Engaging Community

DMC and World Renew Collaborate on “Helping Without Hurting” Workshops

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Diaconal Ministries Canada and World Renew have collaborated a number of times to lead an interactive “Helping without Hurting” workshop, most recently in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

At that event, DMC’s Diaconal Ministry Developer (DMD) in that region, Jean deBeer felt that participants “left the workshop enriched and challenged to ask themselves if [the ministry] they were doing or supporting was ultimately something that provided more than just the immediate relief of a perceived need, but actually something that is relationship-building and inclusive to community.”

Jean feels “quite passionate about issues relating to poverty” and was determined to clear any barriers in order to bring the workshop to Saskatoon. She also felt the timing was right. A few years ago, Jean, along with her fellow DMDs, had been given the book When Helping Hurts to read and discuss at the annual DMD gathering.  “It definitely stuck with me,” says Jean. Because of her conversations and meetings as a DMD with the deacons of Bethel CRC and Sonlight CRC, she also perceived that it was the “right time” for them all to learn more about how to address poverty.

World Renew’s Co-director Ida Kaastra-Mutoigo and DMC’s National Director Ron Vanden Brink facilitated the workshop, which was attended by members of the CRC, and the local Mennonite, Catholic and Baptist churches.  Participants were challenged to engage their community, considering assets and not just needs. One church was hoping to take what they learned and do a Community Opportunity Scan. Overall, the workshop was informative and challenging. As Jean put it, “we are all more aware of the need to go beyond providing immediate relief!”

The next workshops are scheduled for March 2, 2017 at Immanuel Christian Reformed Church in Langley, BC. and March 4, 2017 at East Hill Community Church in Vernon, B.C.

Churches invited to be part of the Restorative Justice Process

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Restorative justice, in its simplest form, is the attempt to make things as right as possible between victims, offenders, and the wider community when some harm or crime happens.  But what does that look like for those of us who work mostly with offenders, the folks who’ve hurt others or caused some sort of harm to others?

Most of my work is with men and women who’ve done federal prison time, and are transitioning into the Edmonton area.  They are trying to write new chapters for their lives, to walk new paths, to live in ways that are not defined by their pasts.  What does it for them to “make things as right as possible”?

Part of the answer, I think, is for faith communities and churches to create safe, welcoming spaces for folks leaving prison.

Every other Saturday, I facilitate a men’s group that usually consists of about a dozen men who’ve done time, and a dozen volunteers who want to support their reintegration. The group provides the space for our friends to explore a new identity, a new story for themselves – one that is not defined by crime, past abuse, or poor decisions.  Rather, through discussions, outings, and – most importantly – eating together, the men who attend can start to heal, seeing themselves as people with a new future.  They can start to ask what it might mean to make things right with the people they’ve hurt.  And when they mess up or take a few steps back, our group is there to pick them up again.

Churches and faith communities are just the sort of places capable of providing this sort of community.  It can be as simple as connecting with a local prison chaplain, reintegration chaplain, or community support program and asking where to begin.

Another important way to empower offenders to “make things right” with the wider community is to give opportunities for them to give back.  Are there jobs that we can offer to former inmates as they make a new start, so that they can provide for loved ones, support themselves, be part of a healthy workplace, and contribute to the wider community?  Are there volunteer opportunities that churches or their partners can offer, so that they can be givers and not just service-recipients?

Finally, churches and faith communities can make space for former inmates in their pews (or folding chairs or coffee shop benches).  Many former inmates long for a sense of belonging.  Churches can offer just that by the simple act of inviting them to church on Sundays, for coffee afterwards, or for lunch at the nearby diner when church is over.  Those simple invitations can be an echo of Jesus’ invitation to “all those who are weary and heavy-burdened,” and can be an opportunity to journey with someone who – like all of us – needs a fellow pilgrim to join them on their way to making things right with those they’ve hurt.

-written by Jonathan Nicolai-deKoning (Rev), Reintegration Chaplain, Open Door Program (The Mustard Seed, Edmonton, AB)

The Open Door Program (participants and staff pictured above) is an Operation Manna partner.

 

Blyth Deacons partner for the good of the community

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Blyth, Ontario CRC deacons wanted to get to know the food banks which serviced their small community:  The Salvation Army (SA) and the North Huron Foodshare.  When they initiated conversations with the SA food bank, they learned of another church in Blyth, Living Water Christian Fellowship, that also wanted to know more about how they could work together, serving the food bank clients in Blyth more meaningfully.

Blyth deacons then organized a meeting between these 2 churches and the food banks.  They also decided to invite food bank clients to join in on the conversation. Along the way, a local restaurant owner offered to host the meeting and provide food for lunch.

At the meeting, people were asked what they liked about the community of Blyth and why they lived there. The conversation eventually turned to the challenge of transportation for people: the food banks are 18 km away from the community of Blyth. The SA offered their 7-seater van to be used for a once-a-month shuttle from Blyth to the foodbank.  Clients in another smaller community nearby heard about this development and asked to be included on the shuttle run.

