The stories I keep hearing here in Toronto leave me struggling for breath. Despite the overlapping aspects, the tales still hit me like a punch to the gut. And I’m left searching for an answer to the “hows” and “whys” of their story.

Every single person that walks in and out of the doors at Sanctuary certainly has a tale to tell, and I’ve been honored to hear a few of them. But each one has been fraught with struggle, and the wounds often go back to childhood. The pain persists however, and hardship often follows them into adulthood.

It’s a domino effect, and before you know it, the street has become home. Nobody wakes up one day and decides to embrace a life of suffering, where every day is a fight for survival.

I was standing outside of Sanctuary when the man lumbered out the front doors with the familiar swerve of inebriation.

“Hey buddy, you know what day it is?” he asked me.

“Thursday,” I replied.

“Thanks man,” he said over his shoulder as he moseyed away.

Days become blurred in this existence, and purpose revolves around the primal necessities…food, clothing and shelter. The pursuit of a fix also makes the priority list for many, sometimes at the expense of the previous three.

Surface Causes

On the surface, it’s easy to point to any number of general causes that may lead someone to find themselves on (or near) the street…addiction, mental illness, abuse, job loss or even a lack of affordable housing. And clearly, these factors often contribute to the physical manifestation of being without a home, but surely it goes deeper.

Many in the Native American community are still struggling for a foothold, on reservations and on the streets of Toronto.

Most recently, the news up here has been saturated with the plight of some members of the First Nation population, particularly in a small community up north called Attawapiskat. They’re living in terrible, “Third-World” conditions, with all the maladies that follow such an existence.

One side blames the government for failing to provide proper subsidized housing. They cite the historical atrocities of the past to support its claims of the services now owed. Another side blames the indigenous people for not picking themselves up by their boot straps. It cites the entitlement mentality for breeding laziness, addiction and abuse. The answer, as is so often the case, probably lies somewhere in the middle.

Deeper Reasons

But in the stories I’ve heard, whether in the news on First Nations or on the streets of Toronto, one word keeps popping into my head, over and over again…brokenness. So many of these folks are broken. So many are the product of brokenness, and it’s a brokenness of the worst kind.

Patrick’s own story illustrates the point. It’s a tale riddled with abuse and addiction, and those elements of his childhood definitely pushed him into a life on the streets of Toronto for a time. He was wounded by the brokenness he experienced. But he’s not alone.

In reality, all of us are broken in some fashion.

Patrick’s story illustrates the early wounds that often begin the downward spiral. He also illustrates the hope that awaits us all.

Folks here in Toronto, however, wear their brokenness on their sleeve – or the scars on their body, or in their bottle, or in the wisps of smoke wafting up from their crack pipe. Their brokenness is easier to spot, and for so many of us, that fact makes it easier to point fingers outward instead of inward.

I know, I know…we have it all together. We have a roof. We have clean undies. We have the internet to read this article. We have food in our bellies, nice clothes on our back. We have a good job, with good pay, and we’re okay.

But we…are…broken. We’ve just been ‘blessed’ with more sophisticated strategies to maintain our façade.

Most of the people I’ve met in the Sanctuary community, however, no longer bother wasting much energy on the façade. They are struggling, and their wounds continue to fester.

Brother from Another Mother

After a recent Sunday-night service, I went with a group from Sanctuary to grab a bite of pizza. As I was standing at the register to pay, my “Canadian cousin” (he deemed me his American cousin) walked through the door. Someone at the church had told him to come up to the pizza shop for some food, and I’m so glad he did.

We sat down and enjoyed some slices, as he apologized periodically for his drunkenness, though I assured him I couldn’t care less. As people started leaving, he began telling me bits and pieces of his story, and it was riddled with violence, struggle, heartbreak, jail, addiction and turmoil. Then he tells me, with tears streaming down his face, that his new probation officer has done more for him in the past few months than his own father ever did. Well, with that, his brokenness finds an anchor point. And my heart yearns…

My Canadian Cousin, “Snake,” has his struggles, but I know I will see him again. And I can’t wait!

Oh, God…thank you for your grace! What are we, mere mortals, to do amid these tales? Amid this broken world of ours? How do we shine the light of that grace into the darkness that reality so often entails? I’m not worthy, as I’m haunted by my own brokenness. But therein lies the blessing. God wants to use us, despite ourselves.

My heart breaks for my friend. But I know I will see him again, whether in this short life, or in the extended version of the Next. And I can’t wait for that reunion.

We, who claim Christ, are broken creatures living in a broken world, and when we finally embrace that fact, the real fun begins. We get to be Christ’s hands and feet here on this earth! And despite the difficulties, what a humble privilege that is! We get to walk arm-in-arm with people who are broken just like we are. We get to drop the façade and discover the common bonds of our humanity.

