helping without harming

Is It Making A Difference? – Gateway’s Extreme Weather Shelter, Part 3

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(Pictured above: A pictures taken of outside the shelter. There are no signs, but this “homeless cart” gives evidence of its presence. These carts start to arrive a few hours before the shelter begins some nights. Photo Credit: Monica deRegt)

This is the final article in our 3-part story on the Extreme Weather Shelter opened up by Gateway Church in Abbotsford, British Columbia. Here’s the first article if you missed it – and the second one.


The Extreme Weather Shelter operated by Gateway Church has offered over 160 individuals a dry place to rest this winter. So, is it making a difference? For some guests, like Larry (you can read his story HERE!) the experience has been life-changing. For others, there is no way of knowing what impact, if any, the shelter has made, other than a one-night reprieve from the cold, wet streets of Abbotsford. Is that enough?

The same could be said of the impact on the congregation. There is evidence of community and relationships developing; attitudes are being challenged and sometimes transformed, and deeper conversations are beginning about faith and justice, homelessness, and poverty. But there has also been opposition; people who worry that we are enabling the homeless. Others struggle with the fears and risks that come with opening their building to individuals who may be involved in dangerous and unpredictable activities like drug addiction, violence, and untreated mental illnesses. And some members are concerned that hosting the shelter will negatively impact other outreach efforts. Is it worth it?

The truth that many of the volunteers have discovered is that homelessness – for those who live it and for those who try to help – is a messy journey with no easy answers.

The Shelter’s sleeping area set-up for another night

“It’s not just about Christian love and all of that,” says volunteer Dianne Mulder, in answer to the question of what advice to give to other churches considering hosting a shelter. Mulder and her husband, Al, decided to help out at the shelter to try to find their own answers about why people are homeless. They have learned that the answer is different for everyone, and that a dry place to sleep makes a different impact on each person. Some are more appreciative than others. “It’s not going to solve the problem; it’s just going to help in a small way. It’s brutal and it’s real and you are dealing with people who don’t think like you.”

Houweling believes the shelter is making a difference, not just to the homeless, but to the church as well.

Gord Houweling, who had a cup of coffee thrown in his face the morning after his first night volunteering at the shelter, shares a similar sentiment.  “It is easy to preach ‘turn the other cheek’ but it is difficult to practice when there is absolutely nothing in it for you.”

But Houweling believes the shelter is making a difference, not just to the homeless, but to the church as well, explaining that his own view of the homeless was challenged when he realized he knew the family of one of the guests. “How can this ministry do anything but impact our congregation? Has it changed how we view the marginalized? I would say yes in that at the very least members are talking about it. For those members who have a difficult time accepting this ministry, it is because God is working to help them process how they feel about the marginalized.”

Church members Heather and Aubrey Postma decided to volunteer because they struggled with the hopelessness and frustration of knowing how to help with the enormous problem of homelessness. Both agree that it has been very eye-opening and has changed the way they understand and care about the people living in the homeless camps in their city.

As individuals we aren’t asked to solve all the problems, but we are called to do something to answer the Biblical call to care for the poor and needy.

“As individuals we aren’t asked to solve all the problems, but we are called to do something,” Heather shared, adding that she doesn’t see how anyone could argue against the Biblical call to care for the poor and needy in this way. “Hosting the shelter so that one person stays dry for one night and gets one good night’s sleep is reason enough to participate.”

A BIG thanks to Mrs. Monica Kronemeyer deRegt for writing this 3-part story for Diaconal Ministries Canada.

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


Moving Forward

Through their partnership with BC Housing, as well as with the assistance of several dedicated volunteers, the Extreme Weather Shelter at Gateway Church is here to stay. Each year, the Shelter runs from November 1 to March 31 each year. The criteria used to determine when the Shelter is open is the temperature and weather conditions: 0 degrees or colder (with or without windchill), a posted weather warning (of rain, snow, cold, etc.), and/or if snow is on the ground. If the shelter is opened on a Friday night, it will remain open for the entire weekend (until Monday morning) in order to accommodate the Shelter’s guests. There’s no easy way over the weekend to let guests know if it will be open or not, so leadership at the Shelter feel this is the kindest and simplest way to deal with that issue.

