Doing Justice

The Top 5 Things Gateway Church Discovered Running an Extreme Weather Shelter

Posted by | Doing Justice, Engaging Community | No Comments

Above Photo by Matt Collamer on Unsplash: (I met Michael in a Boston subway station. I told him I liked his sign. “What matters is what it means to you,” he told me. I asked what it meant to him. “Doing a deed or expressing kindness to another person without expecting anything in return,” Michael said. I love approaching strangers wherever I go. Listening and talking to them teaches you about people and how similar we all are to one another. Just like Michael, we’re all seeking human kindness.)

This is the second article in a 3-part story on the Extreme Weather Shelter opened up by Gateway Church in Abbotsford, British Columbia. You can read the first article here.


When Gateway CRC decided to host an Extreme Weather Shelter in their building three years ago, the staff and volunteers knew there would be a lot to learn. Some were expected – that there would likely be drug issues, and that members of the congregation would have mixed emotions and reactions, and that the needs could be greater than anyone had imagined – but there were other unexpected surprises along the journey, too. Gateway Church wanted to share these learnings with other churches and groups who might be considering a similar venture in their community.

So here they are – the Top 5 things that Gateway Church discovered about running an Extreme Weather Shelter:

  1. The Need for Dry Socks… and more – In addition to space, bedding, meals, and volunteers, it was quickly noticed that the shelter guests had other practical needs, like the importance of a dry pair of socks. Volunteer Coordinator, Teresa Spyksma, was surprised at how many pairs they have handed out so far. Gateway is also in the process of installing a washer and dryer in the church as providing clean and dry clothes for the guests meets another practical, yet important, need.
  2. The Amount of Work and Time – Head Coordinator of the Shelter, Jenny Vanderheide, shared that it took way more hours than she expected to organize all the volunteers, saying it takes about 8 volunteers per night to run the shelter: 5 to provide food and 3 to cover both shifts. Gateway staff have also learned that the shelter work isn’t necessarily over when morning comes. They found that many shelter guests, attracted to the hospitality, did not want to leave in the morning or would find reasons to spend more time in the area. This presented new challenges, but also unique opportunities and lasting relationships, and certainly involved a steep learning curve regarding how to respond in a way that was suitable for the church and for the clients.
  3. The Presence of Drugs – One of the biggest challenges with running the Extreme Weather Shelter is the reality of drugs. While it is somewhat possible to prevent the use of drugs on the property, avoiding the evidence of drug use that comes with it (paraphernalia, needles, etc.) is a bit more difficult. Staff and congregation members have had to learn how to manage this as well as respond to the fears that inevitably go with it. Something else that surprised Spyksma was why homelessness and drug-use seem to go hand-in-hand. “I used to believe that people got addicted to drugs and [then] ended up on the street – homeless,” she remarked. “Now I have learned that it is much more common to have other situations cause the homelessness and once on the street, people turn to drugs.”
  4. The Prevalence of Mental Health Issues – Many of the people who come into the shelter have a variety of mental health issues, apart from addictions to drugs or alcohol. In fact, in many cases, this may be the underlying cause for homelessness or addiction. Supporting these people might be the greatest challenge at the Shelter, according to the coordinators. Dealing with the drugs and mental health has helped the church realize the importance of partnering with organizations who are already equipped to deal with these situations.
  5. The Joy of Building Relationships – Coordinators, staff and volunteers consistently share the same experience – as Vanderheide says, “You become attached to these people when you see them night after night and wonder where they are when they do not show up one night, and hope and pray that they are okay.” Spyksma explains how hearing the heart-wrenching stories when she talks one-on-one with the clients helps her to feel more empathy and love. She says she knows that the clients feel the impact of this as well, as some come in just to sit and chat or to pray with the volunteers after something has happened to them. The relationships being built go both ways, as some of the guests have become protective of the church and have taken sacrificial steps to safeguard the building and volunteers from any perceived danger. Other guests have found housing and job offers from connections with church members, and one gentleman regularly attends Gateway Church on Sunday mornings because of the relationships that are being formed.