The world’s system, the world’s priority list gets flipped on its head, and the Kingdom can be experienced here on Earth.

It’s happening here in Toronto, and it’s the first time I’ve experienced it on such a scale. But this Kingdom community is not thriving despite the broken world that surrounds it. It’s thriving amid the brokenness, and these broken pieces are bound together by the blood of Christ.

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Next Steps
    • Look in the mirror. Look past the outer layers, and examine your heart. Is there a need for adjustment? We tend to overlook our own brokenness but point at others, even if it’s simply in our minds. But we must maintain the awareness (though not preoccupation) of our own. Walls drop as a result, and we’re freed from the weight of the façade.
    • What does your Community look like? Are you comfortable? Are you challenged? The Church continues to lose credibility because so many believers prefer to be insulated from the broken world, instead of spending time in it. I challenge you to seek opportunities to get in it. It must be intentional. It must be ongoing. And it must become routine.
    • Find a copy of God in the Alley, by Sanctuary pastor Greg Paul. The stories are compelling, and the message is clear.
    • Pray for the Church. Pray for a return to the mandates given to us by Christ, where “the least of these” are those valued most. Pray for those building relationships with these folks. Pray for strength and guidance.
    Next Steps

About the Author: Stephen Crane is a year-long fellow with World Next Door. He has a bachelor's degree in theology from Calvin College and a master's degree in journalism from Indiana University. He has a passion for overlooked places and people and would snowboard at all times if it were possible!

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Comments

  1. Chuck Easton said... 

    Reply

    December 30th, 2011 at 11:46 am  

    What if our brokenness was the lens that God viewed each of us? If He sees us through the lens His Son exclusively, we would all look the same. My brokenness is the only thing that makes me different than any other redeemed fellow soul.

    And, He still calls me “Beloved” and His heart beats faster with every glance from me. Then maybe I should embrace my brokenness.

    Not get stuck in it! But embrace it as an acknowledgement of how He has redeemed me. It takes courage to walk in His redemption!

    Thanks for reminding me Stephen.

  2. Tasha Simons said... 

    Reply

    December 30th, 2011 at 1:05 pm  

    I loved this article! It’s so true… we all have brokenness in our lives. Some of us are better than others about hiding our deepest hurts, but we all have them. We are living in a fallen world and part of our journey is facing our hurts, feeling our feelings and walking through the fire at some point. I find it refreshing to walk alongside recovering addicts because they are so honest and there’s no pretense. When you ask them how they are doing, they tell you unlike the rest of us who are in denial (LOL). Thanks for posting about your experience entering into a brother’s suffering. I’m sure you both were blessed through connecting this way. Keep the articles coming!

  3. Dave Rod said... 

    Reply

    December 30th, 2011 at 4:16 pm  

    This article and the others from Toronto reminded me of a quote I just read this morning “Embodiment is the end of Gods path” Friedrich Oetinger. Not sure what all Friedrich had in mind but it seems to me that Sanctuary is a collection of people who all embody the person of Christ…in all our stages of brokenness. That’s why the community is so sweet though the circumstances so awful. Thank God for Sanctuary and its community. and thank you Stephen for taking us there.

  4. Jim.M said... 

    Reply

    December 30th, 2011 at 10:24 pm  

    ‘God wants to use us, despite ourselves’.

    More importantly God wants us,…despite ourselves.

    Grace is His gift to a messy world. Are God’s desires to have us frustrated by human rebelliousness?

    I have met many homeless men and women in various locations here in the US and there in Toronto. I am many times struck by their expressions of belief, and of faith, and some times their depth of knowledge of scripture blows me away…and then side by side with this is the messiness of their life… deep dark and ugly many times, heartbreaking always….

    I suspect that God sees the faithful as his beloved, no matter how screwed up they are, brokenhearted He sees them beyond the mess, may the world see them in the same light.

    As a community of believers in His great power to restore and reclaim the faithful may we remain in prayer for our brothers and sisters separated from the fold for what ever reason.

    Thanks again Steven for pouring their story out here and Thank God for the mindset and loving posture of His servants at Sanctuary and other such faith communities.

    Peace and safe travels friend.

  5. Joanna Moon said... 

    Reply

    December 31st, 2011 at 12:05 pm  

    Thank you, again, for sharing the stories of our friends so gently and poignantly (Snake’s and “Carter’s”). I’m SO glad that Snake went for pizza… I wanted to go with him, but had to rush home. So thankful that you were there to listen to his story.

    • Steve-O said... 

      Reply

      January 4th, 2012 at 11:19 am  

      Thanks Joanna.. Me too!

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