As the churches began to work in partnership with the SA, the director there began to refer some of their Blyth clients to the church-community for further support.  This act spread out to other service providers who also began to turn to the church-community as a resource.  One caseworker said that she never thought of turning to a faith group for help, but was impressed by what was happening.

By God’s grace, this development will continue to expand and initiate additional opportunities for the area churches to serve the vulnerable residents in Blyth.

(photo of Queen Street in Blyth is from Google maps)

“Caring for our Community”: an Operation Manna update from Chilliwack, BC

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Last May, Canadian CRC congregations were blessed, through the Operation Manna (OM) campaign, to hear the story of how Heartland Fellowship CRC in Chilliwack, BC was getting to know its neighbours and blessing its community through trailbuilding. By giving to OM through the offering, churches across Canada became partners in this exciting project.  Recently, Diaconal Ministries Canada asked Heartland and the Chilliwack Park Society to update the churches on what has been happening. Marc Greidanus of the Chilliwack Park Society sent the following update.

We wish to extend a heartfelt thankyou to all the churches that have supported Operation Manna!
In partnership with Heartland Community Fellowship, the Chilliwack Park Society has enjoyed a fun and productive season.  Our Community Forest park project with the City of Chilliwack has been a great success.  trailbuilding2The park is open and seeing lots of use, especially from young families.  Unity Christian School’s woodworking class built a beautiful bridge and viewdeck out of donated cedar.  The kids from the Ed Centre, Chilliwack’s alternative high school, have provided hundreds of volunteer hours, gotten their exercise and put their passion into the trails.

quiettimeKylie Greidanus, working with the local school district, has created a full day forest field trip curriculum for local elementary schools and has taken many classes into the forest, from kindergarten to grade 3.  In addition to hiking, learning about forest succession and the local flora and fauna, the kids most enjoyed their quiet time in the forest, where they are encouraged to draw what they see, hear and smell.

(left): Holly Vermette from Heartland, enjoying her quiet time.

Finally, our society was able to mobilize community volunteers and clear and repair most of Chilliwack’s most popular local hiking trails for everyone to enjoy.  A fantastic season!  Thank you Operation Manna and the CRC for supporting us in caring for our community!

“Ministry in Mayhem”: this year’s Ancaster Day of Encouragement

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“The CRC, and the church in general, is so much bigger than our own congregations. Great to get that larger perspective and be encouraged as we go back to our own community.”

The Day of Encouragement (DOE) is all about perspective. It is, as this participant said, about “that larger perspective,” the Kingdom of God, and how God is at work in our communities. It is also about perspectives: sharing your own and learning from the perspectives of others. As perspectives are widened and deepened, participants at the DOE are equipped and encouraged to go back to their communities and find “ministry in mayhem.”

And that was the theme at this year’s Ancaster DOE held Saturday, October 15 at Hamilton District Christian High School. Pastor Willemina Zwart (Good News Church, London) gave the keynote address and those who came found her “very inspiring” and were encouraged by “her enthusiasm and her love for the messiness of life.”

doe-1The numbers of registrants were down, but that did not diminish the blessings of the day. Over 40 gifted leaders facilitated workshops that participants found “very pertinent to [their] church life right now” and that gave them “new insights.” For some, the fellowship, networking and the connedoe4ctions with others were the most encouraging part of the day.

It was a day of blessing. It was a day of sharing. It was a day of encouragement. No matter what area of ministry participants are engaged in, there is something or someone to speak into it. And along the way, maybe some perspectives were changed by what was experienced. For one participant it meant that she was “gonna dare to let more mess happen” in her church. Praise God that the Spirit is alive and at work, challenging and shaping members of the CRC in Canada.

Were you there? What is your perspective? Leave a comment below and let us know!

Will you be there?

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Diaconal Ministries Canada and Christian Reformed Home Missions invite you to join us at the Day of Encouragement this Saturday in Ancaster, Ontario. There will be times of sharing and connecting, great worship, and plenty of opportunities to be equipped in all different areas of ministry in your church and community.

Our theme for this year is Mess is More: Finding Mission in Mayhem.

Life can be messy. It doesn’t take long to think of times in our lives which have been filled with disappointment and pain. And when our church is intentional about engaging with its neighbours, we seem to encounter situations that can be overwhelming, daunting and sometimes even discouraging. And yet, these situations are also full of opportunity.

Jesus left the perfection of Heaven and chose to live in the messiness of earth. He entered into it, felt the pain of it, and was full of compassion and mercy for a hurting world. As followers of Christ. we are called to respond with the same love and compassion -and empathy. Those who are hurting around us are people who share in the same brokenness of a fallen world as we do. This is the common ground on which relationships may be built. This is the place to begin mission in that mayhem.