At the end of every season, Lead Pastor Marcel deRegt and Shelter staff take time to evaluate what worked well and what needs improvement for the following year so that they can continue meeting the needs of their guests. While there are members who wonder if the Shelter should be open continuously, from Nov. 1 to March 31, others aren’t sure this is necessary or sustainable, given the amount of volunteers it requires.

Please pray with us for the staff and volunteers of the Shelter as well as the congregation at Gateway Church as they continue to lean on God for wisdom and direction in their pursuit to show Christ’s love and mercy in serving the homeless in their surrounding community.  Pray that grace and understanding abound, both within the givers and those who receive.

Erin Knight, Communications Coordinator for Diaconal Ministries Canada

Gateway’s Extreme Weather Shelter – Larry’s Story

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Diaconal Ministries Canada invited guest blogger, Monica deRegt, to write a 3-part story on the Extreme Weather Shelter opened up by Gateway Church in Abbotsford, British Columbia.

While writing the last article, Monica felt led to also share this personal story of her experience in meeting Larry, one of the Shelter’s patrons. You might remember seeing Larry’s picture in Part 1 HERE of this series. Also check out Part 2 by clicking HERE!


Larry was sitting alone at a table in our fellowship hall one Sunday in January, waiting for church to start. On the table in front of him was a single rose wrapped in cellophane. I knew he was one of the guests from the Extreme Weather Shelter we host in our gymnasium. I had met him before; he attends our Sunday morning services regularly. Combatting my inner voice that convinces me I won’t have the right words, I decided to go over, say good morning and talk with him.

Larry enjoying a beverage in Gateway’s gymnasium.

Larry turned out to be quite the conversationalist! He shared part of his story with me, explaining why he struggled to earn enough money at his part-time job to cover rent in our town, and how that was what originally led him to our shelter. He has since made a connection with one of our members who helped him find an affordable place to rent. He then complimented me on my freshly manicured nails and I was immediately ashamed and flattered at the same time: how pretentious and rich I must appear to this man, I thought. And yet, it also surprised me that he would notice and take the time to pay me the compliment. He explained, as if knowing I might be feeling uncomfortable, that one of the things he appreciated about being in our church was being surrounded by men and women who value themselves and take good care of themselves. His past was filled with many people who did not make those choices.

“I’ve met some really good, close friends here. Friends that really care about my health.”

Larry has found community at Gateway, saying that he experienced tremendous support through the shelter, where he felt treated like an equal person. Because of that, he wanted to show his support to the church by coming on Sundays to see what it was all about. He enjoys talking and having coffee with the members who come early before the services.

“I’ve met some really good, close friends here. Friends that really care about my health.”

Larry has become a regular face at Gateway’s community events as well. He participated in the Arts and Crafts Fair, selling prints of his beautiful drawings.

Larry is making a difference in the lives of people at Gateway.

And the rose he had with him? Larry takes a flower to church every Sunday so he can give it to a woman who looks as if she needs to feel appreciated. Larry is making a difference in the lives of people at Gateway.

Thank you Monica for sharing this story with us!


Serving a God of Change: Part 2 – Top 7 Reasons Change can be a Good Thing

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In Part 1 of ‘Serving a God of Change’, we looked at why change can be so hard for us humans and why we tend to avoid it at all costs. But if we’re being honest, I think we can agree that sometimes we DO want change; new things can bring excitement and refreshment. Like that fresh pair of underwear we put on this morning (well, hopefully!). Or changing the throw pillows on our couch every couple of years. Or (incessantly) changing the channel on the tv – my husband is an expert at that! 😉

Change isn’t always bad; new isn’t always unwelcomed. Remember those bible verses we read in our last post? (And trust me, there are way more than just those 3.) Perhaps the first step in embracing change is to change our attitude and perception towards it. Not convinced? Okay, fine, you asked for it!

Perhaps the first step in embracing change is to change our attitude and perception towards it.

