May 11, 2013 Leave a comment
Dressed in scruffy clothes, with long ungroomed hair and carrying what looks like their life’s belongings in large backpacks, the men stand out from the usual white collar crowd.
As commuters disembark from the 4.30pm train at Narre Warren Railway Station on their journey home, they cannot help but notice the group of men.
Rather than hanging around the station, this group of men walk cheerfully and with a sense of purpose toward a factory across the carpark.
As they draw close, the men call out a friendly hello to an older gentleman and a stressed, drawn looking mother, with three small children. Together, they walk into a factory/church, where a group of friendly volunteers wearing black aprons with ‘Transit’ emblazoned across their chests welcome them and let them know what’s on the menu for dinner tonight…
It’s 37C on a Monday night. While we’re thinking the heat might keep some away, nearly one hundred hungry people begin to pack our church building.
A friendly hum of conversation rises from the 12 tables packed with all sorts of people enjoying a three course meal and waiting eagerly to obtain groceries, vegetables, fruit and dairy to last them through the week. There are four tables with parents and children. The rest of the tables are filled with a people of all ages and backgrounds.
Welcome to Transit Soup Kitchen, open every Monday night and Wednesday lunch time.
What sort of people come?
Last year I spoke at the funeral of 48 year old “wheelchair Dave”, one of Transit’s regulars.
I was surprised after the service to be approached by a well-dressed man who worked in New York. He said he was Dave’s brother.
He told me that Dave had dropped out of school, due to learning difficulties. Even though Dave was very intelligent, he found work on the docks.
This lifestyle led him to drink, and he struggled with alcoholism for the rest of his life. In the last years of his life he lost his leg to cancer and experienced other tragedies. The worst of these was the murder of the mother of his children with whom he had just been reconciled.
Most Wednesdays Dave wheeled himself down the road to Transit.
It was at Transit that Dave found a group of friends who accepted him just as he was. It was there that Dave learned the power of forgiveness as he struggled to deal with his ex-partner’s murder. It was at Transit that Dave asked for prayer to have the power to forgive and for healing of his gangrenous leg (Dave got well but died from other causes).
I’ll never forget the long conversation I had with Dave when he finally agreed to try things God’s way. But then added: “If it doesn’t work I’m going to kill him!”
I’ve never seen anyone so happy as when he came to Transit one Wednesday to tell me his wife’s murderer had been found guilty. He hadn’t thought the justice system would work, but he looked up at me and with a beaming smile said, “God’s way does work!”
Jocelyn was different. She was deaf and had lost the ability to speak but was always first in line to be served. Jocelyn had no spacial awareness and often bumped into people as she headed for the food. Most just accepted her. She loved the Lord and attended Church and Transit every week. When she died suddenly in her sleep, many from Transit came to her funeral celebration.
Doing it tough
Just the other day I spoke to a young man living at Casey Gardens Caravan Park. He receives $244 per week in Newstart allowance, and a further $60 in rent assistance. Out of this he pays $240 in rent for his van a week. That leaves him $64 a week to live on. He told me, with tears in his eyes, that if it wasn’t for Transit he wouldn’t eat most days of the week.
A pensioner couple told me that they are paying $360 a week for a cabin. That’s more than half their pension. Then they related how their car broke down, and so now they had no money for food that week.
A boarding house resident had to survive on no money for almost two weeks. He told me that after paying all his bills he got an unexpected bill for $280—all the money he had left. He hitched a ride to Transit and managed to stock up on enough supplies to get him through to his next pension payment.
Several truck drivers and their families started to come to Transit on Monday nights. I wondered why someone with a job needed help but then I discovered that they simply can’t work in the wet Melbourne winters and often still have truck payments and no income.
And so it goes…
But there is another side
A shopkeeper opposite Transit commented that she loved hearing the sound of a crowd of people having real fun together. Friendships are being forged, help is offered on many different levels. In a gentle way we always encourage gratitude to God. We say grace before each meal and we suggest that people consider spiritual as well as physical food.
Why did we begin this work and what motivates us?
Our primary motivation came from a series of sermons I preached on the return of Christ, which outlined how one of the most important things we can be doing to prepare for His return is outlined in Matthew 25 – “ I was hungry and you gave me something to eat…”
When we study the Gospels and look at the heart of Jesus we see his tremendous compassion for, and acceptance of, the marginalised in society.
He never just handed out charity. He became a friend of sinners, and so much so that the Pharisees complained “this man welcomes sinners and eats with them” In the context of Middle Eastern culture Jesus’ example speaks volumes!
And so we try to treat those who come to Transit as honoured guests. That means we respect their views and their life’s journey even if we might not share their values. It means that love and acceptance have priority. We want to be like Jesus to each person who comes.
The wonderful thing is that people respond. Several from Transit have started attending Church. Many are open to being prayed with. One amazing couple who came to Church last Sunday had previously lived for 40 years in a caravan in the middle of the desert. The wife had given birth to a daughter and had developed acute psychosis. Their community did not understand and they were driven out into the desert. Last year the husband rescued his wife from a nursing home and now Transit is their home – they are there twice a week and what a joy it was to see them in Church – probably for the first time ever in their lives.
Finally, let me say how much we are blessed by all our volunteers. At last count there were over 60! They come from different Churches – some from no church at all. They range in age from 14 to 92. A special blessing has been the wonderful support and co-operation of the deacons and members of Casey CRC without whom it would be very difficult to run the program twice a week.
- Keith Vethaak
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