The Day of Encouragement is meant for you to come and be encouraged and equipped to do just that. Wherever you serve in the church and community, this day is for you.

So come and join the many people who will gather together in Jesus’ name! Come learn and share, and be inspired to follow when you hear Jesus calling you to walk with Him into, and in spite of, the messiness around you.

We pray that the Day of Encouragement will bless you richly! See you there!

Click here to go to the website to register and learn more.

3 Ways a Partnership with Operation Manna can help your church in local ministry.

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How might a partnership with Operation Manna help your church in local ministry?

Do you and your fellow church members have a desire to walk with your neighbours? Did you know that Operation Manna has been helping churches establish important and impactful local ministries for more than 45 years?

In 2016 alone, Diaconal Ministries Canada worked with more than 30 churches and ministry partners to help them establish and grow. Heartland Fellowship CRC, in Chilliwack, BC, is just one of those churches. They partnered with their community to build trails through a local forest, which has opened up exciting connections within the community. They’re the feature of a video that we just posted to tell the Operation Manna story. You can watch it here.

But first, here are three ways that Operation Manna can help your church in local ministry:

1. Diaconal Ministries Canada has experienced staff dedicated to the Operation Manna program.

  • We provide support to your ministry through prayer, encouragement and consultation (planning, organizing, training, or even providing a “sounding board” for your ideas and vision).
  • We connect you to other ministries and churches across Canada involved in similar ministries for learning and sharing.
  • We provide excellent tools to help you develop your ministry.

2. Diaconal Ministries Canada makes grant money available to churches for their ministries.

  • These grants might be needed to help to start a program or ministry.
  • They might also help a church or ministry with limited financial resources be able to partner with others in the community.
  • They might help your church develop a current ministry further or to move it in a new direction.

3. As part of our network, your ministry will be given more exposure and promotion in your Classis and across the country.

Looking for more information? You can find it here.

(above photo: Good News Fellowship CRC walks with their neighbours through the ministry of the Indigenous Family Centre in Winnipeg, MB)

“The Open Door Project”: an Operation Manna partner

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It’s late on a sunny Thursday afternoon, and I am in a narrow office overlooking Edmonton’s river valley. The office is part of Grierson Institution, a small prison in downtown Edmonton where federal inmates serve time before being released to the community. On this particular afternoon, I am chatting with a man named Kevin. Kevin is in his early 50’s, and will soon be released after 3 years in prison. This is his second prison sentence, and this time around, he is serious about wanting a fresh start, a new beginning.

As he thinks about that new beginning, he has some questions: what church will be willing to take him in? What are his job prospects? Where will he meet positive people? Will his old community take him back? What are Edmonton’s halfway houses like? His questions continue for the rest of the afternoon.

By the time we are done chatting, the sun has set. I start my walk home in the dark, but not before giving my friend my phone number, urging him to call me when he gets out. Each week, I meet men and women like Kevin – folks who want to leave the chaotic and confusing lives that led them to prison, but who aren’t quite sure how.

As one of two reintegration chaplains at the Open Door program (an Operation Manna partner), I have the privilege of accompanying folks leaving prison and transitioning into the Edmonton area. Through a volunteer mentorship program, men’s and women’s reintegration support groups, arts and crafts initiatives, spiritual retreats, entry level work opportunities, and the one-to-one support of chaplains like myself, the Open Door program tries to convey a few simple messages to inmates who are working towards positive change in their lives: second chances are possible, and you are not alone . . . we’re in your corner. We’ve found that those simple truths – when they are embodied by a supportive community of staff and volunteers – can make all the difference in the world for those leaving prison.

We’ve found that our program fills a need in Edmonton, where more inmates are released than almost any other urban centre in Canada. We welcome over 50 former inmates to our support groups each year, and 25 individuals participate in our mentorship program yearly. My colleague Debbie and I journey with over 100 former inmates each year, driving them to landlord meetings, visiting them in hospital, meeting with their parole officers, introducing them to potential employers, and drinking hundreds of cups of coffee as we listen to their stories of struggle, celebration, and hope.

Even though our communities often fear folks who’ve been in prison, we find that inmates are often much more afraid of us – the community – than we are of them. We try to work through their fear as best we can, trying to be an open door to folks who experience one closed door after another when they’re released.

And after 20 years of doing this work in Edmonton, we’ve found that the Open Door works. Over the years, 2/3rds of those we support do not reoffend, a vast improvement over national reoffending statistics. Gregory Boyle of HomeBoy Industries insists that we are all called to “stand with the disposable until we stop throwing people away.” In a small way, that is our calling at the Open Door program – to stand with folks like Kevin, folks many would rather keep at the fringes of our communities, until we stop pushing them away but instead offer them the second chance they need.

by Jonathan Nicolai-deKoning, chaplain for the Open Door project, which receives grant money and development services as an Operation Manna partner.

What to know more about Operation Manna and what partnership means? Click here.