partner

“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.

“I chose you!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Operation Manna Partner: Mosaic Centre in Edmonton, Alberta

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

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

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

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

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

-written by Linda Deveau, from Mosaic Centre

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

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