He came knocking at the door.
In the midst of the coronavirus crisis, I am reminded of our neighbours on the street.
“Pandemic”, they said.
On March 11th, the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak as a pandemic. Regardless of what that term means, to the general public, businesses and organizations like churches, the term means a response is needed. As leaders of a church that includes families, children, and seniors, we also rushed to address what this new status means for our community life. It was important that we show care for our people by how we communicate and respond to this situation. As the various teams and pastors met and passionately hash out every detail and possibilities, many of us were also receiving questions, comments, suggestions, and feedback from our congregants and the media. It was definitely information overload, and yet, we knew the task at hand and what absolutely needs to be done at that very moment. For the next two days, our heads were buried in this task. Every word, every sentence was crafted to the best of our ability in communicating our response to this overwhelming crisis.
And then came [Ryan]*.
Ryan is one of many who knock on the church’s door for help. He came knocking on a Friday afternoon in the midst of the coronavirus crisis. He was shivering, somewhat cohesive with a bit of mumbling, and was dressed the best that he could in our winter weather. He asked for some food and was hoping for a shower, but there were no such facilities for him, only some chicken pot pies that we could heat up for him. As I met him, I can see he was tired and so asked him to sit down and rest his feet. As we got talking, he shared the troubles he is in. He just came out of the prison system, was desperate to stay out of the crowds that fed him meth — in which he was on at that very moment. He was attempting to control his erratic behaviour due to the drugs in his system; he knew what it is doing to him, and he was ashamed of taking it and what it is making him do. I suggested centers around the church that can assist him, but he knew they would not take him until he is clean. As we waited for the pies to heat up, I can see he was tired, and so I told him to take a break — it’s ok, it’s safe here. Ryan leaned back on the chair, pulled his toque over his eyes — a treasured item that kept his head warm — and in five seconds, fell asleep. I can hear him snoring and breathing loudly, but I also heard relief. For a second, I wanted what he had. For a moment, I was comforted to know he had rest. In the midst of our own craziness, franticness and emergency planning, Ryan grounded me to rest in the midst of trouble times.
When the pies came out, Ryan scoffed down the very hot pies, I asked him how long has it been that you had a hot meal, he mumbled, “Three days.” The pie was burning his mouth, I asked him to slow down, no need to hurry, but he was absolutely famished. As he ate, bits of crust fell on the table and he would attempt to wipe the table clean as he didn’t want to make a mess. I could see it in his eyes, this is somebody that wants to be clean, someone that is in sorrow for crimes he had done and the drugs he can’t refuse. The church, it seemed, was the only place he can unload his burden because the world has been brutal to him. The drop-in center he was in was unkind and he felt bullied by others. After he finished his meal, he diligently threw away the garbage and proceeded to head out. He didn’t want to overstay his welcome, and yet I wished he would have. As he stepped out the door I told him what I was thinking the whole time. “[Ryan], I can see you can be a good man, you can make a better choice.” He thanked me and left.
Ryan came and left the church with no knowledge of what was going on in the world around him. He had no idea about the pandemic and the severity of the impact this virus is having on the city he is wandering through. He had no idea because he is already in a hell of his own. With or without COVID-19, his life was already at risk, and every day he has to struggle through the anxiety and fear of a cruel world. For many of us, we can make plans, change our environment and prepare for various levels of crisis. We can afford to do so. But for those like Ryan, the world just got a whole lot inhospitable.
As organizations and businesses move to protect their people, families, the medical infrastructure, the economy, and their own missions, let us not forget those who we often and already have dismissed. Even in times of global crisis, our lives are not worth more than theirs, and they also need someone to protect them in times such as these.
As Ryan came to our church’s door in the midst of his own crisis. I am reminded that Christ came to us in the midst of our own crisis. He came to a world ravaged by sin, a world of self-centred people and filled with sickness, plagues, and barrenness. Jesus came to a messy world, he didn’t stay in the heavens making plans to protect what has not been tainted by sin. He didn’t wait till we are cleaned. He came, and show us what love is — what it means to love your neighbours and what it means to love God. He came, and He overcame the world. His victory was won not by hoarding earthly power or materials, but by humility and sacrifice. What are we willing to give up for our neighbours — those we see around our street, at the stores, and next door — in times such as these? Is it that last pack of toilet paper sitting on the shelve of a grocery store? Is it an extra donation to drop-in centres and non-profit around the city? What are some new and innovative ways we can show love to our neighbours today?
Dear friends, let’s not just focus on the plans we made for ourselves today, let’s look for the Ryans around us. What has God planned for you to do for them today?
*Name changed to protect the individual.