The story goes that in about 1850, a young man named Francios Coillard was a single, clean-shaven 23-year-old who set out to be a missionary in South Africa.
Although a fervently hard worker, he soon realized that the South Africans would not listen to him because he had no hair on his face, and furthermore, he had no wife.
In order to remedy the situation, he grew a beard, but a wife was a different matter. He remembered a young lady from his school days that he had found attractive, so he wrote to a friend to approach her with a marriage proposal.
Her rejection came with this statement: “I couldn’t possibly marry someone I hardly know.”
It took two years for Francios to realize that her answer was not a flat no, so he wrote her directly and proposed again. Much to his surprise, she accepted.
They were soon married, and for the next 30 years, proved to be an awesome team as they ministered to the people who would now listen, because he had met their criteria for an acceptable preacher.
As I thought about this true story, I realized that in whatever society one wishes to work, there is always an expectation by that society about the worker’s character. In other words, if I was to speak to an engineering society, my credibility would be valid only if I was an engineer. I think you catch my drift.
It was no different with Potters Hands. When we started serving the city centre community, we did not realize that we would not be listened to unless we met the streets’ standards. Anything else would be a threat to their way of life.
It took more than two years for the people on the street to realize that we were here to stay, and that we accepted them without judgment. Certain events taught them that we could be trusted not to discard them, but to accept them just as they are.
It was no easy journey, because we had all these preconceptions that over the years we’ve had to discard or modify. Even now, we are only tolerated by some, because we bring food and other forms of help, but by and large, we are accepted as caring individuals that desire only to help where we can.
As a Christian community, we have a story to tell that offers a listening ear, a view of a changed life, help to make that change if desired, and above all, hope. We have learned that we can not force this on anyone; all we can do is offer it to them without strings attached, and let them decide if they want it. Our help is not limited to those that accept our offer but to everyone who walks through that door, Christian or not.
The statement that we would always have the poor with us, has been true for thousands of years, but that does not mean we should have no compassion.
Rather, we should meet people on their level and do everything we can to help them elevate their own acceptability in society so that they no longer have to feel inferior or afraid to be part of it.
The way I see it.
Chris Salomons is kitchen co-ordinator for Potters Hands Mission.