Engaging Community

“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.

The Refugee Crisis and the CRC Response

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The following was sent out by the CRCNA Communications:

With the refugee crisis on many people’s minds, questions have come in to various agency and ministry staff about what the CRC is doing to help.

A number of communication items have recently gone out from our office to address the refugee crisis and how churches can respond to the issue and to the needs of refugees.

To keep you all informed, here is a link to the letter that went to churches throughout Canada: Announcement: Refugee Issues and Resources

In addition, bulletin announcements went to all Canadian churches:

REFUGEE RESOURCES – The local church needs to consider its approach to the refugee crisis. Especially considering Iraq and Syria, we have the opportunity to get engaged. Understand how your church can serve the stranger in your midst by visiting the ‘Refugee Issues web portal’ on the CRC Canada page at www.crcna.org/Canada/social-justice-canada/refugee-issues. There your church will find everything from worship resources to small group studies, an online video for worship settings, and even a doorway to sponsor a refugee.

SYRIA CONFLICT RESPONSE – World Renew is responding to the horrific violence that has torn apart the Middle East and forced millions of people to become refugees. For more than three years, World Renew has been providing food and other assistance to displaced families in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. Please help us continue this ministry. Gifts received from Canadians by December 31 will qualify for a 1:1 match from the Canadian government. Call 1-800-730-3490, visit www.worldrenew.net/donate or mail your gift marked, “World Renew Syria Conflict,” to World Renew, 3475 Mainway, STN LCD 1, Burlington, ON L7R 3Y8. Those interested in helping refugee families as they begin a new life in Canada, should contact Rebecca Walker (rwalker@worldrenew.net).

Various news stories have also gone out about the refugee crisis:

Tragic Images Spur Mobilization on Syrian Refugees

CRC Helps to Resettle Syrian Refugees (also posted on CRCNA Facebook page)

Canadian Government to Match Donations for Syrian Refugee Crisis

As well, we have been working with partners of the CRC; the Canadian Council of Churches, and the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada and the World Council of Reformed Churches have all promoted our content.

(photo from a workshop and toolkit that seeks to help Christian citizens work with their refugee neighbours for justice. Find out more from the Christian Reformed Centre for Public Dialogue)

Summer Reading

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toxic charityIf there’s one book that you might want to read on charity, I recommend Robert Lupton’s book Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help.

Lupton’s 40 years of experience in community development in Atlanta have led him to claim that charitable giving is “either wasted or actually harms the people it is targeted to help” (page 1).

But, you may ask -is Lupton correct? Can charity be toxic? Are we actually harming people with charity? Good questions!

These questions are very important for congregations and other ministry organizations that are facing declining revenues. In fact, these questions are the first step needed to assess the sustainability of our ministries.

These are good questions that I will not answer. However, Lupton’s short book provides answers as well as practical steps toward transformative charity.

Have a great summer and HAPPY READING!

-written by Hans, Kater (National Director, Diaconal Ministries Canada)

Connecting with Our Muslim Neighbours

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Disability Concerns, the refugee office of World Renew, the Office of Social Justice and Race Relations are a number of CRC agencies which partner with Diaconal Ministries Canada in the work of justice.

Partnerships with other networks, programs and agencies continue to strengthen the possibilities and the ways that the church engages in a spirit of mercy and justice with its diverse neighbours.  Noted recently by a prominent and respected sociologist, Reginald Bibby, one of the primary means of growth in the Canadian church will likely be immigrants.

Along with new immigrants adding to our population’s ethnic diversity, our country also experiences increased diversity in religions.  Muslims are settling into many of the neighbourhoods of our Christian Reformed Churches.  Currently one quarter of all immigrants to Canada follow the Islamic faith.  In fact, Muslims in Canada are currently 3.5% of our total population.  Within 15 years, this is projected to double.

The Christian Reformed Church desires to equip its members to confidently and intentionally engage with their Muslim neighbours.  This is evident in the re-commitment to The Salaam Project,” a ministry of Christian Reformed World Missions and other partners.

Four areas of focus will better equip CRC congregations in Canada to engage with Muslims.

  • Dialogue– proactively seeking to develop relationships with Muslim brothers and sisters
  • Witness– living lives of joy as examples of Christ’s love
  • PeacemakingSalaam will provide a voice for peace between Muslim and Christian in Canada and around the world.
  • Hospitality Salaam will help to bring down barriers to hospitality.

According to the recent Salaam proposal, CRC congregations may begin, with assistance, to understand barriers that Muslims have to hearing the Gospel.  With God’s help, these barriers will be brought down and our engagement with Muslims will be enhanced and blessed.

The potential to re-engage Muslim ministry in Canada is promising!  Muslims in our community provide an opportunity not to be lamented or ignored. Engaging with our Muslim neighbours is an opportunity to share life with its joys and challenges!!  Most of all, it is our significant and urgent opportunity to share the Gospel in both word and deed!!

