While in Montreal, our site saw how urban poverty shapes communities and the people within them. On Thanksgiving Monday we experienced the inner-city, watched how people went about their activities, as we had the option to engage with people on the streets. That morning I, along with two others, met a homeless man in his 50’s named Billy. We spent a fair bit of time talking with this very intelligent, clean-clothed, and gracious man.
Before leaving, we told him that if we were in the area again, we’d come say hi—little did we know that we’d have that opportunity that very afternoon. After lunch, our leaders gave us a few hours and a bit of cash to go back into the inner-city community to “make an impact in the local community.”
We started off our afternoon with a lot of walking, sharing food, and enjoying small talk with those on the streets. A few hours later we saw Billy a couple blocks away from his morning spot. He was very happy to see us and we began to engage in more great conversation. We mentioned how we hadn’t really explored Montreal too much, so Billy said he’d be our own personal tour guide!
After 25 years of life on the streets, Billy had learned lots and had so much to share with us: This was evident in how we seemed to be respected by others on the streets. One example of this was when another homeless person began to heckle my friends for money. He was quickly quieted by Billy who said, “Leave them alone, they’re with me.” When we said goodbye to Billy outside a Metro station, we were saying goodbye to someone who not only welcomed us into Montreal, but became our unlikely friend.
Despite the amount of time and energy he spent on us, he never asked for any money or food from us. When we did offer him food, he only took it because we had told him that we had food for ourselves.
Billy was definitely not perfect, but he shared a certain essence of Jesus with us in the way he welcomed and led us—despite him being a poor, recovering drug addict living on the streets. What will you learn if you spend time with the people on the streets whom you usually walk past?
– Sarah Isaak (Burkina Faso '16)