I decided to wear my red mission shirt today, not because I look good in it, but just because I can. Imagine living in a place where the colour of the cloths you wear matter. Even worse, where you could be attacked just for wearing the wrong colours because they represent a gang from another area. We worked in such a place.
|Imagine being confined to living within well defined neighbourhood boundaries. If you strayed outside of those boundaries you invited the risk of being beaten, or even killed.We worked in such a place.|
|Imagine a place where many of the population have little or even nothing at all. Where the food bank is so overwhelmed that a family must register and is only allowed to receive food once a week. Where whole families do not even have a roof over their heads and live on the streets…and where winter temperatures drop as low as -40.We worked in such a place.|
Are we imagining a place in an impoverished, backward third world country? No, we are talking about a neighbourhood in one of the major cities in one of the wealthiest countries in the world. We are talking about Winnipeg, Manitoba. In particular we are talking about the neighbourhood in and around Anishinabee Fellowship Centre.
So what did I see in this place? Let me tell you…. I met a man who had been a gang enforcer for many years. Apparently even the police would hesitate to deal with him. In the last few years he has buried his father, had his son beaten so badly that he was hospitalized….just for being his son. Had his nephew executed by a rival gang and then had trouble finding someone to hold the funeral because they were all afraid of gang retaliation. He had his niece commit suicide at the tender age of 14. A man of little patience and very few words, who is being forced to re-evaluate his entire world.
|I saw this same man patiently teaching a few of our youth how to float cement to make a wheelchair ramp into the park they had just finished building together. The council elders were speechless at the sight.|
I met a man who was a gang leader. His alcohol and substance abuse problems had led him to many violent confrontations with the police. One day, while in a glue induced haze, he was dropped off at Anishinabee Fellowship Centre. His family had had enough and did not know what else to do. One night, shortly after being dropped off, he was sitting in a back lane wishing that he could just see the stars. A large spotlight on a nearby building made that wish impossible. He was at absolute rock bottom, and asked God for a sign that his life should continue. Almost immediately, the light went out, and the stars were revealed in all of their splendour. Then, out of the shadows walked the woman who was to become his wife. Since that time he has had a dream. His dream was to honour the centre which had saved his life, and to honour God by painting a mural on the side of Anishinabee Fellowship Centre.
|As time passed, he began to lose hope that his dream would ever become reality. I cannot begin to explain the look on the face of than man when he found out that his dream was going to be fulfilled.|
I could not begin to describe the sound of his voice when he realized that people were willing to become friends with the man he had become even while knowing the man that he had been.
So how could a group of kids from Knox Waterloo possibly make a difference in such a place? Make a difference where politicians, social workers, and numerous experts have failed to even make a dent? Our youth did not give their wealth, did not give their expertise, and did not even give their advice.
What they gave was their hearts, their souls, and their love of God. And they expected nothing in return. What they received was respect, and even more…acceptance. Believe me, in that neighbourhood to be an outsider, white, and accepted is truly unbelievable.
We should be very proud of these young people. You cannot start to imagine what these kids have done for that neighbourhood in Winnipeg. The changes that happened there, and are still happening are nothing short of miraculous. I would also like to say that each and every member of this congregation is a part of that miracle through the support and prayers that were offered.Thank you and God bless.