We arrived home from visiting our son and family on Waiheke Island on Friday evening. Weary from travel we went to bed, enjoying the familiar comfort of home again. Very early on Saturday morning we got a phone call from a man we have known for years, but have not had contact with since we retired from Church ministry. He has limitations in terms of abilities, has got himself in trouble from time to time and has had a very tough life. He is very much alone with no close family and few friends. He was ringing us because while we were on Waiheke Island our home city Dunedin suffered a once-in-a-hundred-years deluge of rain. This man's ownership flat is in the low area of town and had about nine inches of water running through it. He is desperate for help to sort out his predicament. We went out in the afternoon and helped him sort through the smelly mess. We will be in contact with him again tomorrow to assist his sorting out of insurance etc. It was smelly because sewerage had mixed with flood waters. His flat was not clean or tidy before the flood. He is almost suicidal. We only spent a few hours with him but came away deeply sad. His life is a mess! Even before the floods it was a mess. Now it is worse and we are the closest "friends" he has. Our clothing, our skin, smelled but somehow our spirits were impacted even more - it is just so sad. (And - there must be many more sad vulnerable people impacted by the flood - the area has many of those sorts of people living there.)
That evening we sat watching the news followed by a farming program we enjoy. Not long before 8 p.m., an hour after the Night Shelter would normally open, I got a phone call to inform me that none of our supervisors had turned up at the Night Shelter and there was a group of people waiting in the freezing air to get in. (It was a mix up in the rosters) After making a couple of phone calls in vain, we headed to the Night Shelter, about 15k from our home. We encountered a speeding ambulance on the way and discovered it turning into the Night Shelter drive with us when we arrived. One of the elderly men waiting had not had his medication and was succumbing to the cold. We let this group of six or seven people in, turned up the heat and between us and the Ambulance guys sorted out the ailing gentleman. He was a sad picture, the hospital had sent him on his way when he had nowhere to go. The health system had failed him. There was a well known criminal among the group, abrasive and annoying. The others were a sad looking lot, the sad vulnerable people, spat out the back end of our economy/society. We even had the police turn up, somebody had phoned them about this group of homeless people unable to get access to the shelter. One of our supervisors did turn up and offered to stay the night looking after the group. But again we came home feeling sad at the hopelessness of these lives.
We hurt because they are hurting and hopeless. Jesus longed for people to have abundant life. We all want fulfilling lives. By comparison, these poor people have a "nothing" existence, muddling through life, going from crisis to crisis. Yesterday was a heavy day, and sometimes it feels overwhelming.