The biggest surprise expressed by those involved with the shelter is that they feel so blessed to be part of it.

Although there has been a lot more learning and work than unexpected, the biggest surprise expressed by those involved with the shelter is that they feel so blessed to be part of it. Spyksma sums it up beautifully: “I had NO idea that I would love this work. I love being able to actively serve this marginalized community and try to show through my speech and actions that they are valuable, worthy of respect, and ultimately loved.”


Monica Kronemeyer deRegt is a freelance writer and Academic Counselor at Abbotsford Christian School. She lives in Chilliwack, BC, with her husband and three children.

Webinar Addresses Helping that Helps at Christmas (and beyond!)

Posted by | Doing Justice, Engaging Community, Equipping Deacons | No Comments

Christmas is almost here! I’m sure you didn’t need that reminder (at all!). Costco shelves and dollar store aisles have had their Christmas supplies out since October, if not sooner. Churches and charities have been busy planning and promoting their Christmas programs and ministries for a while now. Social media has been buzzing about who deserves our time and money this year (and who we should avoid). While this can be the most wonderful time of the year and a time we are all feeling just a little bit more charitable, it can also be the most overwhelming. Many not only want to find the perfect gift for their family members and friends, but also want to give back – to their community and those who are less fortunate.

Over the past year, World Renew and Diaconal Ministries Canada have teamed up to lead a workshop called, “Helping Without Harming”. This workshop helps participants learn how to alleviate poverty and injustice through effective engagement in their local and global communities. It encourages churches and charities to discover how food banks, deacon funds, short-term service trips and other benevolent activities can be more impactful and meaningful.

Last Wednesday, December 5th, Wendy Hammond, Church Relations Manager for World Renew (US), along with Andy Ryskamp (CRCNA Diaconal Ministry Initiative, US) and Ron VandenBrink (National Director for Diaconal Ministries Canada) hosted a webinar called “Helping That Helps at Christmas and Beyond.” This timely (and timeless!) webinar was insightful and helpful to those who attended. One participant thanked the panel and remarked that this webinar was a “good reminder to work WITH people rather than FORthem” if we truly want to see lasting change.

This webinar was a “good reminder to work WITH people rather than FOR them” if we truly want to see lasting change.

-Webinar participant

You can find the webinar here. Feel free to share it with your church ministry teams and members, your diaconate, your family and friends or anyone you think of. All will benefit, especially those we are striving to help this time of year.

For those with further questions, the following resources and tips were offered up later on in the webinar:

  1. For CANADIAN CRCs;
    1. Find or host a local HWH workshop! The next workshop will be held in Edmonton in January, 2019, with the next one happening in Nanaimo, BC in early February,2019;
    1. Several books can offer practical help: The When Helping Hurts book series, Toxic Charity, Charity Detox;
    1. Contact your local Diaconal Ministry Developer and he/she can help with these conversations;
    1. Visit Diaconal Ministries Canada’s website and go through our Community Engagement resources.
  • For US CRCs:
    • Find your local Diaconal Conferences or email Andy Ryskamp for assistance;
    • Look for organizations to collaborate with that have a “Helping Without Harming” mentality.

Resources mentioned in this recording:

Diaconal Ministries Canada

Lupton Center

The Network (Deacons Section)

Healthy Principles of Community Engagement for the Local Church – handout

Walking with the Poor: Principles and Practices of Transformational Development (Myers, 2011)

When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor . . . and Yourself   (Corbett and Fikkert, 2014)

World Renew Gift Catalog

International Day for the Eradication of Poverty – October 17, 2018

Posted by | Doing Justice, Uncategorized | No Comments
|Photo Credit: CPJ Facebook page, Sept. 2014, ChewOnThis! event photo

 

One day before the annual International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, Citizens for Public Justice released its Poverty Trends 2018, an annual report on poverty in Canada. In this report, we read that an astounding 5.8 million people in Canada (or 16.8%) live in poverty(!!)

