Have you ever tried to build a friendship with someone from a different background to your own? In today’s post, Christine Martin Van Wyk shares the story of her friendship with Janvier – and shows why pushing past the difficulties is so worth it. By Christine Martin Van Wyk
I met a homeless man online. My job means that I start my day with over 100 emails waiting for me in my inbox. Then the back-and-forth begins. In all these mails, I receive a lot of spam and sign-up’s. God used one sign-up in particular, I believe, to gently shift my perspective, and not so gently grip my heart:
I’m so glad to receive from you a detailed program of DNA course and I
take this opportunity to confirm my attendance to BOTH sessions (Monday
28 January and Monday 4 February). If any change occur from you, please
let me know via e-mail as I do not have a cell phone at moment. I have
access to the City Libraries Internet for one hour every day from Monday
to Saturday! Concerning if I’m a vegetarian or not, I can say that I’m
not because I eat any kind of food! Once again I thank you so much and
may God bless you abundantly! C u soon!
That was it. The simplicity of asking me to email rather than call; the blunt explanation of his gut wrenching situation; the resourcefulness of using a library; and the fact that he wasn’t a vegetarian.
Building a relationship
Over the next three months, Janvier joined my flying squad of back-and-forth emails. I found out that he speaks English, French, Russian, Swahili, Kirundi and a little bit of Spanish. I learnt that he’d been working as a chauffeur before being retrenched, and that he had lived in a shelter until he could no longer afford it. He wrote of how “the street life was not for him”.
That was how I got to know him, and build a relationship with him. I told him about NETwork, and organised to meet him after church services. We met to check in, to have coffee, and for me to give him the train tickets that my small group had sponsored. He was also able to take part in the Job Readiness Programme at NETwork. Through this he was able to renew his driver’s license (also sponsored by some ever-so-loving small group members), find work (currently as a driver for a cab company), and even meet a roommate.
More than just a “charity-case”
The important part of this story is that it is not a success story – it’s a relationship. Janvier is my friend. And it hasn’t been easy. Amid planning my wedding, I was challenged about how I stewarded my finances (flower budgets could have paid room rental). Janvier also had a run-in with the police, and there was a domestic upheaval which saw Janvier back on the streets.
When the impulse to give up becomes strong, I remember the first time I almost gave up on my friend. The time when I noticed that he hadn’t attended church two Sundays in a row. In all honesty, I thought he’d given up on church and given up on God – that the gravity of his situation (he was still sleeping in a park at that stage) had taken over and that he had decided to throw in the towel. I teetered on the edge of feeling like I had been taken advantage of – thinking that maybe once Janvier had realised that I wasn’t going to pay his way out of poverty, he’d moved along.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. After emailing him, he replied days later saying that he’d been beaten and mugged, and had had to be hospitalized. To top it off, he spoke words that thawed my heart. “I was too embarrassed to come to church C,” he wrote. “They also took my shoes. I can’t come to church without shoes,” he added.
There was a genuine necessity to build a friendship with Janvier, in order for me to be able to help him. Simply meeting his material needs wouldn’t have been helpful. When I met him, I thought that money and a steady job were what he needs. But those were things that would have met his foremost needs, but not his innermost needs. What he needs is for someone to walk with him, to hear him, to be his friend. And step in when he needs help, like I would for anyone else who I call my friend.
Christine is a member of Common Ground and is the Rondebosch AM Administrator. To read more posts in our Warm Up Winter blog series click here.