Chris’ Story: A portrait that speaks to a city

In the heart of Sydney’s CBD, Sydney’s ‘Ratman’ (known as Chris) and his entourage of pet rodents greets shoppers and office workers.

Lucy the rat takes pride of place, as she busily feeds on lettuce and seeds.

Japanese tourists stop for selfies with Lucy. Some part with their loose change for the privilege, others hotfoot it away.

Behind Chris and Lucy’s notoriety is a story that resonates with people embraced by Wesley Mission.

For the past few years, Chris has been homeless and living out of the back of a friend’s van. A marriage breakdown and several job losses left him sorting through the remnants of his life.

Food is a day-by-day proposition, often relying on the support of others, especially Wesley Mission’s Connect program operated from the Wesley Centre in Sydney.

At Wesley Connect, Chris receives food, clothing, warm drinks, but most of all friendship… “I like their friendship and conversation”, he says.

Chris’ story has recently gone public, after former Australian rugby union player, now painter, John Williams asked him to be his subject for this year’s Archibald Prize.

“The Archibald traditionally focuses upon the rich and famous,” John said. “I wanted to make a statement and raise awareness about an issue which is on our doorstep.”

Chris was stunned by John’s final work and is hoping to see the painting hung in the Wesley Mission Centre as a reminder to all people that we are only ever a few steps away from experiencing homelessness.

Wesley Connect Co-ordinator Lucy, says, “The Archibald opportunity has been a great encouragement to everyone. It underlines the importance of our relationship with all people.”

Each week, Lucy’s team supports and assists an average of 45, and up to 80 people, and at the heart of the program is a commitment to walking in Jesus Christ’s footsteps.

“As Christians our faith and our salvation are important but we must also ask what it is to walk in Christ”, says Lucy.

“It’s a great encouragement when someone turns around and says ‘thank you for listening and thank you for helping’.”

It’s a sentiment shared by Chris who says, “Always help out Wesley Mission because they are always helping others out”.

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