York and the Cathedral

York Cathedral

We had a great sleep and another English “Full” Breakfast. By 10:30 we were on our way to York and into the heart of the city. It was Sunday morning, but still impossible to find a spot on the street so we found a convenient parking lot near Marygate then hiked through the York Museum Gardens toward the cathedral. By now the fog had lifted and the morning was beginning to clear and sparkle in the crisp early autumn morning. The leaves were beginning to turn and fall, giving us rather memorable moments as we passed through light to shadow under the enormous trees that bordered the Ouse River along the Dame Judy Dench Walk. It was what one might  hope for the morning you make a visit to historical York.

As we pressed through the crowds already filling the sidewalks we kept our eyes fixed on the massive tower and steeple of the York Cathedral, world famous for its Gothic design. Then there it was! Suddenly at the intersection of three streets there it stood glistening in the sunlight. We walked around it trying to get a good photograph (as everyone does) and then noticed well-dressed, college-aged young adults, both men and women, at the doors handing out what appeared to be bulletins. We walked up to see if there might be a church service or perhaps we might go inside to take a look. We were told that this was, “The Battle for Britain Sunday.” It was then that we noticed well-decorated military personnel milling about in small groups  in front of the church. It was apparent that something important was taking place and that we were just a little “tacky” for the occasion. We could come back at one o’clock if we’d like to see it.

St. Michael le Belfrey

The Family in York

Soon Jeanne was discouraged enough with the reception that she went on her own toward another small building standing in the shadows of The York Cathedral. I was distracted taking photographs when she, frantically hailing me in her direction,  caught my eye. When I reached her at the steps of St. Michael le Belfrey I could hear what she was hearing, choruses that we were familiar with and robust singing coming from inside. We were graciously invited to come in and entered a pew two-thirds of the way back amid a group of about one hundred other worshipers. We enjoyed about forty-five minutes of singing and preaching before they broke for fellowship time.

“Elevenzies” at Betty’s Tea

Leaving the church we walked the crowded and narrow streets of York and eventually came across Betty’s Tea, a rather notable experience with tea and crumpets served up in grand style by girls dressed in crisp dresses and aprons. The light streaming in through the tall windows made the room dazzle and the occasion splendid. While having our tea a well-appointed, older gentleman at the next table heard our accents and introduced himself as a guide for the York Cathedral and in but a minute was bad talking the Puritans for knocking the stained glass windows out of the church in the mid-1550s. Although we wish they had never done such a thing, the fact remains one never knows who they are talking to, now does one? After visiting York Cathedral on Sunday morning, it occurs to me that most of the people who are attending church in this impressive edifice are really worshiping culture and art rather than the God of culture and art.

The shops were magnificent, especially along the street that was once essentially an outdoor slaughter house. The streets had names like “Swinegate” and “The Shambles.” These are “must see” visits. There are lots of characters so I asked one if I might snap his picture and he heartily agreed, striking for me his best pose.

So much for saying we had been to York. Now on to Chatsworth House, where the movie Pride and Prejudice was filmed.

Guest Post – Always an Adventure

Jones

I met Jones* one day when he came late to breakfast. I could tell the guy just wanted to talk so we chatted for a bit. As we were closing, I asked if he wanted to grab some Pho with me in a little while. He was quite taken aback and was thrilled with the invite.

We spent 2 hours together. He talked most of the time and I listened. He wants to work and doesn’t get many hours doing polling in the street. He was terrified of his land lady who sounds like a very manipulating and unstable person. He loved the soup and was impressed with how tasty, filling and inexpensive it is. Another Pho convert, my goal.  He showed up for breakfast 2 weeks later feeling like he’s making baby steps in life. Even the simplest of advice I give him seems like a revelation. Maybe when you’re fighting for basic survival, it’s hard to see beyond the next 4 hours.

Hangin’ with Jones

Matthieu and the 3 musketeers

Mathieu* told me one day it was his birthday tomorrow.

Me: awesome! Whatcha going to do for it!

Him: uhh… probably nothing actually.