Here’s our Top 7 Reasons Why Change Can Be A Good Thing:

  1. Change pushes us to grow – personally, professionally, emotionally, and/or spiritually.  
  2. Change reminds us we aren’t in control. It reminds us of who is Boss and it keeps us flexible, breaking up our (potentially harmful) routines. Routines can be good, ruts never are. God is always at work and God always wants the best for us (Romans 8:28).
  3. Change can challenge, but also solidify, our values and beliefs. Sounds scary, but this could lead to deeper, stronger, and more meaningful relationships – with God and with others – as our love and trust grows.
  4. Change often reveals our strengths—including our ability to adapt in new (and often interesting) ways. It also reminds us to rely on God’s strength. He promises He won’t leave us or forsake us. (Deut. 31:6)
  5. Change can change our perspective. How we view change and its purpose and value can make all the difference. Instead of saying, “If God is in control, why won’t He take this away from me?” we can say, “I don’t know what God is doing, but I know He loves me and has a plan for me.”
  6. Change can make us more compassionate and more loving. When we become “too comfortable” in our own situation, it can be much more difficult to understand what others might be going through. As we look around and see others struggling, we can choose compassion instead of criticism.
  7. Change offers opportunities. Change can present opportunities that can lead to even more opportunities! This could be the abundant life Jesus talked about in John 10.

In summary: we serve a GOD OF CHANGE. This is how God created His entire world – including us. Each day the sun rises and we have a new day. Four times a year we mark a new season (whether we like it or not!). Even the cells in our body are continually dying and being replaced! Since the beginning of the world God has been actively doing a new thing. Change isn’t always a bad thing! What we must remember, though, is that no change is good change without God in the picture.

Every day is an opportunity for change to reveal incredible and amazing things [as we] allow ourselves to be drawn closer to Him and to the plans and purposes He has for our life.

Marni Montanez

For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland. (Isaiah 43:19)

Marni Montanez shares this wonderful insight about this passage from Isaiah: “Our eyes must be watchful and our hearts open and expectant for the changes God is bringing into our life. Our God is the ultimate artist and He loves to create. He brings victories and transforming power into each situation we welcome Him into. What else can we be, but grateful for His tireless ministry to us? Every day is an opportunity for change to reveal incredible and amazing things and in these changes we allow ourselves to be drawn closer to Him and to the plans and purposes He has for our life. This is indeed good news. We must be willing vessels ready to face the head-wind of change and move forward in the renewed hope that God presents to us daily;  If we don’t our lives will become stale and intolerable.”

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. Proverbs 3:5-6

Here at DMC, we strive to follow God and trust in Him as we push forward to break new ground in order to help deacons and churches across Canada live out God’s calling on their lives. Here are just a few exciting things we’ve been working on:

  1. We’ve begun some wonderful collaborations to better equip and resource deacons and churches:
    a. We are working with Christian Stewardship Services to offer deacons and churches helpful and up-to-date resources on stewardship and benevolence, with extra funding coming from the CRCNA to support these efforts;
    b. Along with World Renew, we are offering a workshop “Helping Without Harming” to educate and encourage local churches and organizations to address poverty and injustice in their communities;
    c. We have a Memorandum of Understanding with the Climate Witness Project to help communities and churches respond to God’s call to love their neighbour and care for creation, focusing on these four key areas: Energy Stewardship, Worship, Education, and Advocacy.
  2. A National Benevolence Training Program was piloted in a couple cities across Canada. This program, developed and led by Ms. Anje Attema, will help deacons move from “handing out money” to partnering with people to bring about lasting and meaningful change in their lives and situations.
  3. We’ve recruited some highly skilled and passionate Diaconal Ministry Developers to our team!
  4. We have fully rebranded our Operation Manna Program and are excited to make an announcement at the end of January 2019, so stay tuned!

We serve a God of change, who goes before us, beside us, and behind us. He can do some pretty amazing things in those moments, if we let Him and if we continue to follow Him. So here’s the challenge – for us, for deacons, for churches: embrace the changes! Remember this as you put on a fresh pair of underwear each day: Change is good if God is in the change. Sometimes it’s necessary… sometimes it’s uncomfortable (at first)… but we never have to go through it alone.

 “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13

Will You Help Us Continue to Extend our Reach?

In order to accomplish what we’ve listed above, and so much more, WE NEED YOU! Will you partner with us so can continue to inspire, empower, and equip deacons and churches across Canada in new and refreshing ways? Your prayers and financial support are critical for Diaconal Ministries Canada to help deacons and churches flourish so that every community can be transformed by the love and good news of Jesus Christ. Find out more here!

“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