A short-term team recently visited Japan from the USA. They wanted to be involved in homeless outreach, but had a scheduling conflict. To accommodate them, the day was temporarily shifted from Saturday to Thursday. What no-one was prepared for is that apparently the police monitoring that area are a different group of officers than the usual Saturday contingent. Being unfamiliar with it, about eight of them approached the ministry with questions, which they directed to Kurt, our missionary on the scene.
What are you doing here?
We’re handing out food to the homeless.
You don’t charge money for these meals?
They don’t have money! (Several homeless vocally affirmed that.)
But they are all holding tickets.
So you are charging them money!
No, the tickets are free too.
Where are the Japanese people involved in this?
Why aren’t you working?
I’m an English teacher, so I work at night.
They then started to try to figure out which organisation was in charge, and they were expecting a simple answer. Kurt informed them that he is the leader, but this is far from a one-man show. It involves two Americans, one of whom serves with a Canadian organisation (that’s us!), one Filipino, one Peruvian and sometimes there are Brazilians who assist as well. The more the men hunted for simplicity, the more humorously confusing it all became. Kurt could tell that they were baffled by the logistics he was presenting, and they couldn’t understand how this was working so well without formal organisation.
How long have you been doing this?
It’s been going on for several years. (No one on the scene knew exactly.)
Why are you doing this?
We’re Christians, this is what we do.
Some nodded their heads in response to that. Apparently Christians do have that reputation, even when they are in the vast minority. The policemen requested identification, and examined the leaders’ documents, but mostly it seemed that they were just expressing their professional curiosity about what they were seeing.
Kurt was especially grateful that, while they were clearly identified as police, they approached the ministry in basic white shirts as opposed to full uniform. The relationship between the homeless and police is understandably strained, and this was one factor that allowed the situation to be diffused rather than escalated.
The team explained that they do this the 1st and 3rd Saturday of each month. And when they resumed that regular schedule, they did see an officer present and taking notes. He didn’t interfere, or even ask questions. He was just there to satisfy his professional curiosity about what’s going in his city.
And how about that short-term team that saw this potentially dangerous situation firsthand? Some have reported that this was their favourite part of the trip!