According to the article posted yesterday on CPJ’s website, “Data on poverty rates in Canada are an essential part of understanding the complex reality of poverty. However, in addition to economic measures, poverty also involves social, political, and cultural marginalization, with impacts on self-worth, spiritual vitality, and the well-being of communities. Individuals that face multiple barriers have an increased vulnerability to poverty.” (You can download the full report and/or read the full article here.)

Several faith leaders, from within and outside of the CRCNA, along with volunteers in communities across Canada, took to the streets today to participate in the 6th annual “Chew On This!” campaign to call attention to Canada’s disproportionate and persistent rates of poverty and food insecurity. You can read the full story here.

Ahead of today’s events, leaders from the CRCNA in Canada came together to sign their own Public Statement on The International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, including Ron Vanden Brink, director of Diaconal Ministries Canada. Take a moment to read the CRCNA in Canada’s Public Statement and take time to reflect on ways your church and its members can respond. “While the church is unable to provide relief to the hungry masses of the world, it can certainly advocate for systemic reforms that would significantly improve the lot of millions in poverty.” (For My Neighbor’s Good, Synod 1979)

You can also stay up-to-date and find wonderful resources on the CPJ website and/or follow them on Facebook!

Youth Justice Initiative Coming in 2019

Posted by | Doing Justice, Engaging Community, News & Events, Operation Manna | No Comments

|By Erin Knight, Communications Coordinator for Diaconal Ministries Canada

I recently watched the movie Black Panther with my two sons, aged 11 and 13. While I wasn’t exactly filled with enthusiasm to be watching yet another Avenger movie with my kids on a Friday night, some of the buzz I had heard surrounding this movie made me a bit more curious and hopeful. And let me say; all of the hoopla was certainly warranted!! I found myself surprisingly refreshed after watching this superhero action flick. One of the main themes that echoed throughout this movie was that each one of us has a responsibility to make our world a better place; no matter our age, gender, location or economic status. While some will say that that is the theme of EVERY superhero movie – “how can I make a difference and protect the world from the latest and greatest evildoer that comes our way” – I’d say this movie takes that idea/concept one step further – in the right direction.

The world of Wakanda, in which the Black Panther hails from, was a wealthy one in more ways than one and for centuries they had worked hard to protect its culture, its people, and one of its most powerful and rarest resources: vibranium. And so the new king, T’Challa, begins his reign and vows to stay the course. Others in the movie, like his ex-girlfriend, Nakia, think it’s high time Wakanda took a more active role in helping the hurting world around them. If you had something that could help someone else, why would you conceal it, and worst yet, hoard it all for yourself? As the movie goes on, we see why: to keep that something of great value and power out of the hands of those who would exploit it and misuse it for their own wicked desires.

As the movie concludes (Spoiler Alert!), we see the new king embrace Nakia’s vision of bringing hope and healing to a broken world, when and where possible. Near the end of the movie, T’Challa gives us one of the movie’s most profound lines: “In times of crisis, the wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers. We must find a way to look after one another as if we were one single tribe.”

Phew! As followers of Jesus, this message should resonate with us. What T’Challa said is pretty close to the definition of how God calls us to love our neighbours. It’s also a reminder of what JUSTICE looks like: treating those around us as we would like to be treated, believing “We are in this together!” As Christians we, too, have the most powerful and useful ‘resource’ available to us – the Good News of Jesus Christ! We know and believe that living justly and loving our neighbours is not just about meeting people’s physical needs: it’s about relationships! And each one of us is called use the gifts that God has given us to serve others no matter who they are or where they live (or how they live), and to do so with integrity and humility.

“We must find a way to look after one another as if we were one single tribe.”