The current Muslim ministry leader is Greg Sinclair who may be reached through the CRC Burlington office at gsinclair@crcna.org.  He will welcome your learnings and your questions as he seeks to give leadership to this significant project.  To explore through a host of resources, follow this link.

The above photo is courtesy of Mission Montreal (a partnership of various CRC agencies)

“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.

Growing a Stronger Missional Heart

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“Over the last 10-15 years, Bethel CRC transformed from the church ‘out on the highway’ to the church that loves the community.”

This is how Diane Leferink describes what God has been doing in Bethel CRC in Acton, Ontario. Many things have undoubtedly contributed to this transformation, but in 2007, the church started a Community Opportunity Scan (COS) –to find out more about their neighbours and community and to find places and people with whom to partner for the good of the community. Diane was part of the leadership team for Bethel’s COS.

The COS is a process of discovery, a way of affirming the unique gifts and assets in the community and in the church. After listening to the community, the church then begins to prayerfully discern opportunities to partner with their neighbours to share Christ’s love and bring sustainable change. That change might look like an initiative or a program, or it might be awareness and action around an injustice or need. It is, however, always about relationships. Sometimes the church comes through a COS with a clear direction for community ministry. Sometimes it may be less clear, but no less fruitful when it is led by the Holy Spirit.

For Bethel CRC, the COS helped the church make “great connections with schools, agencies and individuals” that they “really didn’t have before or at least not at the same level,” says Diane. “Those COS conversations were really important.” And, she adds, “the good work continues on!”

Bethel CRC is “shining light” and “showing love” to their community. According to Pastor Ray Vanderkooij, the pastor since 2003, the church is “blessed to be having an impact in the community of Acton and beyond.” This impact extends in a special way to the youth of the community. They are involved in an Alpha course in the local public high school. They are also exploring sports opportunities with the youth of the community, creating a community youth group, and engaging the youth in a local mission week in the community. Together they are taking the lead to address the issue of youth homelessness in Halton Hills.

The deacons are also very engaged, continuing to “share in the community, very intentionally supporting the local food bank.” The GEMS and Cadets worked with the Scouts and Girl Guides to lead a food drive. The church is involved in “Food for Life,” and opens up their facilities to the community for meetings and events. The church is also a voice on the Community Support Network for Halton Hills, and its housing taskforce.

These, and other, activities and ministries are working to transform both the church and the community. The COS, says Diane, “really helped to get things going.” Pastor Ray adds that “many individuals make valuable missional impact in their neighbourhoods and in community groups, which is the most exciting to see, and which we are encouraging as we seek to grow a stronger missional heart in our church family.”

 

Want to learn more about the Community Opportunity Scan? Click here.

 

Deacons Challenge Congregation to Participate in Reverse Offerings

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When Rachel Vroege (Regional Ministries Developer -West) from Diaconal Ministries Canada visited the Deacons of Bethel CRC in Saskatoon last year, one idea she presented to us was that of a Reverse Offering.  We were immediately taken with the idea, and went about trying to make it work for our local Rosthern Food Bank.  We explained to our congregation what a reverse offering was, and how it worked.

On March 8th our offering bags were passed around and everyone pulled out slips of paper which had items listed on them as suggested needs for the Food Bank.  The results were amazing and the large amount of items that we took to Rosthern on March 27, 2015 speak to the many blessings we as individuals and as congregation feel we wanted to share. There was excitement in the air!

The Rosthern Food Bank people were slightly overwhelmed by our gift.  They had been running short of stock and as one of the ladies quietly said to me, “The Lord supplies.”  They asked how we had raised this amount of items.  When we told them about the “reverse offering,” the word and explanation quickly spread from one helper to the next.  I can just imagine that there will be a series of Reverse Offerings in the surrounding churches.  Great idea Rachel, and Thank You Lord!

-Jean de Beer, Diaconal Ministry Developer for Saskatchewan

(in the above photo: Bethel CRC Deacons l-r: Karen Jacobi, Liz McLean, Calvin Vaandrager, and Henk Vandenbrink)

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Offering More

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What started as a one-time fundraiser some 40 years ago has become a very popular annual tradition that church members look forward to every Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving1Hebron CRC in Renfrew, Ontario held their first Thanksgiving Day auction as a fundraiser for the Calvinette (now GEMS) program. It was so popular that congregational members suggested that it take place  every year…and so an annual tradition was born.

Each Thanksgiving, members donate everything from homegrown produce to home-baking, handmade wooden articles, jams, jellies, preserves and craft items to be auctioned off. Everyone enjoys bidding  against each other to win the item of their choice. It is a good time of fellowship and fun.

Thanksgiving 5Each year, the money raised is donated to different charitable organizations connected to the church or community. This event has raised thousands of dollars for many deserving  recipients and has blessed the church, its members, and the recipients of the money raised. We hope and pray this will continue for many years to come.

-submitted by the Renfrew deacons

 

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.