The Name Of Love

By Gil Clelland

Love has a name.

We were out on an educational walk in our city’s core learning about poverty. Six SERVE students and I were engaged in a good conversation, trying to understand how people can end up on the streets and what we can do to respond. And then we saw him.

He sat there alone. People walked by. Perhaps they did not notice him. Perhaps they did not want to notice him. Grey, weathered clothing blended into the grey, weathered sidewalk. An empty hat opened expectantly to offerings from passers-by. A cardboard sign – “Any help will do.”

I knelt down to speak to him. The youth gathered with me. He looked at us all, and his hauntingly empty eyes met mine. “New to the city?” I asked.

“Just passin’ through…off to Toronto…soon, I hope”

“My name is Gil. Good to meet you,” I said, and I offered my hand.

“Yeah…” No hand returned.

I withdrew my hand and sat down. The youth knelt in close. We talked for a bit. Small talk was tough. I tried. Dave, a 14-year-old youth from a small farming community tried to share a bit. This man did not respond much. Sometimes, trust is hard to build for someone who has seen so much. After a few minutes, we got up to leave. We excused ourselves and turned away.

“I’m Ken…” I turned back. His hand was out. I shook his hand, caught his eyes and a moment of connection occurred. Ken felt safe enough with us to share his name. He looked at each one of the young people. In order, he shook their hands. “Thanks for stopping to say hello.”

We walked on for some time after that in silence. We each knew that we had just experienced something sacred. Then I reflected about the homeless memorial in Toronto. Thousands of people are listed there. People who have died on the streets. By far, the most common name among those dead is John Doe. John Doe is the name the city gives to people when they don’t know their real name. In other words, many of those people named and listed as John Doe died alone. They didn’t even have their name. And that is the biggest problem with homelessness. People are home-less. They do not have all the things we think of when we think of home. Sometimes, not even their name.

Jesus commanded us to love our neighbours as ourselves. The question I ask is, “How can we love our neighbours if we don’t know their name?” It is only when we get to know people by their name, by their story, seeing them as truly human, that we can begin to love them.

At SERVE, we try to break those barriers. We try to get to know others by their name. At SERVE, we get to hear their stories. We share our stories. We sit for a while. It may be tough. Small talk may seem wooden and uninspired for a while, but we learn to keep trying.

Love begins with “hello.”

Gil is the speaker at London, ON SERVE as well as the pastor of Sanctuary London.

This is an excerpt from the Fall 2017 Magazine. To read more stories CLICK HERE.

We All Need to Love – The Other 51

The following is an excerpt from the student’s devotions in our 2015 theme material at Live It and Serve this summer.

Diane grew up in what others would consider a Christian home. Diane’s family; two older brothers, mom, dad and Diane, went to church every Sunday – twice, but some things were well hidden in that home. Diane was bullied since she was a young girl by one of her brothers. Her parents found out and made sure it was kept quiet. They just walked through the motions of life. Diane struggled in school socially. She had only a handful of friends and trusted no one. Called “shy” by her teachers, they never really noticed that Diane was withdrawing more each year. Just before her high school years came to a close, her brother sought forgiveness for his actions. He had come to realize the pain he caused his sister and family. He blamed it on being a kid, being stupid at the time, but more than that, he realized how deeply he needed it set right. Diane wasn’t ready to let go that easily.

After high school, Diane went to a small Christian college that specialized in teaching people to do overseas missions. Overseas was the dream for Diane – Africa, South America, somewhere warm and far away. She could escape her small town, serve the Jesus she had come to love in spite of all her pain, and follow the call she had heard on a week long mission project called Serve. That week of Serve changed her. For the first time ever, she had met people who lived in really poor conditions, and Diane did not just feel comfortable there, she felt called there. She decided she would find those people overseas. All she needed was a little bit of money first.

Diane, under the guidance of a friend, took a job working with impoverished folks in a large city in North America. Each day, she would walk with her co-workers among the most impoverished in her country. People survived by diving into dumpsters for food, begging on street corners and living in cardboard boxes under bridges. She came to know these people not as impoverished but as her friends. Each person she met had a story – a deep dark past, and none of her newly found friends could hide their pain. It was as obvious as their weather worn jackets. They couldn’t hide it if they tried. They had to be honest. In there, somewhere, Diane found the courage to be honest too. She began to share about her past, her brother, and her pain. It was refreshing and renewing. Among the lowest of the low, Diane met Jesus. In the homeless men and women, Diane was finally free to share, to be loved in spite of her past and to sense a healing that could not come after years of trying.

Her brother never expected a visit. She didn’t call first, but Diane hopped on the train and hoped he would be home. It wasn’t easy, but they talked. They opened up, and in the midst of tears, they found a way through forgiveness.

It’s not perfect yet. Diane still has some struggles with her past. It creeps in and echoes in ways that still hurt. To this day, however, Diane works on the streets in that same city. She never did go overseas. Missions are everywhere. Missions is life. She hangs out with the poor all the time. She buys lunch for some people and lets some of her friends buy her coffee. They have deep wonderful conversations, and together they find home. Christ is there with her. She meets him every day on the streets.

We don’t all need to go on the streets. Some of us are not called there, but we all need to love. We all need to live this Kingdom out every day. It is our mission. It is our life.

My Life’s Work is to Love

In June of 2011, when I was 16 years old, I was the most reluctant person in my youth group to go on a Serve trip. I hated physical labor, and the thought of the Texas heat beating down on me while I worked without pay seemed beyond ridiculous. My parents sent me on the trip despite my best attempts to convince them otherwise, and for that, I will forever be grateful.

I had grown up in the church, so I knew the ‘stuff’ of the Christian faith, and let’s just say I was less than thrilled by it. But Stephenville Serve rocked my world in a way I had never imagined. Thanks to our amazing speaker, Troy Matchett (Buctouche, New Brunswick, Canada), I made a commitment to follow Jesus wherever he would call me to go. That commitment changed my life in so many ways .

Now let me back up. My week at Stephenville Serve was full of new relationships, lots of laughter and a whole lot of Truth. I had the best small group in the history of small groups (shout out to Team Cow 2011!), and we worked at a crisis pregnancy center helping them to arrange a fundraising garage sale. During that week, I grew closer to not only my youth group but also to leaders from other youth groups. I am so thankful to God for bringing people into my life during that week who have played a huge role in my Christian discipleship!

It’s hard to believe three years have passed since my first Serve experience. The Lord has done so many things in my life since I made the choice to say “yes” to Him at Serve in 2011. When I arrived back home, I knew my life would never be the same, and I began to take ownership of a passionate relationship with my Savior. I have been blessed to go on another Serve trip to Washington DC, I have served as a teacher in an after-school program in South Africa, I have laid hands on and prayed for dozens of women all over India, I have started a youth ministry program in Lincoln Nebraska, and this August, I will become the youth pastor at my church in Sioux Center, Iowa. I am currently a youth ministry major at Dordt College, and I’m so thankful to the Lord for calling me to youth ministry as a career. I am amazed at what the Lord can do with a willing heart that simply wants to love him by loving others. It is because of his amazing grace that I can confidently say that my life’s work is love.