Coming to a Street Corner Near You…

IMG_3003

She’s standing on the corner of Coburg and Paddock street in Waterloo Village. Her back to the traffic. Her long shinny hair noticeable from a block away. As we get close, I can tell that although her expression is one of resignation, her eyes are full of fear. She doesn’t speak, she doesn’t utter a sound.

Everyone knows why she’s there. Her black knee-high boots hiked up like poster boards. There is no makeup on her face, the bruise over her eye hasn’t even been concealed. She clutches her purse like a security blanket. It’s beginning to wear out at the seams.

The person I’m doing street outreach with knows her and tells her to come by. A little nod, they hug, but still no sound comes those cracked lips.

Across the street two young men – lean with their shirts off, prancing like the stallions they think they are – start hurling abuse. They call out her name. They want a response, a reaction. They joke about hitting her around. She shifts, disguises slight trembling, and keeps looking down the street.

It’s 2pm. 10 minutes later, when we loop back around that corner, she is gone. I’m told that it never takes long for a girl to get picked up. I’m scared for her.

******************

2 months ago the some organizations in the Waterloo Village area of the city came together to begin a street outreach program. They realized that there were people on the streets that could be in need of their services, but who never make it to their doors. So they got yellow vests and organized 2 weekly shifts to tour the neighbourhood. We go out 2 by 2 and as we walk around talking to people on the street we share the kind of services that are offered and make referrals when necessary. It’s also a great opportunity for us service-providers to get to know each other better and draw on each other’s resources. This “observation” shows us a picture of the hurt and the need in our city, but also highlights why we need to be doing this.

 

By Jasmine Chandra

Roots in the Port City

DSC_0455

It’s a Monday evening in mid-July- an unusually balmy summer evening for a coastal city perpetually air-conditioned by the chill sea breeze blowing in off the Bay of Fundy. Jasmine and I are sitting around the diner table with our son, Sam, and a newlywed couple who are themselves about to embark on their own pioneer ministry here in Saint John. We’re explaining to them the benefits of living in an apartment building situated in the heart of the very same inner-city neighbourhood where we are ministering. As we chat about this, our five year old son grows increasingly restless. So, at his request, we set him lose to play in the courtyard of our building- a courtyard that we can survey from the windows of our second floor unit. As we finish our coffee and desert, we watch him play fighting with the eleven year-old-boy from the apartment immediately below ours- a boy who has become a kind of big-brother to my son. From time-to-time, the two of them will try to make a toddler laugh while her mother watches from her picnic bench nearby. These people are our neighbours and friends- people whom we have come, over the last couple of years, to know and to trust. Indeed, the scene unfolding beneath us, just outside our kitchen window, is a living illustration of the very thing that we are talking about; namely, the importance of living, incarnationally, with the people whom we have been called to serve.

The doctrine of the incarnation is, as most of our readers will know, at the heart of the Christian faith. It is the teaching that the Eternal Word of God himself- the one through whom all creation came into being- became one of us- coming to live with the very ones whom he came to serve. In coming and living with us, he set an example of what Christian ministry ought to look like- an example that has been followed by the great Saints whose lives have spanned the two millennia since our Lord’s life, death and resurrection. Take Saint Patrick who, despite being forever associated with green beer and four-leaf clovers, wasn’t Irish at all. He was a Briton who, as a young man, was captured by pirates and enslaved by Irish masters for six years. It was only years after his escape that he returned to Ireland- this time not as a slave to men but as a slave to Christ- wishing to live among the very people to whom he had been called to preach the gospel. Indeed, his incarnational ministry was so effective that Saint Patrick became more Irish than the Irish themselves- turning into an iconic symbol of their nation!

Far be it from me to compare the ministry of Jasmine and I to the ministry of Saint Patrick (let alone to the ministry of Christ!) But, our ministry is a small, admittedly imperfect example of what incarnational ministry looks like. My humble definition of incarnational ministry is simply this: living life alongside the people whom we have been called to serve. Its that simple. For us, incarnational ministry has meant moving into the Abbey apartments in Uptown Saint John- a 98 unit apartment complex, 55 of which are reserved for tenants whose rent is subsidized. Living in the Abbey means being neighbours to the people in our “mission field.” It means having our son playing with their kids. It means chatting with the bachelor from the unit down the hall as we wait around in the common laundry room for our clothes to dry. In short, it means integrating the daily rhythm of our lives with the rhythm of the neighbourhood.

