By Jim Bell, CEO

** This column first appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press **


It happened at 4 in the morning on a cold and rainy night last week.

The wind was howling. We had just come back from walking through the downtown core with the Bear Clan.

Along the way we had witnessed their dedicated volunteers pick up needles, check on people weathering the elements and show great concern for keeping the area safe.

And we had passed by a collection of tents on the grounds of the Manitoba Metis Federation. Inside were vulnerable men and women, trying to stay dry and warm on a wet and chilly night.

The walking tour was part of the Siloam Mission Sleepout, an event bringing together more than 40 Siloam supporters in Winnipeg to pull an all-nighter and learn about homelessness in our city.

Earlier in the evening, during a panel discussion, we had talked about what we understand the root causes of poverty and homelessness to be. One panelist had lived most of his adult life on the street, after a childhood in foster care. Another, a doctor who volunteers at Siloam, treats community members and told some of their stories. And we heard from our own Siloam staff, who listen and try to help with both their hearts and their skills.

It was inevitable that we would talk about the history of residential schools that still haunts so many of our most vulnerable citizens today.  We got to hear first-hand from people who were once homeless but have moved forward. And we got to go along with the Downtown BIZ’s CHAT Team, as well as the Bear Clan patrol.

And so, as we came back inside the warm environment of Siloam Mission to replenish our energies with pizza and snacks, we began to reflect on our experience.

That’s when small group decided to head back out.

But this time, they took pizza and some apples back to the people hunkering down for shelter in the tents nearby — all of whom were extremely gracious and thankful for the visit.

And that’s when it happened.

Just as one of the participants was leaving the last tent, the woman inside called him back in.

“Would you like my umbrella?” she said.

It was a small moment that made a big impact. It gave us a memory we’ll never forget.

Here was a woman who had very little. She didn’t hold much more than the clothes on her back. And surely she would need the umbrella to protect herself when stepping out of the tent.

But she felt that she wanted to reciprocate the kindness of a stranger.

And so she gave away the little she had.

As a man of faith, I was deeply moved by the image of someone who the world considers to be on the margins offering to help someone who the world sees as having everything.

It was a stark reminder that all of us want to give. We all crave connection and generosity. We all want to feel helpful and needed.

When it comes down to it, we’re more alike than different.

In the Bible, there’s a verse in Hebrews that encourages us to always show hospitality to strangers, for by doing so some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.

There’s no doubt in my mind that when we show kindness to others, no matter how small, we are likely entertaining angels at times.

And there’s also no doubt in mind that sometimes those angels come back to surprise us; to reveal something to us. Maybe to humble us; maybe to point us toward a profound truth.

Like the woman in the tent, on a stormy night, at 4 in the morning, in downtown Winnipeg.