Toronto: The Beginning of Something Beautifully Broken
We sat there on the ground on the rooftop of our hostel, wind whipping through our hair and the cool of the night enclosing us. We ate our meals “Toronto style", meaning it was a time of communal sharing. In the middle of our circle sat a variety of meats, cheeses, fruits, and breads, and we ripped away at each of them, creating messy sandwiches to match our messy conversations.
People ask me how our first trip with training school to Toronto was, and I am lost for words.
Haunting. Disorienting. Exhausting. Broken. Beautiful. Slow.
These words, paired with many more, run through my head. Toronto was a mission trip that was actually a vision trip. A vision trip that was really just a pilgrimage, where we prayed with our feet, and journeyed to places in the city touched by the Father. A pilgrimage that was really just taking a walk with Jesus, slowing down, being intentional, and looking for Him in the color of the night. A walk with Jesus that was really just about being and not doing.
How do I describe an indescribable experience? Before our trip, the pastor leading us sent out an email, ending with the quote:
“A pilgrimage is a way of praying with your feet. You go on a pilgrimage because you know there’s something missing inside yours soul, and the only way you can find it is to go to sacred places, places where God made himself known to others. In sacred places, something gets done to you that you’ve been unable to do for yourself.”
And these few sentences encapsulated our trip to Toronto.
Unlike any other “missions trips” I have ever been on, this one was an deliberate time of slowing down. Toronto, Canada is one of the most multi-cultural cities in the world. Home to 200 different ethnic groups, speaking over 140 different languages, half of Toronto’s population is born outside of Canada. Being one of the biggest cities in the Northern American continent, Toronto is also home to one of the biggest homeless populations. It is impossible to walk the streets of Toronto to run into many panhandlers, asking for money, and asking to be seen. Toronto was also the place where the national gay pride parade took place a few years ago. It is a place of inclusion for minorities, but exclusion for those without a home, those working the streets, and those who struggle with heavy addictions.
We walked through the streets, our hearts beating one question- how can we be Jesus to the least of these?
Does it come from handing out money? From volunteering our time for a week, never to return again? Does it come from handing out tracts? Evangelizing? Telling strangers about Jesus? Choosing only certain populations to spend time with?
In the color and the noise, we realized that walking as Christ did often means to just be.
Without an agenda, without trying to “convert”, and in many cases, without even saying the name of Jesus, we walked. Praying over the city, praying over our hearts, praying for intentionality, divine interruptions, and for hearts that see for Jesus in those we met eyes with.
We did many things in Toronto, and yet so little. We walked with those whose stories were filled with broken shards of sharp and beautiful diamonds. We visited places in the city touched by God. We sat and processed in parks, asking ourselveswhat do we believe? How did we get here? What do we need to change about these thoughts that we think define us?
There is a certain practice that we engage in in Toronto called “stoop sitting". Essentially you walk to a populated street, find a sidewalk or step, and plop right down. There are no rules to stoop sitting. There is no agenda. It is not a time to be searching, but to sit, hands wide open in surrender, and simply be. It’s funny how the simplicity of being brings so many people into the arms of Jesus. The first time I stoop sat I was alone, on a busy street running through the main LGBTQ neighborhood in Toronto. Along came Cole, 23 years old, just out of prison (that morning), Satanist, and addicted to drugs. He stopped to ask the time and comment on my tattoo. He told me he was planning on getting one, and when I asked him what his vision was for it, he sat down beside me, and we started talking. I asked him what Satanism was, and he told me it was a religion that worshipped the devil, and indulged in any desire on the heart. He explained for some people this meant murder, and for others, like him, it meant helping people. I smiled inwardly, knowing that this was a desire, in fact, from the One who is opposite of the devil. It came up organically in conversation that I was a Christian. He looked at me, puzzled as to why I was sitting in an LGBTQ neighborhood, and told me “God hates the gays”. I told him that this wasn’t true, that my God is one bursting of love for every single one of His kids. He then asked me who my favorite bible character was, and he said his was Solomon, as he had read the bible cover to cover. I asked him, was it cliché to say Jesus? He told me no, that Jesus was one cool dude. I asked him, then why worship the devil? He told me he didn’t like the rules of Christianity. He cut the conversation short after that, saying he needed to move on, but regardless of the fact that our conversation could have gone on, Jesus was present.
He brought Cole to me to ask the time, and I was ready for him, simply because I had slowed myself down to just be. I had made myself available, and poured out my cup- asking for God to fill it as He see fit.
I’m not used to just being. I’m used to pressing hard into doing. But I think just being showed more people Jesus than doing ever could have on this trip.