I recently dashed home from work on a Friday night to take my son to his Beavers Presentation evening. He’s been working hard achieving all manner of badges over the last year so it was great to celebrate with him!
At the end of the event, we left the Town Hall and made our way to McDonald’s for a little treat. A few doorways from the restaurant, we passed a figure, huddled up with what seemed to be all their belongings. I couldn’t see their face and there was no bowl or sign to indicate begging. Everyone continued to walk on by and something within me stirred that this wasn’t right. I left my wife and son in McDonald’s and went back to see if I could help.
I knelt down next to the figure and asked if they were ok. It was quite distressing to see someone hunched in their coat with their head down, sobbing into their lap. I got a rather muffled response and it was very hard to hear their words amongst the cries and sobs. Slowly, she began to calm down and she told me her name and a little of her story. Unfortunately, she had a number of very complex needs and my heart was saddened that she was experiencing such a low point in her life. I dashed back to McDonald’s to get her some food and a coffee and continued to chat some more. I was desperate to try and do something to help but was torn by the fact that I had a babysitter to relieve at home and a family of small children to get back to.
I stayed with her for a while longer, discussing the places she could go to get some support before finally praying with her and going on my way.
This experience stayed with me for the whole weekend and I felt a number of mixed emotions. How is it in 21st century UK that there are still people on the streets suffering in this way and seemingly left on the outskirts of society? Was there anything more I could do? How could I go home to my comfortable bed in the knowledge that Joanna* was sleeping rough?
I reflected on this with my wife and at one point said that “everything I’m doing feels totally meaningless if I can’t help people suffering in this way”. I was hopeful that I’d been some sort of comfort to Joanna that night but I knew that in reality it wasn’t enough. It was at this point that my wife encouraged me with these words…
Dan, you are doing something about this: through the Young Leaders Award, the Archbishop’s Trust is helping to raise up a generation of young people who won’t stand for things like this. They will be the first to respond, serving and supporting those in need. They will be leaders who stand up for justice and equality and won’t accept their society or world as it is.
I was greatly encouraged by Susie’s words and I knew that what she said was true. The experience of volunteering and serving others at such a young age makes the idea of caring for those in need totally normal and, in turn, the idea of ‘walking on by’ completely alien. So for me, there are two lessons to learn from this:
1. let’s do all that we can to alleviate poverty and serve those in need around us right now – let’s make sure we stop and help and don’t walk on by;
2. let’s allow young people to experience volunteering and serving others, let’s teach them that ‘no man is an island’, that we’re meant to be in community, serving and caring for one another.
If we can do this then surely we’ll see a better society and a generation rise up who are more faithful,courageous and compassionate and equally concerned about social justice. We have the opportunity to inspire and empower an entire generation to change our world for the better.
*Not her real name
Dan Finn - Youth Trust CEO