Homeless but happy for The Concrete Preacher
Sean from Sydney has discarded his possessions to live a simple, homeless life and follow his Christian faith. His travels have brought him to Wollongong. (Nick Rheinberger – ABC)
What does it take to discard almost all your possessions, your house, your social circle and your city in the name of your religion? Sean from Sydney is now living in Wollongong, and he’ll make you reconsider your impression of a homeless person.
In the early hours of the morning, not far from the ABC studio, I had noticed something unusual over the past couple of weeks – someone sleeping rough in the same spot every morning. Several of my colleagues also noticed, and told me about a man who quite happily sits there for hours reading.
I wanted to know more, so I rang Narelle Clay from Southern Youth and Family Services to ask her advice about how I might sensitively approach someone in that situation.
Then I walked to the spot several times this week to say hello, but there was nobody there by 8am. Eventually, I left a note asking if they needed help, and if we might be able to give them a few more books to read – and if I could record an interview about their story.
A few days passed, and no answer. But yesterday, someone pressed the button downstairs and asked for me. As he came up the stairs, all my preconceptions about homeless people were thrown away. Here was a clean, well-spoken young man, smiling, peaceful and holding a Bible. His name was Sean.
It turned out that after growing up in a pretty conventional way, Sean had an epiphany a couple of years ago, and had decided to take the advice of Jesus literally – to cast off his worldly goods and trust in God to look after him.
“I didn’t know what to do, so I asked him, and he told me to give everything up,” Sean says.
“He said the way to heaven is narrow, so stay on the path, and I’ll send people to you.”
Was one of those people me, I wondered?
I asked Sean if I could record an interview with him, but he declined.
“I need to speak to people directly, and if it goes out on the radio, it might go to people who weren’t intended to hear it.”
I put it to him that God must have foreseen all this broadcast technology, but Sean wasn’t comfortable with the idea.
Fortunately, he gave me permission to write his story.
Living life homeless
Whether it’s divine intervention, or simply human nature, there’s no doubt that Sean has been looked after for the past two years.
He spent a lot of time on the hard floors at Central Station in Sydney, where he became known as The Concrete Preacher, and was constantly given food by strangers.
He says a few weeks ago, God led him to Wollongong.
I asked him if he’d like to join me for breakfast, but he said he actually had too much food today.
“Someone dropped in a couple of loaves and tins of food very early this morning.
“They tried to do it quietly and anonymously, thinking I was asleep, but I just lay there, saying a prayer of thanks for them and for my Father.”
Sean was on his way to a charity to give away some of that food.
Sometimes, people offer money, but Sean always says no.
“People get angry sometimes when I refuse money,” he says.
“It just doesn’t compute – it undermines our whole society’s ideas of itself.
“But I say ‘Look, if I have money, I have no need for God. I have no need to trust that my father will look after me’.”
We talked a little more about the way Jesus made people angry when he undermined the power structure of his society (as did Buddha before that, when the young prince gave up his worldy goods and went walking, or in the more modern era, there was Ghandi in his humble dhoti walking through India).
Sean’s next move
So where will Sean’s walk take him next?
“A lot of people have told me about certain areas where there’s a lot of struggle, like Port Kembla, so I’ve put them to prayer – when people tell me there’s a scary place, I always get excited.”
I asked him if he was in charge of this journey at all.
“I don’t want to be in charge,” he said.
“I know that God’s looking after me, I don’t know why everyone’s not doing it.”
King-size mattresses and doonas, I suggest.
“You honestly don’t need anything. People only want short pleasures, but I’ve got these long days of just…awesomeness.”