Why we do what we do
It’s 11.30am on a crisp sunny Sydney day and the Missionbeat van is parked in a side street off a busy road in the CBD.
We had been called to a welfare check but hadn’t been able to locate the client. Buckled in and ready to attend our next call, our departure was interrupted by the arrival of a European man in his fifties armed with a train ticket, a shopping bag of clothes, sparkling eyes and an engaging smile.
“Hi I am Nicholas*,” he exclaimed. “Do you remember me?”
My mind quickly tried to catalogue the hundreds of clients I see each week into some sort of order based on height, age, eye colour or any other of the many attributes which would allow me to recognise Nicholas. I came up blank.
Nicholas then told me that up until the beginning of the year, Missionbeat had been assisting him with transport. He recalled his last trip with Missionbeat, when Missionbeat had transported him to a city motel for the night, at which he had been given temporary accommodation.
He excitedly proclaimed: “But I don’t need you now…I have a ticket…I can buy a ticket….I have a job,” thrusting his rail ticket firmly into view.
Nicholas had been homeless for five years. Loss of employment and alcoholism had collided and exploded; destroying his marriage and his relationship with his five-year-old son. He had been sleeping rough and in and out of temporary accommodation until earlier this year.
Nicholas took the opportunity to tell us that Missionbeat had been there to help him get to places. Mission Australia had been there to help him get accommodation, to give him the shoes to wear to interviews which had been organised for him with the help of his case worker. Mission Australia had helped him get a job. With almost a tear in his eye he told us: “I am now there three months, and I am full time, not casual, but full time. I get holidays and I get superannuation. You know I get superannuation?” He repeated this as if to reinforce the legitimacy of his new life.
“And your family?” I asked.
This whole time Nicholas had been expressing himself with a giant smile on his face. His expression suddenly changed. His dark eyes focussed intensely into mine, locking me into the moment.
You know, she knew I was a good man, underneath. So she waited. She waited and she waited. She said to me, that I had to prove myself. I had to get a job and put money in the bank for my son. ...to be a proper father, to show my son how to be a good man, said Nicholas.
In March this year, thanks to Missionbeat and Mission Australia, Nicholas placed his first pay cheque into his son’s bank account. True to her word, after five years, Nicholas’s wife opened the door to his old life for him and he returned to his family. His son, now 10 years old, found his father again in his life.
Shaking Nicholas’s hand, we wished him well and thanked him for his happy story.
“What’s in the bag?” I asked.
“I buy clothes for my wife, I want her to have nice things,” he replied as he walked away with a spring in his step.
It turned out our welfare check had moved on but we had found Nicholas instead. A random happy moment and a reminder that the work we do has meaning and purpose even if often we do not see the results.
I was left feeling amazed and honoured to have crossed paths with Nicholas.
*Name changed to protect privacy