About four years ago I moved from Seattle to London and settled in at The Globe Church near London Bridge. There are a lot of differences between these two cities, but lots of similarities too. Some of those similarities are the rainy weather, cold winters and the prominence of homelessness..
As a result, I encountered homelessness often in my adult life. My heart would sink when I saw these people, but I never knew what to do to help them. When a few friends, Sarah and Danielle, started talking about starting a ministry to serve the homeless, I was immediately interested. Winter was approaching and our first idea as a team was to organize Christmas gifts and a festive meal for the homeless.
We organized dozens of gifts, which we handed out on the streets of London along with invitations to the meal later that week. However, only two people who we’d invited actually turned up at the meal. It turned out that we’d planned the meal on a busy day for begging which highlighted our lack of knowledge around what rough sleepers really needed. Safe to say, there was a lot of leftover pudding!
Fast forward three years, and we’ve been partnering with Webber Street (WS) day center near Waterloo to host monthly meals. WS is part of London City Mission and they’ve been serving the homeless in London since the 1960s. We’ve benefitted immensely from their partnership.
One of the big learnings I’ve had in serving the homeless is the difference between what I thought people need, and what they actually desire. At Christmas we host a special meal and give gifts to the guests that attend. I assumed guests would be most interested in the gifts which normally include cold weather wear, hygiene items, and food. But in reality, they are less interested in the gifts and much more interested in community with us. Over the years, the volunteer team from The Globe Church has grown, and the guests have come to know our faces. They often ask about people who are not there if anyone is missing. A few of them know about my family back home in Seattle and they ask about my travels home to visit.
Many of us have developed really sweet friendships with the guests, and we love having a laugh, telling stories, and hearing about their weeks. One of my favourite memories at WS was watching the World Cup together, cheering for England, and feeling like the massive gap in socioeconomic status between us didn’t matter. We were simply united by a common desire to see a bunch of guys defeat Colombia (which they did!). Amidst these fun times, we also have serious chats, and often talk about our faith. These conversations have led to guests coming to The Globe Church, and genuinely becoming part of our church family.
While these moments and memories are sweet, the realities of homelessness are difficult. People who are homeless have stories, they have families, they have struggles. They’ve suffered hard things and experienced grief. They continue to face hard things every day. But they are still people, like us, who need Jesus.
I long to see an end to homelessness, and I long to see the guests come to know Jesus as their personal savior. He’s the servant King who promises to remove all pain, all suffering, and all injustice. Serving the homeless at Christmas is just one of the ways that we try to show the love of Jesus to people all around London. For me, that’s what Christmas is about, and that’s what the meal is about too. I’m so thankful to be able to serve in this way, and hope we continue to see some of the guests become part of our church family.