Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Drop in the ocean

A Jesus Army team takes a double-decker bus to the West End of London each month to give out food and drinks, and talk and pray with people. Last week I was on the team.

Aleksandar is 19 and from Bulgaria. He has been living on the streets of London for just over a week. I meet him outside the Jesus Army bus and we drink coffee from polystyrene cups and chat.

Aleksandar came to the UK after nursing his mother “pretty much single-handed” before she died four months ago. A so-called friend of his family offered him work in the UK. But when Aleksandar arrived he found the “friend” wanted him to work without pay. “Slave labour, basically” says Aleksandar. “He said to me ‘You’ve got no papers, no permit – so no choice.’ I said ‘No thanks.’ So I left.”

Now Aleksandar hopes to get help from some of London’s homeless charities, including the Jesus Army’s “Jesus Centre” near Oxford Circus.

Zeb is only 15. He and his mates hopped on the bus for some food and a Snickers bar (or two). They’re pretty respectful – though Zeb’s zonked on booze and who knows what else.

He’s been a heavy drinker since he was 11 and in and out of care.

"Tripz" on YouTube
At the momen, Zeb is homeless: sometimes “sofa surfing”, sometimes sleeping on the streets. His mate “Tripz” has made some rap videos and posted them on YouTube via producer “Pacman TV”. Zeb is in one or two of them, wearing his baseball cap and posturing in the background. The videos are a moving mix of youthful hope and old-before-their-time despair.

Delia is anywhere between 35 and 65. Her mental health problems and homelessness make it difficult to tell. She’s worried because the doctor’s said she shouldn’t eat meat. But she’s very appreciative of the vegetable curry we give her from the Jesus Army bus. She chats away, reminding me, curiously, of both Eastenders character, Dot Cotton, and a female Frank Spencer.

We make other friends that night. Iranian Ali, joker George, gay Phil, arthritic Sue.

It’s a sea of humanity, each person with a story, often heartrending.

Round the corner is Leicester Square. Another sea surges through it, this time mainly dressed in designer jeans and sequined miniskirts. Stopping to talk with those who want to, I find they can be as hungry as the homeless.

“I want to make my lift mean something” says Ahmed. “I’m a youth coach” says Musa “and I tell them to make their life count”.

“I’ll have a cross” says Sam in the queue in McDonald’s. I give her a trademark Jesus Army fluro-red cross. “I believe, but it’s hard, innit?”

It is hard. Hard not to be overwhelmed by all the people, all the need. But I want to play my part to help the Jesus Army to play their part. To add some love. If we’re going to be a drop in the ocean, I’d rather we were a drop of love than anything else.

Some names in this post have been changed.

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