Me: really? That’s brutal.

Him: what’s to celebrate? Its been 44 years of nothing.

Ouch… I offered to take him and his two friends out for Pho. They graciously excepted and we met an hour later. Admittedly, I didn’t get too many words in. They spoke really fast and among themselves. I sat and smiled wondering why I was there. Looking back, I think I just gave them a great time to enjoy each other. I can live with that.

The shoes

On Thursdays, we have “vestiaire” where people can line up and take turns sorting through free clothing that was donated that week.  Sometimes though, people who come for breakfast on a regular basis ask if we have something available.  Since we are in relationship with them and see them regularly, we can take a quick look for them.  One lady comes in quite frequently and talks… a lot. She’s probably around 45, says she was raised with young animals and can calm any animal by speaking their language (impressive!).  She visits the office from time to time to see if there are any shoes for her.  Her shoes are BAD!  They are falling apart in every way possible and barely protect her foot at all.  She politely requested for us to check for any shoes.  Michel came back with a smile on his face.  “It’s your lucky day!”.  She quickly tried on her gently used white sneakers.

Me: So can I take your old shoes and throw them out?

Her: Oh no, I think I’ll take them with me.

Me: What?  Why?  They’re horrible!  You’ve got super stylin’ shoes now!

Her: Well, I heard you can sell used goods on the internet and make some money.

Me: *slight chuckle* Well, I’m really experienced buying and selling online.. and you won’t be able to make money with those.

Her: *smiling* Well.. I’d still like to keep them

Me: *smiling* Well… I’m not going to let you.. *I gently slide them towards myself* so let me take care of those for you. *I hold them over the garbage in the kitchen garbage.*

Michel: NOO!!!!!! OUTSIDE OUTSIDE OUTSIDE!!!!


Our meal area isn’t very big so it was great entertainment to all the sans logis there that day.  As I held the shoes at arms length, the others were jokingly ducking for cover as I passed by.  Yep, we have a good time even when people have very little material things to call their own.

The shoe aftermath

A happy client with her new (old) shoes!


Two of the five volunteers I work with in the mornings. I look huge!

Family while in Lyon!!

* Not their real name

Guest Post – Saying Hello to Prostitutes

The sans logis is in the middle one of the two china towns in Paris.  On my way there at around 9am in the morning, the Cantonese prostitutes are already out working the streets.  For awhile I had no idea how to interact with them as I walk by:

  • do I avoid eye contact so they know I’m not interested?
  • do I say hello as I walk by quickly?
  • should I take the route that avoids them altogether?

I asked our field leader this week.  “How would Jesus interact with them?”.  Wow.. so simple and I’ve heard it so many times.  So, for the first time on Friday I smiled and said hello to a protitute.  She was kind of surprised, smiled and said “bonjour” in return!

Two prostitutes visible. They start at around 9am

By walking by them so frequently you learn to recognize them.  I noticed a bunch of them having breakfast at an Asian restaurant called “Best Tofu”.  I figured the locals must know the good deals.  Do they ever:

2.50 euros baby

Yep.. I’ll be back alright.

Guest Post – Encouragement all around

Early in the week I reached out to a few people with some specific areas for support/advice.  The response was really quite overwhelming, so for those who have been thinking about it and giving us support, a big thank you hug:

Your internet thank you hug

Lydia* the transgendered atheist– Last week I got invited to come check out the “literature bibles” another Christian organization had setup close to a metro.  It’s basically a bunch of different short pieces of literature about certain Christian topics that might interest people.  Sometimes people just want to talk.  Now, I have to confess: chatting with random people on the street and initiating a discussion about spiritual matters is not my strong suit.  As I was talking to Jim the organizer, a woman walked up and started shouting at him from afar saying he’s part of  a cult, he is doing horrible things by talking about Jesus etc etc.  As she approached, he mentioned she often comes to visit on Tuesdays.  I love engaging with people and hearing the story:

Me: So not a fan of Jim?

Her: No!  He’s a horrible person trying convert people to his cult.  He should be teaching about Nietzsche.

