other homeless people. Amir, whom I have talked to the most at Rochester Row, told me that he had been sleeping in Westminster.

As I was drinking my tea and reading the paper, I observed Karen (the Chaplain) go inside the SA so I decided to pay up and move on. Everything costs more in London than in the US. In fact, I think this is the most expensive place I have ever lived. Before I knocked on the door, I sat down next to Kay whom I had seen at RR several times but had never spoken to. Kay must be in her late 50s. She is a very kind lady who is also another chain smoker. I found myself having to ‘put up’ with lots of cigarette smoke. I don’t think anyone would have considered this a sacrifice but in reality, this was a sacrifice and to some extent even suffering on my part. I said nothing to anyone about what the smoke was doing to me.

I knocked on the door and after some time, Vic answered and let me in. I asked him how he was and he went into a long answer reflecting his obvious frustrations with the way things were going at RR. Vic has been working there for years. He told me that Ginger had quit and was making about three pounds more per hour. Ginger was the first staff person I met at RR several weeks ago when he and another volunteer took Pamela and myself to the Tate’s Art Museum. Vic also expressed his anger and resentment at the low pay scale the SA has for its workers and at the new manager (who does not start for another few days). Vic said that the last time he had seen the manager (who is being transferred from managing a hostile for the homeless to RR), he observed him sitting at his desk sleeping or surfing the internet. Vic said that the man only has 2 more years before he retires and Vic stated that he didn’t think the new manager would come with much vision for RR. While I was not all too surprised to hear this, I was quite saddened at the impression the SA is making upon the not-yet-Christians who work for them. I got this same sense (although much more professionally stated) from Jill and also from Gordon. I could only stomach so much of Vic’s negative talk and the cigarette smoke so I asked Vic to introduce me to the people in the office I had not met. It turned out that that the person in the office was Jonathan, a son of SA parents and a very nice young man (and clearly a Christian) who had been asked to fill in for Jill while she was on holiday. Jonathan and I talked for some time about why people are homeless and I shared a few tidbits from my experience of being homeless in the US.

Late July, Early August (London, England)

Soon Katie came in. Katie started her volunteer service the same day I did in early July. She was between jobs waiting for her new position to begin working for the Prince’s Trust, an organization which helps disadvantaged youth find training, job skills and helps pay for education. Katie works in fund raising. It wasn’t long until Katie, Jonathan and I sat down at a table with Jean, a woman of 72 who had been coming to RR for years. Jean was also a chain smoker. A few minutes later, Amir sat down and we began to get caught up on how his life was going. I had spoken to Amir for long periods several times during the past few weeks. Amir is from Iran but studied in Norman Oklahoma from 1979 (right before the American hostages were taken in Iran) to the late 1980s. Amir studied mathematics. In the late 1980s, he return to Iran and found that his family had turned against him and that there were not opportunities for him so he left in the late 1990s and came to the UK seeking political asylum. He stated to me that he has been turned down and that his petition is on appeal. He stated that he is sleeping on the streets in Westminster next to Scotland Yard every night, showers once a week and is writing a software program which he hopes will make him some money.

I made some small talk and soon posed the following question to everyone at our table: If God offered you one request and you could ask for anything, what would you ask for? Immediately, Jean said she would ask God to provide a place for all of the homeless. She talked for a long time but one thing she said struck me. Jean said she was married for 36 years but had no children and that she really wished she could have had children because they will be there when you are old to take care of you. I realized that, at least for Jean, part of her poverty is the result of not having children. Amir stated that he would ask God to be born again but with the same knowledge about life that he now has. I assured him that this was completely possible and that in fact it could really happen to him but that he needed to open up his life to Jesus and ask God for this! I later had a chance to explain in much more detail the HOPE he can have if he asks Jesus to come into his life. Amir seems so open. I will pray for his salvation. Jonathan said his request was to be an expert evangelist so that he could influence many people to turn to Christ. Katie stated she wanted world peace. Interestingly enough, no one asked me what I wanted. I wonder what I would have said.

Time moved quickly as most of the candy and sweets on the table was eaten along with the sandwiches and soups. The rules of RR state that there could not be more than 35 people at one time in the building. I think they were at their limit and I also think that they were all smokers. Why would anyone choose to subject themselves to a room full of smokers where you get a headache and could get sick? Only the love of God could motivate and sustain me here.

London is a world class city:

  1. It covers 615 square miles
  2. 7 million people live in its bounds
  3. 25% belong to an ethnic minority group
  4. 300 different languages are spoken
  5. 600,00 people attend church
  6. London is a mission field * – from London City Mission promotional

Mustard seed principal: that God can take something insignificant and use it to great effect! After all, the five loaves and two fish seemed trifling compared to the needs of 5,000 people.

Tim and I just finished our QT for today. We read Proverbs 4 “guard your heart” and then some of Psalm 84 “better is ONE DAY.” I was encouraged by the King’s desire for intimacy with God!
Did you know?

  • In 1995, there 358 Billionaires had a combined wealth equal to more than 2 billion people on the planet. This would be like a congregation ¼ the size of Central UMC (about 75 people) having a combined wealth of much much larger than the entire population of the USA.
  • Energy and Food usage give some perspective on our affluence: First, North Americans consume more than twice as much energy as those in Japan and Switzerland but 25 times more energy than the people in Brazil, 60 times more than the people of India, 191 times more than the people of Nigeria and we use 351 times more energy than the people of Ethiopia.
  • Regarding food, the average American spends about 10% of their income on food while the average person in The Philippians spends 53% of their income (more than ½) on food.
  • Those of us in developed countries make up only 1/5th of the world’s population but we control 85% of the world’s income and consume 70% of the world’s energy, 75% of the world’s metals and 85% of the world’s wood. We also produce 2/3rds of all green house gases.