It is through our living at the Abbey that we have gotten to know the single mother in the apartment unit directly below ours- an outgoing and lively woman raising a teenaged girl and preteen boy on her own. This is the boy whom I mentioned at the beginning of this post- a boy whom my son idolizes as a kind of surrogate big brother. This afternoon, he and I are headed off to the library together where I’ll be helping him with a summer research project- a project that had been assigned to him by an older couple from his Vineyard Church. Among other things, he has been tasked with writing about what he wants to be when he grows up and why. (Physicist and marine biologist are on the top of his list but, given his recent obsession with Youtube Vloggers, his attention has now shifted to Videography). This is a mentoring relationship that my wife and I highly value- a mentoring relationship that we simply would never have developed had we not chosen to “incarnate” in the Abbey.

It is through our living at the Abbey Apartments that we met a wonderful woman whom we now know as “Nana Jen”- a woman who has adopted us as her children and our son as her grandchild! When Jasmine and I are exhausted from our ministry and in desperate need for a date night, it is Nana Jen whom we call to come over and look after our son. Sam, naturally, is thrilled about having her over as Nana Jen is, for him, a kind of third grandmother.

On one occasion, Jasmine helped Nana Jen resolve some problems with her computer that were preventing her from accessing her Facebook account- a very small act of service that she greatly appreciated. When Jasmine explained that her “tech support” was effortless- nothing worth even thanking her for- Nana Jen quickly corrected her: “This is the anniversary of my husband’s death,” she explained. “Instead of spending the night in tears, I can distract myself by chatting with my family. You don’t realize how important this is to me.”
This, for us, is incarnational ministry- living our lives with the very people whom we have been called to serve. Indeed, over the course of the last few years, we’ve found that our neighbours have come to serve us as much as we have come to serve them, making the relationship reciprocal. The technical word for this, by the way, is “friendship”- the fruit, it seems, of ministry that is truly incarnational.

As his days in this world were coming to a close, our Lord said to his disciples in a moment of great intimacy, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” We, the friends of Christ, have been commanded to love as Christ loved; to walk with others as he walked with us. By the grace of God, Jasmine and I are striving to do this through our little incarnational ministry. The blessings that we have received from this are enormous!

 

By Terence Chandra

The Amazing Fabiola Martinez!

cropped-cropped-dsc_02041.jpg

Fabiola Martinez is the artist behind our watercolour painting of Saint John that we’ve posted on our blog and that we use on our business cards. The painting was a gift from one of our mutual friends for my birthday. It was this same friend who urged me to get to know Fabiola. The first time I met her was at her home in Quispamsis. At the time I was very pregnant with my son. We had a wonderful time chatting in the living room while her 2 boys (2 and 4 at the time) played and drew nearby. We talked about her moves from Mexico to Canada and more recently from St. James Street in the South End of Saint John to the Suburbs. We talked about raising kids and of course her bright paintings. When it was time for me to go, her four year old presented me with a pencil portrait he had drawn of me clearly displaying the baby in my tummy. Five years later, his picture still hangs on my son’s bedroom wall.

 

Fortunately for me, there have been many other conversations since our first meeting. As I have gotten to know Fabi and her family, I have begun to realize how rare they are. They all have a gift of hospitality and openness that makes you relaxed and comfortable no matter what is whirling around in your daily life. And what is striking about Fabiola is her passion and her heart. She has such a desire to make things better, to help the world in whatever way she can. Her art is a big part of that.

DSC_0177 The Youth’s original sketches

DSC_0106.JPG The finished product.
Fabiola has gifted her art to many different causes and to many individuals (including me). When the kids in one of my youth groups wanted to paint a mural in the church, she helped turn their rough sketches and designs into a coherent piece of art. When a private school put on a singer songwriter concert to fundraise for Safe Harbour (a youth transitional home), Fabiola designed the poster and donated art to auction off. And when I received her watercolour of Saint John for my birthday, I knew it represented the dream of this city one day standing in light and clarity. Thanks to Fabiola’s gracious heart, we have been using this painting as a representation of what our ministry is all about.