So what’s my point in all of this?! For over 40 years, the Operation Manna (OM) Program of Diaconal Ministries Canada has helped churches across the country find a way to look after their communities “as if they were one single tribe.” The purpose of OM is to help Christian Reformed Churches start or grow community ministries that seek to bring about sustainable change in individuals and communities experiencing significant needs. It helps them DO JUSTICE! And now… the OM Program is excited to engage youth across Canada to get involved in doing justice too! In 2019, a brand new Youth Justice Initiative is being launched! Teens from across Canada will be encouraged to work with the Deacons in their church as they identify an injustice in their community and share what they are doing about it in a short video. The top finalists’ videos will be made public and will be voted on, with the winners receiving grant money and coaching to help them bring about positive change in their community and beyond.

Stay tuned for more details in the coming months!

If you have any questions OR if you would be willing to help fund this new venture, please contact Tammy Heidbuurt, our Regional Ministry Developer for Eastern Canada: theidbuurt@crcna.org.

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21)

 

[Photo by TK Hammonds on Unsplash]

Meet our New Board Member for BC Northwest!

Posted by | Creation Care, Doing Justice, News & Events, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Cindy describes herself as “a sold out Jesus-lover, loved by God and called to bring attention to both the wonders and beauty of what God has created and the horrendous brokenness that we have caused to it – to bring healing to hurting people and hope to a broken world.”

Diaconal Ministries Canada is pleased to introduce you to our newest board member for Classis British Columbia NorthWest, Mrs. Cindy Verbeek!

Cindy was born and raised in Calgary and lived in Alberta until moving to Houston, BC, her husband’s “hometown” over 15 years ago. Together they are raising 3 beautiful souls, with the first heading to college this Fall.

Growing up, Cindy says she had a keen awareness of social justice fairly early on. She remembers arguing with her parents about how “those Russians” (the bad guys in that day and age) were just like most people and were just trying to live out their lives and get their kids to school, make ends meet, etc. Cindy entered university and became involved in environmental issues and then became a Christian and she began to realize that God cared deeply about these things as well. Cindy says she has spent most of her life trying to challenge herself and those around her to live more simply, and to use time, talents, trees and treasures with respect and in ways that benefit everyone, not just ourselves.

Cindy currently works part-time for A Rocha Canada as the Houston Project Coordinator. Her job involves raising coho fry in our hatchery, educating school children about God’s wonderful creation and collaborating with others doing research and habitat restoration in the Upper Bulkley River watershed. Cindy has a passion for sharing the wonders of God’s creation with anyone who will listen and for trying to help Christians understand how caring for that creation is integral to their walk as followers of the Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer of the universe.

It was a few years ago that, Rachel, our Regional Ministry Developer for Western Canada, came to meet Cindy and later ask her to be a part of our Board of Directors. Rachel had gone to Bulkley Valley in Northern BC to visit the churches there with the local DMD, Bart Plugboer. Bart knew of Cindy and the wonderful work she was involved in so they arranged a day for Bart and Rachel to visit with her to check out the salmon run and beaver dams in the area, go to the lake, etc. Rachel was also able to meet up with Cindy at the A Rocha farm in Surrey to see the farm and what they do, meet the staff and learn about different environmental concerns. After these 2 visits, Rachel knew that Cindy’s passion for justice and creation care, along with her ideas for ministry and church engagement, would make her a huge asset to our Board of Directors.


Cindy believes that caring for God’s creation is integral to our walk as followers of the Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer of the universe.


While Cindy knew very little about DMC and our work with deacons, she says she appreciated what she read in the introductory documents and felt like it was a good fit. Cindy had worked on the Creation Stewardship Task Force for Synod which focused on climate change, she had spent time in Africa, and she is also someone who has experienced depression and anxiety – “all seemingly random things,” Cindy remarks, “that give me a heart for those who are hurting, a desire to be a voice for those who cannot speak (including the creatures and places God created) and an agent for change in our denomination.” Cindy feels quite passionately that Creation Care and Social Justice are just as important for the church to take part in as evangelism and bible studies. As she puts it, “I am a sold out Jesus-lover, loved by God and called to bring attention to both the wonders and beauty of what God has created and the horrendous brokenness that we have caused to it – to bring healing to hurting people and hope to a broken world.”