Me: Humm.. I don’t know much about Nietzsche.  Why do you say Christianity is a cult? …  I was asking lots of questions and trying to understand her perspective of things …

Her: Christianity is a hateful organization.  They hate gays!

Me: I totally agree with you that Christians have done horrible things to people who are gay, and I don’t agree with how they treated them.  Christians should be acting more like Jesus.  How would you say Jesus would have interacted with someone who identified themselves as gay?

Her: ** For the first time she pauses, and softens in her posture.  She then turns back to her argumentative stance** It doesn’t matter!  You’re in a cult!  Try to escape… you seem like a smart, nice person.

We spoke for another 10 minutes.  I found her really interesting and educated.  She brought up a bunch of complex Canadian political issues.  She told me later she was a transgendered person.  I was really happy at the end we were able to shake hands.

The literature/discussion table

Michel getting some tangible encouragement – Every day I show up at the sans logis, Michel (another volunteer) has already been there long before everyone else.  He gets the milk, coffee and all the bowls ready.  Today though, something was off, he just didn’t seem happy.  While the rest of the crew and I were finishing up, one of the ladies mentioned he was totally out of cash.  He normally loves doing the dishes but they were all piled up and Michel was no where to be found!  I found him out from of the building reading a book.

Me: Everything okay?

Him: No.. I’ve got no money.  No where to sleep.

Me: Whoa..  You’re homeless too?  I had no idea.

Him: Yep.

Me: Here’s 50 euros some people at home gave me to bless people.  I really feel Jesus would want you to have it.

Him: Say what?!?!?!? HAHAHAHA!!  Dieu est grand!  DIEU EST GRAND!  I was crying to get some money from God.  Look at my knees!  They are sore from all the praying (he actually showed me his knees).

Turns out Michel doesn’t have a place to live anymore.  They let him keep his small stuff at in a closet at the sans logis but his bigger stuff is in a secure self-storage facility.  He had to come up with another 57 euros in two days or they will move his stuff out.  He said he now has faith for the extra 7 euros.  Go God!

Michel and Jevin

Mathieu* lost his courage – I sat with some of my favorite dudes during breakfast to ask him how things were going:

Mathieu: Not good at all.  I’m crazy anxious.

Me: Oh yeah? Why’s that?

Mathieu: I’m not sure it’s always been that way.

Me: I hear you.  I deal with lots of different things I fear.  I find that it makes me want to control things.  I have realized that I can only control so much.  The extent that God can control things is so much wider that I’m learning to depend on Him more.

Mathieu: I would like the pray, but I cannot.  I’m not even sure why.  It seems like my heart “a perdu tous mon courage” (has lost all courage/hope). If I didn’t have these guys (points to his friends having breakfast at the table next to us), I’m sure I would jump off a building somewhere.

We had a great chat about him being a waiter, sharing his studio apartment with other homeless friends.  He really wants to work/live outside to enjoy the simplicities of life.  I offered to offer him some of my energies to help him find a job like that but he declined and insisted I don’t pursue it: “you have a beautiful family to take care of”.  I said: “If that’s what you think would help you the most, I will pray for you and bring you café”

The fam visits the sans logis – All the homeless folk always ask about my family.  I thought I’d introduce them!  It was a hoot.  I think everyone just enjoyed the baby’s fresh face smiling back at them unconditionally.

Michel, Ashley, Baby and Lydia.

* Not their real names

Guest Post – Random France Facts

France is different.  I often joke with the team: “ohhhh les Français sont bizarre”.  Here are some weird stories/facts:

