I had no idea. I mean, I should know for goodness sake, but I didn't. Not really. Not until I saw it close up. Not until I touched it, smelled it, laughed, cried and prayed with it.
In the daylight, Penang is a tropical island paradise. It's sun and beaches and food. But at night a different Penang emerges. A Penang that is hungry and lonely and lost. When the shopowners pull down their metal gates for the night a new tenant unrolls a tattered blanket and curls up in the doorway. After the food stall owners serve their last customer, a new customer looks to be served.
The island paradise suffers from a nocturnal blight in the form of the homeless and the sex workers. I got to see this with my own eyes when I volunteered at a local shelter called Kawan House. My school and church work to help out and donate money and goods to Kawan House. Here is some info about the place from their website:
Kawan (which means ‘friend' in the Malay Language), is a drop-in Centre situated at 37 Love Lane, in Georgetown, Penang. We serve the street based community whether that be those who are homeless, drug users, sex workers and people from poor backgrounds. The Kawan ministry provides free services such as breakfast, lunch, bathing & laundry, a rest area, hair cutting facilities and referrals to other service centres. We can serve around 100 people each day we are open.
A team from Kawan goes out onto the streets of George Town every Wednesday evening to build further relationship with people on the streets and we run a street church service on Saturday mornings where around 25 people attend.
We also run a charity shop to serve the local community. We have seen that the streets of George Town is a harvest field that is ripe for harvest, yet the workers are few.
One Wednesday night I got up enough nerve to join these wonderful people in their work on the streets of Penang. It was a humbling experience to say the least. I met so many people, and they were kind and sick and empty. One man sleeping on a park bench, saw our small group walking and recognized the group from previous weeks. He called out to us and asked if we would pray for him. The experience was real and raw. One woman in our group was in the middle of a heartfelt conversation with a prostitute when the conversation was cut short because the prostitute had a customer. This same prostitute has a 5yo daughter who is often in the room during "business hours".
The work that the people at Kawan house do is remarkable. They feed and clothe and minister to the forgotten ones. It is hard to think of the Christmas season in the same way as before after seeing this. As we celebrate the birth if Christ this year, take a moment to pray for those who will not be opening any gifts.