St. Catharines, Ont.
Westview Christian Fellowship entered a whole new arena of ministry when they purchased a building in downtown St. Catharines, Ont. Three years ago, the church acquired an old church structure on Queenston Street, an area where it’s common to see people who are homeless and women working the streets late at night – many because they’re addicted to drugs or alcohol.
Erika Klassen, recently appointed pastor after working for 18 years as Westview’s receptionist and secretary, said she and Westview’s lead pastor, Vic Ratzlaff, prayed for guidance, asking questions such as “Why has God put us at this particular location? How does he want to use us to serve this community?”
To discover that purpose, they regularly walked around the neighbourhood for the first two years, visiting with staff at other churches, storekeepers, neighbours, and people along the street.
Not wanting to duplicate programs already in place, they inquired about what other community groups were doing. “We are a small church with a small building,” said Klassen. “Yet we knew there was something big for us to do.”
One day, at an outreach event in a neighbouring church, Klassen had a conversation with a woman looking through used clothing on the racks. While they talked and browsed, comfortably sharing the moment, the thought went through her head: “Here we are together, just two women, a church worker and a street worker.”
“This is it. We can do this,” she realized.
“It” became a program called “Women4Women” (W4W) – a drop-in held every Thursday from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m., September through June. Some 50 women now attend the meetings started November 1, 2007.
The women hear about the program by word of mouth, and through Klassen and volunteers who walk the area after 10 p.m. on Thursday evenings to hand out hygiene packs containing soup, toothpaste and brush, underwear, socks, and candy.
At a typical drop-in, some women sit in pairs or small groups having coffee and snacks, catching up on news. Others search the racks of women’s clothes or have their hair and nails done at the “Angel Hair Salon” by a volunteer who comes every week.
“It’s a great way to meet friends,” one woman said when asked why she was involved in the group. “There’s no strings attached. You don’t have to give your name if you don’t want to and no one preaches. They just seem to care.” Several others nodded in agreement.
W4W volunteers strive to give unconditionally, taking time to gain the trust of women who are experiencing hard times in order to build lasting relationships.
When and how the women meet Christ is up to God, said Klassen. “Slowly but surely our church building is becoming a safe place for the women in our community.”