Every day more than 200 street people used to attend our street church, which was held underneath the bridge next to the campanile in Port Elizabeth. For six years I preached to them, listened to their sad and sorry stories and prayed with them. I personally fed them and clothed them. I visited them at their secret hide-outs on cold winter nights and gave them blankets. I heard them silently singing around little street fires.
I hoped to change their circumstances, but they changed me instead. Somehow they made inroads to my heart of hearts, just like the spirit of Christmas tends to do. God used the poorest of the poor to enrich my life. Among them I learnt to graciously give without expecting to receive something in return.
Street or homeless people are those who seem not to have a place in the real world. They are like spectators on pavilions, watching, while others show how life is to be lived. They are those on the side line, who live without a tomorrow. Empty, without ambition, without dreams.
The streets are within these people, who are dirty and some are rotten to the roots. They lie, steal and act as if on a stage. They swear and die like dogs. Estranged, removed from peace and friends.
Christmas on the street? Is there any other kind of Christmas? Didn't the star stop over the street in Bethlehem, when there was no place in the real world for the Son of Man who came to show how life should be lived? Didn't He come so that those on the sideline could experience a tomorrow, with hope in their hearts? Didn't He come to renew and heal and cleanse to the roots, so that truth and honesty and authenticity could grow, like on trees planted by streams of water, bearing fruit of peace, available for friend and foe?
Christmas on the street? Is there any other kind of Christmas? Are you and I really so different from those literally living in the streets? Don't we also have sidelined and lonely ‘street-moments' or seasons, when dirty and rotten to the roots and with empty spaces in our souls, in anxious and hopeless desperation, we compulsively try to come home?
I live in Brisbane, Australia now and minister to ‘street people' of a different kind. The ‘first-world' kind. The ‘you-and-I' kind. The ‘migrant' kind, who find ourselves far from our homes and loved ones on Christmas eve. I still hope to change the circumstances of others, but they keep changing me instead. Somehow they make inroads to my heart of hearts, just like the Christmas spirit tends to do. God is using migrants of all kinds to enrich my life. Among them I now learn to graciously receive without having to give something in return.
Mansfield Christian Reformed Church
Our calling at Mansfield Christian Reformed Church is to facilitate the establishment of cell groups that are healing places for those who have no hope and are lost. Cell groups where people can thankfully serve and edify one another with special gifts received from the Holy Spirit, joyfully worshipping and praising God, listening to His Word, praying for one another, holding each other accountable with love and grace. With your help and support, this can be done anywhere in Australia.
Mansfield Christian Reformed Church runs support groups for people struggling with depression and anxiety, abuse, separation and divorce, and workshops focusing on relationship skills, marriage preparation and stress management.
Rev Dr Johann Eloff is a minister with the Mansfield Christian Reformed Church in Brisbane. He can be contacted on 0405 364 361. For more information see http://www.mansfieldcrc.com/ and www.goodnesscounselling.com.