Operation Manna

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.

 

“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!

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)

“I chose you!”

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(story reprinted with permission from LIFE Recovery, an Operation Manna partner ministry)

I came to LIFE Recovery with no hope; addicted to crystal meth, homeless and penniless. My only child was not speaking to me, and my mother had been diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. I was hard, angry and full of hatred.

My mother had tried her best to help me; truthfully, I was stressing her out. Raised in a strong Christian home, I had a strong urge to return to my roots. I had been running for a long time and I was desperate.

At LIFE Recovery I was taught week after week that Jesus loves me. I knew He loved the world. What I didn’t realize was that he loved me as an individual.

After I had been at Life for about two weeks, I got on my knees and asked Jesus to rescue me as I surrendered to His will. As time went by, Jesus melted my icy heart, knocking down the walls I had built so that no one could get in.

I started to shine as I walked in the light. I wasn’t just a rotten apple with no reason to live anymore. My daughter talks to me again, I was able to nurse my mother, I was baptized. I watched my mother decline physically and mentally, staying clean for five months. She passed into her life of eternity on January 16, 2015.

When I came to LIFE Recovery, I had no intention of staying. The only explanation I have is that God led me to Life, planted me there and said “You’re not going anywhere. I chose you!”(written by an alumni client of LIFE Recovery).

LIFE recovery is a Christian residential addiction treatment centre for women, and has been an Operation Manna partner since 2014.

Operation Manna Partner: Mosaic Centre in Edmonton, Alberta

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Mosaic Centre has been a recipient of Operation Manna (OM) funding for the past 4 years. In addition to the financial seed money that OM has gifted us, we have also been blessed by excellent mentoring from Diaconal Ministries Canada.

During this time, we have grown from a “green” start-up ministry into a valuable and healthy community resource. We serve over 500 homeless and impoverished individuals from northeast Edmonton, and receive referrals of people in need from local businesses, police, social agencies, and residents. The people who use our services have developed a respect for the area and have move into healthier lifestyles. In the area directly around Mosaic Centre, the crime rate has even dropped by 20%. Every day we witness lives impacted and changed as we build relationships with our community members and offer Christian hospitality.

Throughout the past winter and with the help of staff and volunteers, community members gathered around a wholesome meal on Sunday evenings to hear God’s Word and openly share their thoughts and questions. At the end of April, the community expressed disappointment in losing the extended winter hours. They requested, however, that “Mosaic church” continue to meet -something that has always been a part of Mosaic’s vision. Once again, volunteers have stepped up to host this weekly gathering for the community.

For more than 5 years now, Mosaic Centre has also been included in the curriculum of some of the area high schools. As a result of stories shared in one school, a student was moved to sleep outside for 6 months through the bitter Alberta winter in an effort to raise awareness and funds for the homeless and Mosaic Centre. Collin Messelink’s story was shared by the media, and many people learned about, and donated to Mosaic. People who had never considered the lives of a homeless individual were moved to view them as neighbours.

Every day at Mosaic Centre is a gift as we open our doors and meet new people. The community comes to trust and confide in staff and volunteers who help them to make positive life changes. We are grateful to Operation Manna for walking with us during these past 4 years, and we look forward to what new adventures God will bring through the doors of Mosaic Centre.

-written by Linda Deveau, from Mosaic Centre

There is more information about the Operation Manna program on the Diaconal Ministries website.

Go to the Mosaic Centre’s website for more information on Mosaic and the story about Collin Messelink.

Operation Manna Offering: May 4, 2014

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In many CRCs across Canada, the Operation Manna offering will be held on May 4, 2014.

Operation Manna is a program of Diaconal Ministries Canada. The offering for this program provides an opportunity for CRCs across Canada to support each other as they love their neighbours and bless them through community ministry.

It works like this: the offerings received on May 4 form a fund which provides successful applicants with expertise from staff, support, development help and grant money for community ministry. Each CRC in Canada is eligible to apply to the Operation Manna Program for help and support in creating or growing its community ministry.

For the offering, Diaconal Ministries Canada produces the OM 2014 brochure and a video (posted online on Vimeo, a video-sharing website). These resources help to tell the story of Operation Manna, and to help CRC members learn about the exciting ways their giving directly impacts lives and communities. God is at work! And the CRC is joining Him at work in their communities.

For more information, please visit the Operation Manna section of the website.

Operation Manna Partner Profile: Families Living Well Society (FLWS)

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An Operation Manna Partner since 2011, FLWS (in Edmonton, AB) is an initiative that seeks to support single-parent families by providing hope and addressing needs. This post was submitted by FLWS Executive Director Elaine Mulder.

Sometimes when we talk about outreach, we dwell on big things like going on a mission trip, or putting on a big community event or outreach program. But often God works in other ways, through simple tasks or relational, one-on-one ministry.  Sometimes we forget the amazing people who do so much behind the scenes. Janet Toornstra is one of those people.

Janet has been involved with single parents and their children for many years through FLWS. She came faithfully, every Wednesday, to help a single mom feed her disabled son, Chris. It was a big commitment, but it had such an effect on the family.  And Janet does not even know.

Chris is an adult now (pictured above, with Janet), and does not often come to our meetings. Chris’ mom has also moved on, but in a way we never expected. Because of all the support she received over the many years, she is now just starting to attend West End Christian Reformed church services (after more than 15 years of nudging). We know she is struggling, and we know she is now very close to accepting Jesus as her Saviour. We are praying for her. We know it is in God’s hands and that He is caring for her. And it is people like Janet, with their love and little nudges, who helped to plant this seed.

We often think outreach is about helping people, in some physical sense – making pilas, cooking food, sending out flyers, building houses. And, although God commands us to take care of the poor and the needy,  the real command is to spread God’s love and care to our neighbor. It’s a relational ministry that involves a lot of time and commitment.

So when I think of outreach, I think of people like Janet, who showed compassion and love to Chris and his mom, no matter how broken, desperate, poor, mixed up, and socially disadvantaged they were. I thank and praise God for Janet Toornstra and others like her.