helping without harming

“How could we say ‘no?’” Gateway CRC responds to need for homeless shelter

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(Pictured Above: Larry, one of the shelter’s guests who has also started to regularly attend Gateway, sitting in the church gym.)

This month, guest blogger Monica deRegt will be writing a 3-part story on the Extreme Weather Shelter opened up by Gateway Church in Abbotsford, British Columbia. 
Our theme for December has been “Helping Without Harming” and we hope this story inspires churches to trust God and follow Him into their communities, despite the risks and the unknowns, in order to be a light in this world.


When Gateway CRC (Abbotsford, BC) designed their new building over a decade ago, they knew they wanted it to be a facility that could be used by the broader community. They planned for a large auditorium with a suitable stage for concerts, a spacious banquet hall for rentals, and they kept the original gymnasium and classrooms that were part of the old school building, to be used by groups within and outside of the church. What they didn’t envision was receiving an urgent request on a cold December day in 2016 for additional space to accommodate homeless men and women living in their neighbourhood.

When Jesse Wegenast, director of 5 and 2 Ministries, a local organization that ministers to homeless people, approached Gateway, he was hesitant at first because he had been turned down by every other church he had asked up to that point. But, desperate to find space for 30 beds for people who needed to get out of the cold as soon as possible, and knowing Gateway was a large facility, he decided to take his chances.

Within a week, Gateway’s gym was transformed into an Extreme Weather Shelter that remained open for over 70 nights during a long, cold winter. 5 and 2 Ministries operated the shelter and provided the staff, along with support from the City of Abbotsford. Gateway provided the space, warm meals every night for the guests, along with custodial services and other needs as they arose. In 2017, Gateway took over and managed the shelter on their own, with guidance from the Extreme Weather Shelter Action Committee of Abbotsford, and funding from BC Housing.

So how did it all come together? It wasn’t without its challenges, some of which are still being ironed out as the church heads into the third winter hosting the shelter, shared Gateway’s Executive Pastor Marcel deRegt. Because this ministry arose out of an urgent need, none of the typical ministry planning and preparation took place.

“But how could we say ‘no?’” deRegt asks. “We are the church, this is what we are called to do as believers.”

“But how could we say ‘no?’ We are the church; this is what we are called to do as believers.” 
Pastor deRegt

So, they said yes and decided to figure it out as they went. The learning curve was steep as most Gateway members had very little experience with homeless people prior to opening the shelter. There was some fear and misgivings, a lot of eye-opening moments, as well as a few frustrations. But mostly there was a genuine desire to help even if everyone didn’t know exactly what to say or do. Many responded in the only way they knew how – with food. Empty crockpots stacked up beside the church mailboxes each morning were a testament to the dozens of meals that members would drop off each night. Some members volunteered to sit with the homeless people in the evenings. A group of people came together early on Christmas morning to share a pancake breakfast and Christmas gifts with the shelter guests.

When Gateway took over the management of the shelter in 2017, more planning and paperwork needed to happen. DeRegt and the rest of the staff and council worked closely with the local Salvation Army and BC Housing to sort out funding and other details such as bylaw changes, as well as hiring a coordinator to oversee the program and manage the volunteers.

Lasting relationships have been formed with some of the guests, and hearts and lives have been transformed within both the congregation and the shelter. 

Last year, the shelter provided a dry bed and a warm meal for over 450 individuals. But more than that, lasting relationships have been formed with some of the guests, and hearts and lives have been transformed within both the congregation and the shelter.  


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!)

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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