In choosing to live incarnationally with our impoverished neighbors, we often end up sharing some of the same sufferings and injustices that our neighbors encounter.
For example, this past winter Liz and I, like almost all of our homeless neighbors here in Vancouver, ended up being constantly sick. As soon as we’d recover from one sickness, another would follow within days.
Now that Spring has arrived and the weather is warming up, two things are rapidly increasing throughout the Downtown Eastside: (1) People riding bikes and thus bike robberies, and (2) a rapidly spreading bed bug infestation. Liz and I have recently suffered both.
None of us on the Servants Vancouver team own a car. During the cold, rainy winters we walk or ride the bus. But with Spring in the air and it raining less often, I ventured down to a build-it-yourself used bike shop and coughed up $250 for two bicycles (I confess this blog isn’t about simplicity)–one for Liz and one for myself. I was excited to be able to zip around town once again. I also was looking forward to getting some much needed exercise.
Unfortunately, I only got to enjoy one ride on my new-to-me bike. The night after purchasing the two bikes, I locked them together in our back lot, which has an 8ft. tall chain fence complete with barbed-wire. “Nobody will be able to steal these bikes,” I thought to myself.
The next morning, we discovered that some ingenious thieves had found a way to take apart our fence with merely a wrench (which they left behind…I think to subtly mock us), and somehow managed to break the locks and steal three bikes (our two and Craig’s).
As if that wasn’t enough, the day before our bikes were stolen, Laura and I discovered that the “hives” which had been appearing on my hands and ankles for the last month were actually bed bug bites. We stripped back our mattress covers to discover that a colony of those blood-sucking insects had made a home out of our box-spring and mattress. We quickly discarded the bed in the back alley, and then slept on a couch for the next week while we searched the rest of the community house for more bed bugs (I’m itching as I write this!).
But in the midst of these minor forms of suffering and injustice, we’ve seen how God is using these two instances to help us form stronger relationships with our neighbors.
Our friend Matt (who sells smokes outside a coffee shop) has had his bike stolen four times already this Spring. Somehow he’s managed to get it back each time. The day after our bikes were stolen I told Matt, and he promised to keep an eye out for them. That evening, as Matt arrived outside our place to join us for dinner, the police pulled up with one of our stolen bikes. From upstairs we could hear Matt jubilantly shouting, “They found your bike! They found your bike!” Since then, it seems that our friendship with Matt has deepened. We’ve both experienced the same suffering which is common to many in this neighborhood.
Similarly, many of our neighbors who join us for dinner have enjoyed theatrically sharing their own stories of bed bug infestations. Though I find myself itching as they speak and paranoid when I try to sleep at night, I’ve enjoyed seeing how God is using the bed bugs to help us connect better with our neighbors.
Steve Saint, whose father was matyred as a missionary, once said, “People who suffer want to be ministered to by people who have suffered.” I think there is at least some truth to Steve’s statement. As Liz and I continue to live incarnationally in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, and as we continue to suffer alongside our neighbors, my hope is that our suffering will not be in vain, but will help us to deepen life-giving relationships with our neighbors. Relationships in which the transformative love of Jesus can flow.