If I want to enjoy a moment of quiet and solitude in the morning, I need to be out of bed well before my six-year old son— himself an early riser for whom a seven o’clock wakeup time constitutes a leisurely sleep-in. This means that my phone is set for 5:30 AM, wrenching me from my dreams with a piercing, staccato squeal that (for some reason unknown even to me) I’ve chosen for my wakeup call.
From bed, it’s off to our home office where I brew my coffee and settle into the black, faux-leather couch that doubles as our guest bed. As I sip my coffee, I go through my prayer routine: a process that begins with the groggy recitation of one or more of the Psalms followed by the reading of 2 scriptural passages— one from the Old Testament and another from the New. This discipline serves as a lodestone for the day, grounding me firmly in my first principles and orienting me in the direction I need to move in.
By this time, my son has woken up. The next hour (from roughly seven to eight o’clock) consists of the organized chaos typical of most families with small children: hurried breakfasts, jostling for space in front of the bathroom mirror, the hasty packing of lunches and the mad rush to the bus stop where my son is whisked off to school.
The next two hours of my day (from 8:00 to 10:00) are the golden hours: a time when I enjoy a high degree of mental clarity and energy— energy that, from noontime onwards, will begin to decline. For this reason, I schedule the heavy mental lifting for these mid-morning hours: whether that be preparing a sermon or a talk, strategically planning my ministry or, yes, working on a blog entry. After a couple hours of this mostly solitary, mental work, I venture out into the street-corners and coffeeshops, the church halls and community centres where I and my neighbours live out our glorious and messy little lives.
This morning my first stop is Romero House- a soup kitchen based in Waterloo Village that, for many years now, has daily served free breakfasts and lunches to an, unfortunately, growing clientele. I go to the kitchen counter, pick up a tray with my spaghetti dinner and settle down on one of the long, plastic tables that fill the room. Immediately, I’m accosted by a woman who appears to be in her mid-forties— a woman who, at the moment, is fuming. I, as it turns out, am the object of her present wrath. Apparently, she had just been banned from a drop-in put on by another local church and feels the need to vent upon me— a visible representative of the Christian community.
“I could fit the number of Christians that I trust on the tip of this spoon,” she snarls, waving the greasy piece of cutlery inches before my face. “All of you are hypocrites and if you think that I’m going to burn in hell for my so-called ‘sins,’ then it only shows the world how stupid you all are!” She then goes into elaborate detail on how the churches of our city have failed her along with a brief, historical survey of every atrocity ever committed in the name of Christ.
Here, I have two potential options: (1) I can either engage my irate friend in dialogue, acknowledging her objections and trying to articulate why I believe what I believe, contrary to the failings of the church. Or, I can (2) remain silent and simply absorb the abuse. Today, I choose option 2, largely because the woman is simply too worked-up at the moment to listen to anything that I, or anyone else, would have to say. Within a few minutes, after most of her venom is spent, she cleans the remaining spaghetti from off her plate, gets-up from the table and exits Romero House, back onto Brunswick Drive, back into a world and to a life that, I presume, is far from easy on her.
Within moments, I find myself chatting with another patron who tells me the sad story of her eldest son: a young man now living in Alberta and waging a life-or-death battle with a recently acquired narcotics addiction. She asks me to pray for him— right there in the noise and chaos of the lunch room— and I oblige, laying my hand on her shoulder and asking the King of the Universe to intervene for the sake of yet another desperate human soul. “That was beautiful,” the woman half-whispers, praising me for the prayer as if it were a piece of poetry that I had just recited, before gathering her bags and proceeding out the same door as the previous woman. After a conversation with one or two others, I too am off to my next destination: a nearby elementary school where I’m scheduled to do one-on-one tutoring through New Brunswick’s Elementary Literacy Program.
Upon arriving, I find myself in one of the second-grade classrooms waiting, along with the other volunteer tutors, for my student to arrive (a little girl whom I’ll call Brianna). When she gets there, we settle into our chairs and start the lesson. Beginning with some literacy games, we eventually progress into reading. Brianna selects a book that’s appropriate to her reading level, sits down next to me, and begins to work laboriously through the sentences. When I praise her for the proper pronunciation of a particularly challenging word, she looks up at me, rewarding me with an enormous grin.
In the neighbourhood where I live, there is a strikingly high child poverty rate of 47 percent— much higher than the national average. And, with child poverty, comes significant educational challenges— a difficulty picking up the fundamental principles of reading, writing and numeracy upon which success in the later years of learning depend. That’s why I, along with the other volunteers in the NB Literacy Program, find this work so rewarding.
After a trip to the gym, a quick shower and a hurried supper with my family, I’m off to my final destination: the Saint John Multicultural Association where I teach a weekly intermediate English class to half-a-dozen of our city’s newcomers. Some are from South American countries like Columbia and Brazil; others are from the Ukraine; a couple are from China. Some are full-time students whilst others are already in established careers. Some have families and others are single. They’ve each come to this obscure Canadian port city for reasons that are as diverse as they are: to escape the growing political and economic instability of their home countries; to find adventure and new opportunities. Some, even for love.
I tend to wear my clerical collar to English class. It’s not that there’s any conscious religious element to to my teaching. I simple want to show my students that my work with them is part of the mission of a broader Christian community (namely, Stone Church) whose calling is, in part, to provide welcome to people just like them. And, incidentally, if one or two of them ask questions about what I believe, so much the better.
So goes a typical day in my ministry. Sometimes, I come home celebrating— thanking God aloud for the things that I’ve seen and done. Other days, I come home exhausted, wondering if I did any good at all. At any rate, if you’ve stuck it through to the end of this post, I hope it gives you a better sense of what my day-to-day ministry looks like. I wish you all the best in yours!
By Terence Chandra