On the first full day of Gathering, 6 bus groups toured some of Winnipeg’s neediest neighbourhoods, guided by local pastors Mary Anne Isaak, Marvin Dyck, Russ Toews, Fred Stoesz, Gerald Hildebrand, and John Unger.
Food for Thought
Our taste of neighbourhood spirit beganin Little Italy, as my group from Bus 3, led by Mary Anne and Jon Isaak, tried a new Taiwanese restaurant (aided in our selections by connoisseur Sherman Lau of MBBS Canada). As our server beamed over his brother’s and sister’s handmade dumplings, prepared with his grandmother’s recipe, I thought of the people we were about to meet and their excitement for what God is doing in their neighbourhoods.
House Blend Ministries
Visitors to West Broadway met Rachel Twigg Boyce at All Saints’ Anglican Church, home to three congregations and Agape Table soup kitchen. House Blend Ministries’ newly renovated heritage house is home to 6 (soon to be 8) “in-housers” (residents), and a regular gathering place for some 15–20 committed “outhousers,” and many “friends” doing life together. They meet once a week for corporate worship, sharing highs and lows, reading prayers and Scripture aloud, and singing a cappella. Any given day, students and teachers, working and unemployed, individuals with mental illness or disability, the grieving and the grateful garden together, volunteer in the neighbour-hood, or just drop by for a cup of coffee.
Walls of Freedom
Hugh John Macdonald School, 567 Bannatyne Ave
“We need to step in and show what dads – and moms – are like,” said Jacqie Wiseman about their core area neighbourhood, where 84 percent of young men have no father figure at home. Our bus picked up Jim and Jacqie at the school where their Walls of Freedom ministry runs Bible-based family programs. As we drove by the homes of some of the 620 families they serve, they pointed out houses with bullet holes next to immaculate nursing homes, clothed children in wading pools because they don’t have swimwear, seniors who spend their summer on the bench outside their complex. We celebrated how the Wisemans helped a man leaving prison write his first resume: he got a job as a roofer; now he’s foreman. After the tour, as we stood in a circle in front of the school asking God for the fruit of the Spirit for Jim and Jacqie, a passing cyclist mouthed, “Thank you for praying.”
Bethlehem Aboriginal Fellowship
In the North End, where gangs knock on doors to recruit refugee children within days of their arrival, and ministries close their doors to children at age 12 to keep programs safe for younger ones, SOAR Heartland partners organizations with churches to reach youth. MB Mission’s short term mission coordinator Carol Letkeman met us at Bethlehem Aboriginal Fellowship (a Late Gothic Revival-style building once home to Burrows Bethel Mennonite Church, now a small Baptist congregation) to tell us how, every spring break for 10 years, teams have worked with hundreds of children and youth. Carol showed a giant map of the neighbourhood filled with dozens of Soar Heartland teams’ prayers, to which Experience Winnipeg participants added their own. It broke my heart to hear of children lining up outside churches that are unable to throw their doors open because they lack resources to meet needs; I couldn’t find words to pray.
188 Princess Street
Eastview Community (MB) Church’s new campus in the Exchange District, welcomes neighbours (e.g., a First Nations church group, Fringe Festival attenders for talkback, local families for movies, Red River College chaplains, ex-convicts) to enjoy its coffeehouse vibe and shape its programs. Outreach pastor Greg Armstrong and teaching pastor Dave Ens shared their passion for exploring “what it looks like to be Christian community if you remove Sunday morning from the picture.” Also a chaplain at the Winnipeg Remand Centre, Greg sees genuine “jailhouse conversions,” but not many people who will walk alongside the new believers. Many volunteers offer to paint or bake for the new campus, but when Greg asks, “Want to sit at a table and talk with guests?” that’s often outside their comfort zone. I was challenged not to let service “become a buffer between me and other people.”
On the steps of the Manitoba Legislature, Mary Anne read Isaiah 42:16: “I will lead the [people] by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth…. I will not forsake them,” and asked, “Where did you see signs of God’s presence?
”The answers came in the form of prayers of thanks for “creativity, people empowering others, the courage to lead with conviction and passion, the beauty in people, the hope in every place.” We celebrated that “the Lord has workers even in the most difficult places; we have strategies with timelines, but God’s been working all along.”
83 Henderson Highway
Experience Winnipeg ended with a pig roast in front of the Manitoba MB conference office, Mennonite Brethren Collegiate Institute, Family Life Network, and Christian Family Centre (MB church). As I toured the office of FLN’s international media ministry, I thought of our great God and wondered at how he cares about each face we passed this afternoon – and around the world.