In her time on the DMC Board of Directors, Cindy hopes to “be a voice for creation and the most vulnerable and help Deacons and Board Members alike not just write and speak words of support for these topics, but to … explore how God wants them to respond in practical ways [and] be good stewards of their ‘time, talents, treasures and trees’.”

Welcome Aboard, Cindy!!!

Finding Hope in 2018

Posted by | Creation Care, Doing Justice, Stewardship | No Comments
*This post first appeared on the DoJustice blog. It’s written by Cindy Verbeek, a new member of DMC’s Board of Directors!

As we sat in the fireside room at A Rocha’s property, Sir Ghillean Prance, a small group of volunteers and I (a stay-at-home mom) we felt a sense of awe that this man, who had been knighted by the queen for his work as a botanist, was so down to earth and hope-filled. One thing he said has stuck with me. When asked what gave him hope over his long career –he knew about and was working towards combating climate change already 20 years ago – his answer was: “Christ’s resurrection and human ingenuity”.

When asked what gave him hope over his long career Sir Ghillean’s answer was: “Christ’s resurrection and human ingenuity”.

At the time I understood the part about Christ’s resurrection. I was, after all, working for a Christian conservation organization and learning about how Christ’s act on the cross was intended for the redemption and restoration of ALL things (Colossians 1:19-20).

Let’s face it, the world is broken. Some believe it is beyond repair – we’ve hit the tipping point. Others believe it doesn’t matter – we’re here for a good time not a long time, as the song goes. Still others believe that it is inevitable, and we should just start praying for everything to end – it’s all going to burn up anyway. My heart breaks daily for the people and creatures on this planet as more and more studies pour out proving what biblical writers recognized thousands of years ago: the earth is groaning, waiting for God’s children to get it right (Romans 8:18-25). And yet, I refuse to lose hope. Why? Because the Gospel message is all about hope. Hope that Jesus meant what he said: he came that we may have life and have it more abundantly. Jesus gives us hope.

I wasn’t so sure, however, about the human ingenuity part of Sir Ghillean’s comment. I felt like if I wanted to reduce my impact on creation, I would have to crawl into a hole and eat locusts and honey, living a life of depravity and want. Stop eating meat, stop washing your hair, stop buying disposable shavers, stop stop stop. I could reduce my meat consumption, sure, but dreadlocks and hairy pits? That was just too far. I had three kids and a household to take care of all while struggling with bouts of depression and anxiety and I made more compromises than I liked to admit. Weighed down by guilt daily at my failure to live out my call as a good steward of the earth there were days when I wondered why I even cared. Nobody else seemed to. But as Mother Theresa said – it’s not about what others think anyway, when it comes right down to it, it’s between you and God.

Now, 20 years later, I am seeing creativity and delight in people’s reaction to the earth and a real movement in both society and faith groups that gives me hope. Everything from solar roads to collapsible straws you can keep on your key chain make me hopeful that Sir Ghillean was right: human ingenuity can help us walk alongside the Creator of the Universe in His restoration of a broken creation. I still make compromises for many reasons: mental health, efficiency, and yes, sometimes laziness. But here are several things that I have done that I am really proud of (knowing that I still have a long way to go) as well as some stories that inspire me to keep pushing into the question of what I can do next to care even better for creation.

Now, 20 years later, I am seeing creativity and delight in people’s reaction to the earth and a real movement in both society and faith groups that gives me hope.

How does your garden grow?

Gardening is, in my opinion, the biggest bang for your buck when it comes to creation care. Every church should have a community garden and everyone with access to land or even outdoor living space should grow what they can. Gardening reduces the amount of pollution spewed into the atmosphere by trucking our food thousands of kilometres to our local stores. Small hand-cultivated gardens reduce the amount of pesticides and herbicides needed to grow our food. Eating food from the garden is the cheapest way to get healthy organic foods. Harvesting food from a garden promotes sharing and community (especially during zucchini season!). And recent studies even show that there are anti-depressants in the soil so gardening is good for your mental health, not to mention other benefits of time spent outside like exercise and vitamin D from the sun.

