By Ken Banks
In 1993, shortly after graduating from college, I spent some time in New York City. While there, I volunteered in a soup kitchen, gave away toiletries and other useful items to the homeless, distributed hot meals in a local neighbourhood, served at a men’s shelter and participated in street ministry (drama, prayer, conversations, etc.).
While all of these activities took me out of my small-town, Maritime life comfort zone, they taught me many lessons about people and the needs that exist. I remember talking to one homeless man who had served in Vietnam. He talked of his family, of serving his country and my impression that night was that he was simply a regular guy. Yet, he lived in a box.
I was told at that time there were roughly 80,000 others just like him living in the city. That was more people than lived in my home city of Fredericton.
Talk about a different world.
I’ve alluded to this a bit in past articles, but I’ve had three relatives die due to the tainted blood ‘scandal’ that occurred in the 1980s. Needlessly, thousands of Canadians were exposed to HIV and hepatitis C through contaminated blood products.
My cousin, Randy Connors, who passed away in 1994, was a leading advocate for justice for those who became victims.
I share that because one of the other activities that we took part in while in NYC was that of visiting residents of an AIDS hospital.
Many of the residents there were dying. Some had been abandoned by friends and family. Some were there because they were homosexual; some were there because they had been given tainted blood; others were there because of dirty needles. Yet, they all were hurting.
Due to so many unknowns at the time, we had to ‘decontaminate’ both before and after our visit. We had to wear gloves while interacting with the residents. Some, we were told, had had very little human touch since they’d been in the hospital.
For a 21-year-old from the Maritimes who was not used to seeing or being in such an environment, I was shocked. But I was also moved.
How could I or any of us help these individuals?
We were assigned rooms to go to and offer friendship to those we would meet.
A buddy of mine worked with me and as we entered one of the rooms, we met a weak and frail man lying in his bed. He was barely able to move, had exposed sores on his arms and was not in good shape.
We talked for a few minutes, getting to know each other. Then he told us that he was hungry for some chocolate M&M’s.
He was unable to feed himself and so, one M&M at a time, we fed him.
Tim Keller, a pastor and author, states, ‘Like the wounded man on the Jericho road, there are needy people in our path – the widow next door, the family strapped with medical bills, the homeless man outside our place of worship. God calls us to be ministers of mercy to people in need of shelter, assistance, medical care or just friendship.’
Jesus spoke of offering a cup of water in His name to those in need. M&M’s work too.
I am being reminded of my need to re-engage in ministries of mercy, to follow the words of Jesus from the story of the Good Samaritan to ‘Go and do likewise.’
TAGLINE: Ken Banks is the pastor of the Wesleyan Church in Truro.