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New Perspective on Home

I attend St. Albans Anglican Church in downtown Ottawa. We are lucky to have space in the midst of both the Market, nearby Centretown, and Sandy Hill. We feel as though we are surrounded by busy city life, with event constantly taking place and people coming and going.

It also means our church body lives with neighbours experiencing poverty and homelessness, in fact our church body, itself, has members who find themselves living in shelters or on the streets. It is a stark reality of urban life, and one our congregational is learning to navigate with sensitivity and compassion. It certainly helps that Centre 454, a social service, is located in the lower half of our church building. The folks who work and volunteer there are the same as those you would encounter at OIM–deeply caring and passionate people.

Though we have the pleasure of housing Centre 454 and partnering with them in their ministry, it can be difficult to know how to incorporate our church’s youth into this part of our life together. We have a small but energetic group and as leaders who see Jesus’ strong dedication to social justice we know it is essential to be able to invite our young men, women and children into experiences that can foster understanding.

As a staff member at OIM I knew about our One Homeless Night program, which invites youth to walk for a night in the shoes of one of their peers experiencing homelessness. Though our size did not lend itself to this activity we truly wanted our youth to experience the lessons and principles that this activity offer.

We invited OIM’s Youth Outreach Worker to join us for an evening of discussion, and walk of ‘new perspective’. We traveled around our own neighbourhood, of Sandy Hill, in the rain, trying to see with new insight the individuals and stories of our very own street community. Some of the stories were difficult, and our youth struggled to understand, but more often than not they rose to the occasion with questions and concern. It was unbelievably valuable experience, and one we brought to a close by packing gifts for the Passion 4 Youth participants and, of course, prayer.

It was imperative that we not only see and understand, but that we follow with action.

I hope next year our numbers will grow, or that we might partner with other churches for a full overnight One Homeless Night event. For now, I am grateful that OIM, a place care for dearly, was able to bless my youth with a new perspective for their own homes, and to challenge them how they might invite inclusion and create spaces of safety and support for their neighbours.

 

Selina,

OIM Staff

If you’re interested in organizing a One Homless Night event with your youth group or school visit our One Homeless Night page for more information.

“I brought Christmas”

Reviewing our current ‘Christmas trend,’ I see a big build up leading to Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, celebrating the birth of our Saviour on December 25th, with an almost unbelievable and instantaneous shift to Boxing Day (and week) sales and super deals, and now to what is (this year at least) a very cold and frigid journey with ‘old man Winter’ bringing temperatures (with wind chill) to     -39°celcius. Whatever happened to Jesus? The ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’ (not the partridge and the pear tree version) is actually a season designed to continue the celebration of Jesus’ birth.

In keeping with this, I want to tell you the story, ‘The Christmas Hampers’.  When I was having lunch with Tessa (OIM’s Christmas Story – still in our archives on the blog page) before we went to do our taping at CHRI, she told me their little family of four didn’t have enough money to have a Christmas dinner.  Afterwards I made a call to a partnering church that was going to collect dinners and deliver hampers and asked if there was enough for another hamper delivery. They said yes.

To make a long story shorter, we obtained Christmas dinner hampers for four family ‘units’ made up of street kids from our art group who had capacity to cook, and Moira our youth outreach worker and I delivered them on December 21. It was an amazing day!

We mostly think of giving hampers to families who would have a mediocre Christmas and a meager Christmas dinner. Folks who are well-deserving, maybe having difficulty making ends meet, who can’t afford lavish gifts and so on. It’s like boosting something small to make it better.

This was not that.

This was giving a hamper to folks who have no Christmas at all.  None.  No tinsel. No gifts. No ornaments. Not even a Charlie Brown Christmas tree. One of the places we visited, a bachelor apartment, you could sit on the bed, turn on the stove and run water in the small sink without getting up.  No decorations or anything.  Nothing.

Something happened when those hampers came into those dark, dismal, ill furnished rooms. Everything changed.  Time stood still as kids rampaged through the cardboard hamper box with squeals, shouts and exclamations of joy, appreciation and, well, it was just like Christmas.

It was one of the most heart-warming experiences ever!

At the first home, there were a few guys who were super happy to get the hamper, and invited us in for ‘a tour’ of the place(!). Two ‘families’ invited us in for tea or hot chocolate, but sorry, no marshmallows.

I dropped Moira off and proceeded over to Hull to deliver the final hamper before heading home.

I located the residence and sent a text to the couple with the ten month old infant. I sat in my car and sent this text:

“Hi guys. Ken here. I’m in your driveway.  I brought Christmas.  Come on out.”

I sent the text and then stopped.

I stared in amazement at what I had written: “I brought Christmas”.

A flood of emotion cascaded over me as I recalled the other three hamper deliveries and what that meant to those families.  If we had not done that, there would be no Christmas. They wouldn’t just have a watered down, or ‘small Christmas’, they would have nothing.  No Christmas.  Nada.

In my mind’s eye I saw how these kids were just so like the kids in our lives on Christmas morning: the joy, the surprise, the magic and more – the feeling of being loved, the sense that someone cared about them, they weren’t forgotten.

Thoughts rushed my mind:  ‘No, it’s not me.  It’s the church committee. No.  It’s the many people who bought groceries enough to distribute to 80 families.  No, it’s more than that.  We all had a part in this.  It’s the supporters, the prayer warriors, the volunteers who help make OIM happen, who give and give and give, and maybe never see first-hand, the fruit of their labours.’

This is so much more than me delivering hampers.  It’s about your Christmas contribution.  It’s about your donation, your prayer, your caring and love for the broken, the rejected and the forgotten.

But this Christmas there were a few who weren’t forgotten.  A few who felt the true meaning of Christmas – of giving, of sharing – the message, ‘I love you.’

It’s still the best message ever!  Happy New Year!

The ol’ Watering Hole: A Survey

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity (Proverbs 17:17)

Ever wonder why some watering holes have more traffic than others? Recently, we did an informal survey of the top 10 reasons why our street friends enjoy coming to OIM’s programs and services. Here are the top reasons (in no particular order):

  1. “Good listeners”
  2.  “Everyone wants to listen to my stories!”
  3. “No judgment”
  4. “Good food”
  5. “Caring volunteers”
  6. “Friendships”
  7.  “helped me with clothing, shopping”
  8. “helped me get a bursary for school”
  9. “Ken makes me laugh!”
  10. “Good Company”

As our society becomes increasingly fragmented, resembling less a community and more a collection of individuals consumed with blazing our own trails, our street friends are falling further and further behind. Many come from broken families with nowhere to find comfort or company. That’s why our drop-ins, street outreach, and youth art program remain so important. As we look for ways to serve our poor and homeless, we must not forget the significance of friendships and support networks that can get them through some very difficult times.