No-poo, no plastic

This year I stopped washing my hair with shampoo. Inspired by YouTube videos showing the “No-poo” method I decided to try it for myself. It started as a New Year’s resolution and flowed into plastic-less Lent, a challenge I joined on Facebook for Lent. I ended up using shampoo bars instead to get rid of the plastic bottle.

Some other plastics I have left behind are:

  • plastic bags
  • straws (I bring my own metal straw)
  • one-time use utensils (I bought wooden utensils for those times I need disposable and one set of reusable plastic utensils to bring with me)
  • deodorant containers (I make my own)
  • cling wrap (I use reusable silicon covers)
  • toothbrushes (I have purchased bamboo toothbrushes for when my plastic one is finished)

I have learned that although I cannot do everything I can do something.

Do Justly now

Sometimes I get overwhelmed with the enormity of the brokenness and how little I can do. I have a saying on my wall (author unknown) that says,

“Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly now. Love mercy now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”

I have learned that although I cannot do everything I can do something. That is why I am working in my backyard to raise Coho salmon and engage the local community in conservation in the watershed. To see what we are up to visit the A Rocha website. I am encouraged knowing there are other people doing something in their backyard and trust that together we can bring restoration. Together we are making a difference.

[Image: David Clode on Unsplash]

Manitoba Church on Mission to Bless its Community

Posted by | Doing Justice, Engaging Community, Uncategorized | No Comments

Mission statements are wonderful, aren’t they? They tell us exactly what an organization is all about. It proclaims to the entire world, ‘This is why we exist!’ It gives us a clear picture of what motivates a certain group of people to do what they do.

For instance, here’s one:

“To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.”

Can you guess whose mission statement that is? Nike! It’s spot on, right?

Or this one…

“To refresh the world…To inspire moments of optimism and happiness…To create value and make a difference.”

Hmmm, that one’s a bit tougher. Could it be a church or faith organization? Nope! It’s Coca Cola. But again, makes sense, eh?

At First CRC in Brandon, MB, their mission reads like this:

“To foster Christian growth, develop our spiritual gifts, and engage our local and global community through acts of love, mercy, and justice all for the glory of God.”

Wow, that’s pretty clear, isn’t it? Isn’t this what being a Christ-follower is all about? Isn’t this what church is all about? Loving God (fostering Christian growth and developing their spiritual gifts) and loving others (engaging their local and global community through acts of love, mercy, and justice all for the glory of God). It’s simple, comprehensive, and theologically sound.

Now while a mission statement clearly communicates what an organization is trying to accomplish, and even why they are trying to accomplish it, sometimes the HOW is where things get a bit messy and a bit more difficult.

For First CRC, they’ve been discovering that one practical way for them to fulfill their mission is to partner with a community ministry where one of their members is already serving! They call this new initiative “Opportunity to Bless”, or OTB for short. OTB was a ministry Pastor Doug VandeKamp (a former DMD no less!) heard about at a Brandon Ministerial Association meeting back in April. Pastor Vern Kratz of Calvary Temple shared that his church’s OTB ministry had been one of the biggest catalysts for moving that church from being inward-focused to becoming outward-oriented and that caught the attention of Pastor Doug.

