The treasure hunter

It was early January when I took a shift driving the outreach van we use to scour the streets of Toronto each day in the hope of finding people who are living outside. The goal is to build relationships and to walk alongside those individuals toward a healthier living situation.

I hadn't done street outreach in a very long time. I really needed a dose of reality after being holed up in my office, and thought an afternoon of trudging through the Don Valley might do the trick.
I also felt it would be a perfect opportunity to get to know our newest outreach worker better. Shannon had once lived on the street and had, at one point, lived with an addiction to crack cocaine and alcohol.

While we were driving I asked him what about this job brings him joy. His answer struck me hard and moved me deeply. He told me when he was a kid he always dreamed of being a treasure hunter. He wanted to grow up to be an explorer who roamed around looking for things of great value. During his time living with addictions, he assumed his dreams would never come true.

He lost hope.

He went on to say, however, that since he became an outreach worker, his childhood dream has come true. He said every person he encounters is a treasure.

As he was telling me this, we were climbing up a hill that just about defeated me. Once we got to the top, we walked along some railroad tracks until he stopped in the middle of nowhere.

"What are we doing here?" I asked.

"We're visiting my friend," he replied.

We proceeded to climb into a hole that led to an underground house. The person living there had dug a huge hole in the ground, framed it up and built his home there. It had homemade solar panels for heat, electricity from a rechargeable battery, Christmas lights, a bed, cupboards and a bookshelf. It was as though we entered Bilbo Baggins' house in The Lord of the Rings. I really began to grasp Shannon's notion of being a treasure hunter.

At the next location, Shannon looked for signs of life along the tracks. He stopped when he saw some orange peels and began climbing a hill. I decided to wait but he looked back and silently beckoned me to join him. I scrambled up and suddenly found myself looking down on an encampment.

A man approached and in no uncertain terms demanded we leave. He told us he wanted nothing to do with society, including us. Shannon told him we were with the Salvation Army, left his card and said if he needed any help to call us. We then respectfully left.

Shannon had once more found treasure that no one else knew about in a place no one would care to look.

Once we got back to the van, Shannon told me more about his experience. I will never forget his words. He said working through the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous as well as working at Gateway is bringing him into a deeper understanding of who God is. As he meets people he considers more valuable than any gold or silver, he is meeting God.

It reminded me of a passage from Matthew's Gospel: "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy--but store up for yourselves treasures in Heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy--for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matt.6:19-22).

Shannon has left behind his juvenile desires to find earthly treasures and, on his journey to recovery, is placing higher value on human life than material gain. He places his treasure in a sacred place where nothing can damage it. He is entering into an understanding of and relationship with the sovereign Lord and is gaining a deep and tangible understanding of the Kingdom of God.

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About the author

ChristianWeek Columnist

Dion Oxford is the Mission Strategist for The Salvation Army's five homeless shelters in Toronto, called Housing and Homeless Supports Dion along with his wife, Erinn, and daughter, Cate, live in Toronto and are committed to journeying alongside people in the margins of society. He blogs at