Thank you Fabi!

By jasmine Chandra

To find out more about Fabiola Martinez please visit her Website at: http://www.fahrfineart.com

 

Or Check out Created Here’s Article on her by Marie-Hélène Morell: http://www.createdhere.ca/listings/fabiola-martinez-visual-artist/

An Inconvenient God

IMG_1323

So a homeless man barges into your church after hours and starts talking in circles and making demands. What do you do?

On most days I would say that I would invite him in and offer him a seat and a coffee and see how I can help.

But the day this gentleman walked in, was not most days. It was a crazy day, a very intense day. I was in the middle of a confidential meeting with a family. The Church door was suppose to be locked. We were at a crucial point in the meeting. The homeless man’s requests were not ones that I could address easily or quickly. It was late in the day and this was not a good time.

I know this guy. He’s verbose, incoherent, relentless in his demands. But I also know that he is not mean spirited or rude or harmful in any way. At times he can be a great conversationalist (as long as you’re not in a hurry). So I tried explaining the situation and why I couldn’t help and why he had to go, but as I got to the end of my explaining, I got angry and frustrated. I didn’t want to deal with him. I told him to leave. I kicked him out.

As I held the door open for him to go, he told me off. He called me a few names that I won’t repeat (because my parents read this blog) and said that I was rude. He took a few steps then turned back and told me again that I was rude and mean and that I needed to hear the truth. And then he was gone down the street. Some of the family members who had witnessed this scene, gave me knowing looks and smiles as if to say “what would you expect from a guy like that”.

But he was right: I was rude. I pushed him into a lower level of importance than the family I was with at the moment. I decided not to help him, not to seek out a solution that may have worked. I devalued him.

Half an hour later he was still in the neighbourhood, so I went to apologize. He was gracious, pretended nothing really happened. And as it began to rain, I decided to stay and listen. He told me his latest struggles at the shelter, complained of people, then went into a series of reflections and Bible quotes on the Church and Christianity that were quite deep and relevant.

I felt God telling me to pay attention.

So when he said that many Christians do good things for other people, not for God, but so that they can feel good about themselves, I knew that it was meant for me.

Doing good for others doesn’t necessarily always feel good at the time, but it gives us a sense of purpose and, upon later reflection, we can say to ourselves “Nice work!”. Sometimes other people notice what we do and they also say “Nice work!”. And that feels good.

But if we are doing things so that we can say “Nice work!” to ourselves and perhaps have others say “Nice Work!” to us as well, then we may feel that we can cut some corners. Sometimes it is really hard to help others. Most of the time it is a huge inconvenience. It almost always distracts from that other really important thing we were about to do.

But if we are conscious that we are doing these things for God then we tend to step up our game. We also tend to think less of ourselves, our situations, our inconveniences, as we do what we can to build bridges and connections. And incredible as it may seem to some of us long-suffering servants, we end up feeling joy and freedom in what we do.

So Jesus barges into your church after hours and starts talking in circles and making demands. What do you do?

Space

DSC_0888

It’s hard to find good space.

Good space for me has no visible traces of mice, is warm enough, has floors that aren’t made up of cracked linoleum. Good space doesn’t smell bad or make me sneeze. Good space makes me feel safe and offers the potential to relax. Good space has comfortable seating and at least on first impressions appears cleanish.

I don’t mind being in places that don’t meet all of these criteria, it’s just not what I would prefer. It’s not what I would call good.

I am thankful every day that I have good space to live in, but lately I’ve been thankful that we have good space to offer others.

Trinity Church had been trying to rent out the 2nd floor of their administrative building. Last Spring we met with various groups to look at how to open up that space to the community. This was a sacrifice for the Church who had been hoping to generate income after extensive renovations were made. But they agreed to let us see what we could do.