Shortly after that initial conversation between the two pastors, OTB began at First CRC. Here is a quick look at how the OTB ministry works at First CRC:

  • The church compiles a list of agencies where their own church members are involved. Anything from the local MCC Thrift Store to the Crisis Pregnancy Centre to Youth for Christ. Once the OTB partner is confirmed, the church approaches a different agency each month to ask what some of their practical needs currently are (e.g. diapers, baby food, etc.). Prior to the next month starting, a presentation is given in church to challenge the congregation to bring in the needed items and place them in a designated collection area;
  • Knowing there may not be a ministry every month with a local CRC connection, the church’s council, who fully endorses this new ministry, can also be asked for their input on other ministries/opportunities in their community. Another option is to pair up with Calvary Temple (which started the OTB ministry) and support whatever their monthly cause is or to check with a neighbouring church to see what local agencies its members support and lend them a hand. The ultimate goal is to provide the congregation at First CRC an opportunity to bless a local agency;
  • On the final Sunday of the month, a member of the organization’s leadership is invited to come and share how the OTB items will bless their organization and to retrieve the items collected over the month.

The OTB ministry had been one of the biggest catalysts for moving that church from being inward-focused to becoming outward-oriented.

The above logo was designed by Emily Campbell Baker, a member of First CRC in Brandon, MB. Here’s her explanation for her design: “The logo is simple, yet fun – hence the playful typeface used for OTB – because blessing others brings joy! A somewhat hand-rendered quality gives the logo a home-grown, hand-crafted touch – not perfect, crisp, or clean by any means. This is appropriate because even though humans aren’t perfect, the church is still blessing others through their actions and the things they do and say.
“Lastly, the top of the “T” from “OTB” overlaps with the crook of the heart, which creates an abstract cross that sprouts from the middle and wraps around into the heart shape. It is a reflection back to Jesus, who is the ultimate blessing, blesser, and the reason behind it all.”

Besides OTB being a natural and practical fulfillment of their church’s mission to ”engage [their] local community through acts of love, mercy and justice,” the leadership is discovering there are so many benefits for their church and its members, and of course for their community. First and foremost, Pastor Doug hopes this will be a constant reminder to his church’s members that God is always at work in their community and that they can be a part of His work in a variety of ways! One of the best aspects of this ministry is that everyone can be a part of this exciting new venture! No matter a person’s age, background, or abilities, each member can be involved by buying and dropping off donations, offering prayer support, by spreading the word, and more. And since First CRC is a small congregation with only one (1) deacon currently (normally they have 2-3), a ministry that engages their entire church, with little-to-no volunteer recruitment needed, also makes a lot of sense.

One of the first recipients of the OTB ministry was the MCC Thrift Store in Brandon. Shelly, the manager, had never been to a Christian Reformed Church before and knew little about the denomination, but one of her volunteers at the store is a member at First CRC. With a special birthday coming up, the church wanted to honour this particular member by donating to one of her favourite charities. This member suggested the MCC Thrift Store so the church got in touch with Shelly. Since most thrift stores see an abundance of donations come in each day, Shelly wondered if the church could help their thrift store bless one of their partners! Several times throughout the year Brandon Correctional Centre, the local jail, calls upon the thrift store to see if they can donate clothing for someone who is set to be released. Often times the men being released have nothing to their names but the outfit they arrived in so a few more pieces of clothing can offer them a sense of dignity and a good start. Shelly asked the church is they could collect Men’s Plus Size clothing (something they typically never have enough of at the store). When Shelly was asked to come to First CRC the last Sunday of the month, she thanked the congregation for their kindness and support and took home three stuffed Rubbermaid totes of men’s clothing. She was struck by how a church she knew nothing of would want to help her so that she could help others in the community that depended on her agency. It reminded her of how no matter what church we attend or what faith-based agency we work for, we are all part of GOD’S CHURCH. And ultimately, Shelly remarked, it’s about what GOD is doing in us and through us: “The more we see what God is doing in the community, the more we can marvel at Him.”

“The more we see what God is doing in the community, the more we can marvel at Him.”

While this new ministry continues to unfold, “part of the delight,” remarks Pastor Doug, “will be discovering God’s blessings along the way as this ministry gets up and running.” As members of the church continue to learn about what it means to live on mission through the OTB ministry, he hopes more and more will be inspired to invite a friend, neighbour, or coworker to help out.