  • “Culte” means “the Christian church service”.  “Secte” means “cult”
  • If you’re a guy and don’t want to be picked out as a tourist: don’t wear shorts.
  • I grabbed curry on the run and was eating it on the metro in favour of sitting on a bench and missing a train.  I got some REALLY weird looks.  When I asked a friend why this was, she responded “wow.. eating on the run is really not something the French do.  We sit and relax while we eat.”  Turns out this is the case even when it means missing a train and waiting an extra half hour.
  • People are LESS likely to smile at you while walking past them on the street than people in Ottawa.  People are suspicious when you do.
  • People are far more likely to offer you a place to sit if you have a baby or are old.  Ashley almost always gets a seat regardless of how busy the train is.  In Ottawa, I’ve witnessed a good number of old ladies stand while Mr. shirt-and-tie sat looking on as if she didn’t exist.
  • Years ago it was common place for the French to take 2 hour lunch breaks. Now, 1 or 1.5 hours are common.  However, work hours are often lengthened to compensate.  They work 35 hour weeks.
  • All kids get EVERY WEDNESDAY OFF from school.  I still have yet to figure out how this works with day care and working parents.  Kids do have a shorter summer and a longer school day.
  • Markets are AMAZING.  There is a ton of energy and lots of fresh, inexpensive food to be had.  They usually happen once a week in various neighborhoods and towns.  They cane literally go for miles.  As the day goes on, the deals get better and better as the vendors don’t want to have to lug their food and wares back home.

The market starting at the Metro Belleville, close to the Sans Logis I’m helping with

 

Guest Post – “Is Canada More Rich Than America?”

All the sans logis longingly ask about Canada. “Are their jobs there?” and “Is it more rich than America?” top the list of frequently asked questions.

Of the people I’ve talked to here, they seem very interested in working but after trying for a long awhile, they simply give up. “Even for someone bilingual like me, there are 5 people in line for restaurant jobs here in Paris” said an Algerian man I met this morning. True or not, he simply didn’t have any leads on how to get a job.

Me: “What about something you can do over the Internet. That way you can work for anyone in the world, just limited to someone in Paris”
His eyes lit up.. “what do you mean?”
Well my life is learning French from someone over Skype. She’s a teacher but makes $20 for an hour long class. That’s just an example. Wow… I hadn’t thought of that. That’s a great idea!

A Bangladeshi guy later in the morning jokingly thinks all French people are “mental” despite him being very grateful for having been granted French citizenship. Everyday he stays with a friend, comes here for breakfast, looks for work then plays cricket for the rest of the day. He seems frustrated with this routine. He too got excited about working on the Internet.

Does anyone have ideas of things these guys could do on the Internet for people? Some stuff I thought of:
– verbalplanet.com
– odesk/elance

Guest Post – “I am nobody”

I really love helping out at the “sans logis” (literally: for those without lodging).  Around the time I got there, in the matter of a week or so we doubled the amount of people coming through for “petit déjeuner”.  Most people simply want cafe au lait (half coffee, half milk) with some bread and jam.  The breakdown of the people that show up:

  • 20-30 regulars
  • 20 new faces
  • 20 irregulars

People have started to express an interest in me as they see that: a) I’m sticking around for awhile b) I am always making an effort to smile c) happy to chat!  On Wednesday, I asked a few of the regulars their names.  Many introduced themselves to me and I to them.  One of the regulars didn’t offer his name so I politely asked his.  “Personne” (literally: “person”) he replied.  “Person” I thought to myself, that’s weird to call yourself even as a joke.  His friends quickly pointed out it wasn’t his actual name.  Later, as I was on the train coming home I realized the second possible interpretation for the same word.. “nobody”.  He introduced himself to me as “nobody”.  My heart sank.

Some of the regulars

Our seating.. it’s not a big place

This center also takes in second hand clothing and has a morning each week where people can come in and choose some clothes.  I was helping them sort through some of the clothing that was coming in.  It was pretty horrible stuff: old bras, lots of pants for gigantic men, blazers and sports jackets.  Really?  Who’s going to want this stuff.  So I’ll put it out there to you people:

How can we get these homeless people better clothes? 

  • Calling up corporate (Nike, Adidas, etc) for the different firms for donations?  What would be in it for them?
  • Getting hooked up with more Parisian churches for donations?  City halls of small towns around Paris?
  • …??

Plus a great picture of us hanging out Paris on the many “bank holidays”.  Made EXTRA LARGE for your viewing pleasure:

Taken by our new friend and team member: Sarah from Memphis!