At age 24 I boarded a plane for the fifth time in my life. The first time had been seven months prior, when I left for theological school in Halifax. I had never in my life been further away than Nova Scotia from my hometown of Grand falls-Windsor, Newfoundland and Labrador. That spring day I was heading all the way to Vancouver. Both anxious and excited I was embarking on my first summer field placement - at First United Church on the Downtown Eastside, a ministry which receives funding from Mission & Service. Four months later I came back to Newfoundland and Labrador a changed young man. That Summer I experienced our church in an incredible mission, and I got the opportunity to really live my faith. I came away from that internship with a new appreciation for The United Church of Canada, and a wonderful new relationship with Mission & Service. One that I think I will cherish for the rest of my life. I had my eyes opened, and I glimpsed miracles. I saw, for instance, men who once were strong and proud working in the lumber camps. But then, because of injury or increasing age, could no longer make it on their own. Without family and supports, and often haunted by an addiction to alcohol and drugs, these men were destitute … and often hopeless. I spoke with young women, some as young as 15, who could no longer take the abuse or the poverty at home, who had left bad situations, only to find themselves out on the street alone, with no money for food and shelter. Without a high school diploma, or marketable skills, these women faced tough decisions and very few options. First United Church became for many of these people: a place of safety, a free meal, a clothing shop, a community, an opportunity for worship and spiritual nurture, a venue for counselling and advocacy and help getting back on their feet. How many people said to me, “This place has saved me!” They were not just speaking spiritually.
There are many charities out there which do good work, and I have contributed to many of them. For me, however, Mission & Service is special. It is not just because it is our Mission & Service, it is because of the way in which we minister through it. We not only do the work of charity, as important as that is, we are also about justice. What do I mean? I think of it like this - charity is about meeting a specific need – giving food, clothing and shelter to a community in crisis (like we are doing in Syria). Justice work takes it two steps further: firstly, it asks questions of the system, like, why are there so many people living in poverty or crisis in the first place, and what can we do about that? Secondly, it works with the people themselves to improve their lives, to help them embrace new options and look out for themselves. Whether it is teaching farmers in Asia how to grow sustainable and organic crops, or helping individuals in St. John’s to find “help, home and a job,”* Mission & Service is making a difference in the world, near and far away. In the often told analogy, faced with a hungry person we want to help, we can give the person a fish and feed him/her for the day, or teach that person to fish so they can eat for a lifetime! What I appreciate about our ministry through M&S – we are doing both. Through ministry with local partners, we are able to work effectively and efficiently. We work with skilled organizations who are on the ground and who know therefore what is needed most. The bottom line is we are helping God create miracles every day.
In the book of Micah we hear these words, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8) Through M&S I am proud to say that we do all three! My hope and prayer for 2016 is that all of our United Church folk may know the powerful witness we are about, be proud of it, and grow it.
If you do not yet give for Mission & Service, please consider doing so. If you are already a giver, please consider increasing your gift this year. The world is so much in need of miracles. We can make a real difference. Honestly we can! Join me in giving … and in telling the story of M&S.
For more information on the local and global ministries that M&S supports, please check out “M&S at a Glance” found here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B0ONYpGPGJTfQ0Z5ZzF6V1dxOEU/view
*Stella’s Circle is a M&S funded ministry that operates in St. John’s, NL and whose motto is: “Give people a hand up rather than a hand out.”