What a beautiful way to help the light of God’s love shine as the church works together, on mission!

(A big thanks to Pastor Doug for sharing this story with Erin Knight, and also to Shelly for her contributions.)

What About Your Church?

  • What is your church’s mission? How does your diaconate live that out?
  • What new ministry has your church recently begun? How is it going? What are you learning?
  • Do you think an OTB ministry would work at your church? Why or why not?
  • Does your diaconate have some ideas but you need help flushing them out? We have Diaconal Ministry Developers (DMDs) and our Regional Ministry Developers here to help you out!

Paying it Forward: A Refugee’s Story

Posted by | Doing Justice, Uncategorized | No Comments

Fred received the honor of cutting the ribbon, along with John and his mother, and Royce & Pietie Boskers

Here at DMC, one of the great privileges we have is hearing YOUR stories of how God is at work in your church and community. Below is a story that was shared by Mr. Fred Abma, a Deacon at Bethel CRC in North Edmonton, at the recent Day of Encouragement held in Edmonton.

John Lendein is a friend of mine. He came from a tiny village in Liberia, Africa, called Bettesu. This was home for John and his parents before the rebellion war. During that time, John’s mother, Hawa, was very instrumental in bringing the Christian faith to her village. Of course this came with many detrimental consequences: she was even thrown in prison for her faith. Fortunately for John, he was sponsored by his uncle and was able to leave the war-torn country. He came to Canada by himself in 2003 and started attending Bethel CRC. Tragically, John’s father had been killed by Rebels in the Rebellion War, but John’s wife and children and his mother were able to flee to a Refugee Camp in Ghana.
After letting some members of Bethel know his story, plans were set into motion to sponsor John’s mother, wife and family as refugees to Canada. In 2005 John was reunited with his family and they were all able to come to Edmonton.
But the story doesn’t end there; for John this was just the beginning! As a boy, John had to walk a couple of hours to attend school. He had a dream to build a school in his own village of Bettesu and by sharing that with some of the members at Bethel CRC, that dream started to become a reality. Funds were raised for not only the school, but a church building also! The school was built to educate 100 children and the members of Bethel also sponsored individual children to help them purchase uniforms and books. Two years later the school was expanded to accommodate 260 students! A proper latrine was built and a well is currently being worked on for clean water. ALL of the work was done by the local people of that village.

In total, Bethel CRC raised $150,000 for Bettesu with the intention that one day, the village will be able to support the school itself. In order to do this, the village has started various micro-projects. These projects include planting palm trees for the production of palm oil and rice fields.
Two years ago, I (Fred) had the privilege to go to Bettesu with John and his mother, Hawa, to officially open the school and the church and be a part of the community for a time. It was an experience of a lifetime. It was great to see God’s Spirit working through us in a different part of the world.

What an incredible story! This gives us a wonderful picture of a family finding refuge here in Canada but still wanting to bring hope and a future BACK to their village where they came from.

As the story states, there were no other agencies helping this village out with this extensive building project; just the people from this little village and other nearby villagers – from making the bricks on site to painting it. All of the materials used were from their own village or brought from the nearest city; a real trek to get it to Bettesu. This was truly an amazing community effort.

To many, Bethel is known as the “helping church”. They are a very active church located in a lower income area and their Deacons are very involved with benevolence. This story demonstrates beautifully how churches can help people help themselves. Providing assistance in a way that creates sustainable solutions is how churches and diaconates can move beyond good intentions to providing lasting change! (Find out more here.)

John is back in Canada along with his mother, wife and 4 children and still attends Bethel CRC. He was also a delegate to Synod last year! Praise God as He continues to work in us and through us, giving us the desire and the power to do what pleases Him! (Phil. 2:13)

SO WHAT ABOUT YOU?

Does your diaconate have a story they’d like to share? Where is God at work in your church and community? Email Erin today.

Churches invited to be part of the Restorative Justice Process

Posted by | Doing Justice, Engaging Community | No Comments

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.