I’ve completed three shifts at the UN GIFT box so far over the course of the Pan Am Games with two shifts to go during the Parapan Am Games. There have been many volunteers on hand to greet people, share information about human trafficking, and encourage people to sign our petition asking the Ontario provincial government to develop an action plan to address human trafficking.
This experience has been my first as a sort of streetside evangelist. It offered me a lot of food for thought as I had plenty of time to observe the people passing by on the sidewalk.
The first thing I noticed was how individual focused our society has become. This was not a total revelation, of course, because our society has been heading this way for a long time, but this was my first experience observing it in action for a prolonged period. Just standing on the lawn of St. James Cathedral, I got a real eyeful of the kind of society we have become.
People of all generations strode past me purposefully, avoiding any kind of eye contact, ignoring my friendly “Good morning!” and “Hello!” and completely focused on getting to their destination. Some wore headphones and sunglasses to block out the noise and the sights around them, some were busy talking on their phones, and some just didn’t want to engage.
A lot of the time I felt invisible.
(Though one instance made me laugh out loud: some guy burst out, “I have a girlfriend!” when he walked past me a second time and I said hello to him again.)
And to be honest, it didn’t bother me a whole lot. Mostly because I saw myself when I looked at these people. I am guilty of being self-absorbed a lot of the time. On my way around the city, I have dodged the energetic Plan Canada and Medicins Sans Frontiers volunteers many times. I walk quickly and purposefully, sometimes looking at my phone, not really noticing the people around me.
Standing there, as Sarah-the-streetside-human trafficking-evangelist, I realized that that is NOT the kind of person I want to be. I don’t want to rush through life ignoring other people. I don’t want to make other people feel invisible or ignored. Instead, I will try to walk more slowly (although it’s very hard) and force myself to stop and spend a few minutes chatting with the people who are trying to get my attention and see where the Holy Spirit leads.
The second thing I noticed was how open and friendly many of the homeless people in this city are. They have a voice that they want to share and it is beautiful, though usually heart-breaking. More often than not, the men and women who were living on the streets were more ready and interested to engage with me and talk than the more affluent-seeming people walking down the street. And quite often they would share their stories with me. I was moved by their openness and I sensed that they don’t really have the opportunity to talk to people who will just listen to them. No one asked me for money, they just wanted to talk. They signed the petition. They wished me good luck and then kept on with their day.
The view from the box revealed God at work in the most unexpected ways.