DSC_0845

Our Kitchen and eating area

We’ve slowly been moving in and welcoming more and more people to share this space. We now have our office here, joining the director of Inner City Youth. We also have an office for our Community Development Coordinator. She runs a Ladies’ group on Friday evenings. They have a short Bible study, chat, make crafts and eat together. Youth Connections which runs on Wednesday evenings now starts with a meal and then goes into discussions and activities. Stone Church’s weekly Bible Study is held Thursdays at noon, our ESL Café is every Friday at 10am, and we’ve just started a weekly Drop in on Thursdays from 4-6pm. We offer coffee and tea and muffins. Decks of cards are laid out, the backgammon board opened up, colouring pages are copied and readily available. People come to chat, get warm, relax, and take a break. There’s no distinctions of economics, or ability. Just the shared enjoyment of a good space.

DSC_0844

Our sitting area. (The red couches were purchased thanks to a donation for some consulting work Terence and I did – again, God provides). 

It’s wonderful to bring people together, to feel the room relax, to sense joy and fulfillment as conversations flow or as a missing piece in a puzzle is placed in its spot.

For this we thank Trinity Church, we thank Inner City Youth for sharing, and we thank God for providing.

“Most of all, love each other as if your life depended on it. Love makes up for practically anything. Be quick to give a meal to the hungry, a bed to the homeless—cheerfully. Be generous with the different things God gave you, passing them around so all get in on it: if words, let it be God’s words; if help, let it be God’s hearty help. That way, God’s bright presence will be evident in everything through Jesus, and he’ll get all the credit as the One mighty in everything.” 1 Peter 4:8-11 (from the Message)

 

By Jasmine Chandra

 

Class Warfare Starts Now!

recent pictures 515

On February 2nd CBC published a news story about parents waiting in line overnight in Montreal to try to secure a Kindergarten spot at Royal Vale School. The article states “Some parents have been lined up in the frigid cold since noon Sunday, hoping to secure a coveted kindergarten spot for their children. At Royal Vale School, about 30 people were outside shortly after 6 a.m. They lit a small fire in a garbage can in front of the school to warm up. Temperatures dipped to – 22 C, or – 36 with the wind chill.” The school which runs admissions on a first come, first served basis is known for its enriched extracurricular program, its high academics, and its focus on Math and the Sciences.

While this all seems quite ridiculous, there are no schools in New Brunswick that run admissions this way. Some of us wish we could line up overnight and in the cold to be able to sign our kids up for a good Kindergarten spot. Instead the wealthier classes move into the nicer neighbourhoods that have better schools while the poor are left without options. The neighbourhoods with affordable rents have schools with wonderful staff, but they also have many high needs children, older buildings, and despite many community efforts are still under-resourced. If you wish your child to attend a different school, you have to apply for an inner-district transfer, hope that there is room in the alternate school, and if accepted, provide your own transportation.

We really struggled with this whole school thing. And from my book club meeting last night, I learned that we are not the only ones. Stay at home moms, working professionals, and educators, we have all struggled with our options and considered where to live based on where our kids would go to school.

Our son will start Kindergarten in September. We had to register him in October and it took until that week to decide what to do. As community priests, we wanted to send him to the school in our neighbourhood. The school that is in an old building, that has amazing staff, that has lots of support from the community, but that also has a lot to deal with. And while we feel that for diversity and equality’s sake, those with middle class incomes should send their children to this school, we just weren’t comfortable with this option.

Fortunately since I have a French background, we were able to opt for the French school. This school is not in our neighbourhood, but still buses the kids in from the Inner city. It has great staff, is well funded, and has a growing and expanding building and community centre.

This decision to send my son to the French school makes me feel like a conscientious and attentive parent. At times in also makes me feel like a community wimp. But most of all I am aware of all the parents who do not have these options, and of the kids who struggle in their school environments and have no other alternatives. I cannot help coming to the conclusion that our education system is creating class distinctions beginning at age 5 (unless you are French). It isn’t surprising then, that we are struggling with low literacy rates and lower numbers of graduates in the priority neighbourhoods. While the city and the government continue to stress the need to increase literacy and focus on education, the reality is that playground is uneven.

 

By Jasmine Chandra