There’s a cold wind blowing, but the living room of William Booth House on Dunantstraat is warm and cosy. This Thursday evening, ten members of the student association Vereniging van Gereformeerde Studenten te Rotterdam (VGSR) are visiting the shelter for an evening of games and conversation with the guests.
The students and the guests meet up around a long table in the middle of the room. Karel (20) is playing cards with Ron and Natascha. Ron can’t talk himself, but he’s clearly enjoying this joint activity. When we ask him his opinion of the students’ initiative, he gives it a big thumbs up.
“You meet very different people here than you find at the university, which makes for some interesting encounters,” says Karel. “I always enjoy myself during these evenings.” As a Christian, the student feels a need to do something for others around Christmas. “It’s in our DNA – we’ve already handed out soup and organised a barbecue with the Salvation Army,” says Karel. “This year, we’re visiting the folks here at the night shelter.”
“Around Christmas, most people spend time with their friends and family,” says Karel. “But some people don’t actually have anyone close to fall back on. So that’s why we’ve dropped by to offer some friendly company.” The students have taken along biscuits, warm socks and scarves. “They can definitely use them with this horrible weather.”
The plates of biscuits are a hit. Behind the young men, people who will be spending the night at the shelter slowly make their way over to the dormitories. An elderly gent with a heavy beard, but also a young man with a ponytail – still in his mid-20s.
In another corner of the room, Dico (24) and Sander (22) are listening keenly to Tyron, a hairdresser with 16 years of prison time under his belt. He talks with fervour about Jesus and the Bible, but doesn’t mind sharing stories about living on the street either. Tyron found Jesus while in prison, and the three seem to connect over their shared faith. “Jesus is the way, the truth and the life,” says Tyron, while he bangs his fist on the table. “Amen,” says Dico with a smile.
Tyron approves of the students’ decision to spend an evening at the centre. “We’re all equal,” he says. “I think you need to remain aware of people who didn’t have the opportunity to study.” Sander agrees: “This place gives you a glimpse of another side of our society. I’ve led a very fortunate life so far. I was born into the Church, so to speak. But some of the people here have had a super-intense life. I think it’s very cool that they have nevertheless kept such a strong faith.”
[Some of the names in this article have been changed to protect the guests’ privacy.]
The VGSR students were brought in touch with the William Booth House via Stichting Present.