By Colleen Boyle
During my Sophomore year in college, I studied abroad at a the University of Technology Sydney, in Sydney Australia. Australia is filled with beautiful and hospitable people. If you have never been, let me tell you why you should visit. In the heart of the red light district, just off of Kings Crossing, you will find an oasis of love, pulsing with sacrificial givers that tenderly hold the hearts of the broken and often oppressed. This wonderful place is called Wayside Chapel.
I fortunately and humbly became a volunteer in their caf area. Waysides caf offered second day baked goods for a nominal price, as well as coffee, and a variety of meals made up from whatever had been donated that week. However, this caf wasnt about the food. Round tables, books lining the walls, and a large patio became a home during the day for many of Sydneys addicts, prostitutes, mentally handicapped, and simply those whos hearts have been too rejected to find restoration. My job was not simply to serve them food, it was to explore their lives, making them the center of my attention, fishing for signs of hope, and always praying for healing as I listened.
While struggle was often the note that was sung, even more often I discovered joy and a fierce loyalty as the layers began to draw back. This is when I knew I wasnt just serving, I was finding Jesus.
One morning, six months ago or so, I felt the Lord drop a heavy burden on me for the homeless again. The first thing that came to mind was Wayside Chapel. I knew that God was telling me to start an oasis of love in my very own city. After the initial shock and questioning my God moment, I knew how right this was. Needing some practical advice and I figured whom better to ask than the people at Wayside. The following informal interview is with a man named Graham Long, a pastor at Wayside Chapel. This is his advice to me, and I hope for those of you who have a burden for the poor that this will help you also as you make plans in how to serve more effectively.
What is your biggest struggle, and how do you handle it?
The biggest struggle is to find someone that can remember that it is through the smallest acts that the greatest grace comes. Most people quickly lose focus and become more concerned about efficiency or money or time or some other concern. People with really good hearts can come into the cafe and in a short space of time be quite concerned about where the sugar is kept and over look the need to make every cup of coffee with generosity of spirit. Those people who can stay with the larger vision, are usually energized by a shift at the cafe while those who lose this large picture, usually find a shift adds to the frustrations in their life.
How I handle this – is to keep my eyes open. Some volunteers have to be asked to leave because there is within them a deep need to be looking down on others. This can present first off as a need to help but soon enough shows itself as a need to stand in judgement of others. Such people have to be weeded out of this role. Everyone, loses the big picture for some of the time and so there is a need for me to regularly remind people that a generous coffee or meal can and often is loaded with more power for healing than a counseling session.
How do you handle conflict among the customers?
We have rules that are pinned up on the wall. We insist as far as we can that people show respect for the cafe as well as for the right of others to eat in peace. As soon as there is conflict (which happens a lot) we show someone the door. If it is a serious situation we might ban someone for coming back for week.
What do you do in the case of an emergency overdose?
All our volunteers must have basic training in CPR or have a current certificate in something that we call here “Save a mate” which is a course run by the Red Cross in Sydney. We also make sure that no ONE person is ever alone or ever needs to act as a hero. So two people are present to judge any worrying situation and they between them agree to what action is needed. We are never slow to call an ambulance if there seems like there is some threat to life.
How do you recruit volunteer help? What do you do if you don’t have enough?
We need two people on duty at all times and we aim to run about 12 hours per day and 7 days per week. When we don’t have enough volunteers to run the cafe in this way, we close the place until someone arrives. This is not always a popular move with would be customers but for safety of volunteers it is a reality that we have to live with.
Do you have rules in place to help protect women from serving aggressive male customers?
We have teams who patrol the streets and we have teams that run the cafe. These situations are so different that the rules are different for each situation. The cafe doesn’t usually present us with a problem. The cafe has a pretty solid counter between a customer and the person being served. Often a sense of humour and care about body language is enough to ensure safety. On the street, we will sometimes send out teams with only females. They are always in teams and have special training to anticipate trouble and they each have a mobile phone that we supply. I can’t remember when we had any serious trouble from a street team.
How do your neighbors have any complaints about your attracting homeless people to the area?
There is generally strong support from the community about the work that we do but that is often not true of our immediate neighbours. Sometimes we create noise that I would find hard to tolerate myself if I was a neighbour. Sometimes there are people who have a mental illness that causes them to scream day and night for weeks on end. It is a tough situation. I do my best to be the best neighbour that we can be. We have special nights to meet our neighbours and give them the chance to make complaints face to face. It gives us a chance to explain our mission and to tell them some of the stories of people in their neighbourhood. It usually wins support.
How do you solicit donations and keep the business going?
We are always at the mercy of people making donations of food and money. We have regular donors of food that can be counted on and then any number of people who make “one off” donations. The regular donors are pretty reliable and we do all we can to thank them in our publicity for serving their community.
Do you have any advice for someone who may be considering doing similar to serve the poor?
I’m not sure what advice I’d give to someone just beginning. I suspect the best advice is to “jump in” and you will soon enough learn the lessons that need to be learned in your part of the world.
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Colleen is from St. Louis, MO and went to Anderson University in Indiana. She has been living in Nashville for four years, working as a graphic designer. She is married and is currently considering opening up a homeless cafe in downtown Nashville as an outreach to the local poor.
Visit the Wayside Chapel website