Sometime I’m still caught off guard by the number of people who know me as “Captain Kindness”. A recent letter to the editor in the Brantford Expositor even referred to me as the “City’s mascot”. The truth is that Captain Kindness was supposed to be a one shot deal for Brantford’s Superhero themed Santa Clause parade, but our Freedom House float proved so popular that I haven’t been able to stay out of my giant red leotard since.
While Captain Kindness’s popularity DID catch us by surprise, the impact of the intentional, strategic kindness that Freedom House was already aggressively pursuing didn’t. We planted our Church in the roughest part of Market Street 8 years ago on purpose. As we spent the summer of 2004 converting the former bar “The Scene”, we began to observe the often destructive rhythms of the street at night. We saw the drug trafficking chains of distribution where young kids would be used to deliver product. We watched the “New Brantford” with “Old Brantford” cultures colliding. We became familiar with the nightly routines of prostitutes and their pimps, who are sometimes their loving husbands, taking care of their kids after Mom went to work. It’s understandably hard to hear and even harder to understand.
We decided that just because a Church was in the middle of this seeming chaos, it didn’t mean it would be impactful by osmosis. We got to know their names, their stories and their lives because one night ,we bought 100 hamburgers, set up a barbecue on Market Street and started hollering, “FREE BURGERS!” What we call “Flippin’ Friday” has become a context for everyone from prostitutes to politicians to find common ground over free street meat. It’s allowed for trust to be built between worlds that don’t often intersect. Our team has been invited into crack houses as welcomed guests, instigated dialogues that led to people being helped off drugs, and opened many macro-scale doors of influence in the city. It’s AMAZING what free burgers have done.
But kindness isn’t always safe. One rainy night we took the street party inside and I was left alone outside to cook the food. Around midnight I noticed two characters in the dark coming from the direction of a local strip club. I let my familiar “FREE BURGER” fly and quickly noticed the pair headed full steam in my direction. There was a big guy leading the way followed by a little guy. The little guy began warning me, “You’d better be careful. He just bit the nipple off a stripper!” I learned later that this was exactly what had just happened moments earlier and that his subsequent seething question of “Do you want to die?” to me, followed by a knife being drawn, was a real possibility.
Many things go through a man’s mind in a moment like that. The thought of a dramatic “Death of Captain Kindness” funeral scene briefly occurred to me. While the single light streaming down on the CK crest might be cinematically intriguing, that wasn’t how I planned to go out. I responded the only way I could think of. I used the goofiest voice I could and said with a big smile, “Hey there! Do you wanna burger?” He paused for a moment, likely doing a plus/minus evaluation of free meat over stabbing me, and said; “Yes I do!”
The powerful wheels of kindness began in motion. The little guy quickly opened up his life to me. We’ve seen it happen over and over, but this night was especially powerful, because we shared with him that his life was about MORE than repeating this violent night over and over. As his wildebeest of a friend lost patience with being stationary, I prayed for the little guy named Ryan that he would wake up in the morning knowing that his life was ABOUT something bigger and there were people who cared. I grabbed his contact information quickly as the two disappeared into the night.
I tracked Ryan down the following morning. He told us that, after he left our barbeque, the big guy stabbed a man in the middle of the street; a man that HE was planning to attack. The reason he knew that he had had a significant encounter was that he woke up safe at home with a feeling of peace and freedom… not in jail.
Kindness can be dangerous sometimes because it’s culturally confrontational. We’re not used to people caring for us for no reason. Transformational kindness can put you in harm’s way but that’s the point. It can neutralize and diffuse harmful situations. “Those” people have real names, real lives and real struggles. And it’s possible that something you have in your hand to give can transform a real life.
I’m Dave Carrol and I’m an Advocate for The Church. The Church in a city is not a dying beast. It’s just reforming. It’s not irrelevant; it simply needs passionate people to come together as one to play its role again. I help lead Freedom House in the lower floor of the Market Square Mall with Brian Beattie and a team of dreamers who have a vision to be instigators of holistic change in Brantford… because that’s in God’s character. I challenge people to think again about being an active participant in The Church.