Sunday, 29 September 2013

Your Purpose Isn't a Mystery.

My reflection on the first week working with the inner city kids of Toronto.

The Not-So-Warm Welcome

"I don't care who you are. I don't want to come to camp unless Jo-Jo is going to be there."

I looked down at the defiant nine year old that stood in front of me, one hand on her hip. She was Jamaican descent, hair braided into tight cornrows, lips pursed and eyebrows raised. I had never seen so much sass packed into one little girl.

"Jo-Jo won't be there, she finished her internship. I'm your new leader!"

I attempted to share the slowly withering excitement I had, but this little girl would have none of it. She snapped her fingers in oh-no-you-didn't fashion, turned on her heel, and strutted away as brazenly as a nine year old could strut.

I didn't know whether to giggle or sigh at the reaction of Lexie - one of the young girls I would be working with this year. It was obvious from the beginning that among the other 8-10 year old girls, Lexie was the leader of the wolf-pack, and I was pretty sure she saw me as a tasty rabbit she would devour at any moment.

I was slightly intimidated, though the intimidation I felt sprung mainly from shock. I had been informed that the children I would be working with would most likely be different from any others I had worked with in the past, but I didn't realize just how incomparable they really were. Having counselled various ages at a summer camp for the past four years, I figured I had a good handle on dealing with kids. But the difference between mainly small-town rural kids and big-city urban children was mildly appalling.

Teaching to Trust

The main difference that I immediately picked up on occurred during the initial meeting. At summer camp - for the most part - the children run off the bus and love you instantly. The criteria for friendship: are you wearing a camp staff t-shirt? If yes - you are indeed a counsellor - you are immediately loved and admired. Even the older kids, who have become experts at masking any admiration, let on once and a while that they think you're the coolest thing since Justin Bieber, or whatever-the-heck kids are into these days. Signing up to be a summer-camp counsellor is pretty much signing up for a giant ego boost.

This, however, was a totally new experience. For these children, trust wasn't simply given out free of charge. Trust, respect, all came with a price. In all honesty though, I can't say that I blame them. For the children of the Warden Woods Community, nothing is consistent. You're ignored one day, you're targeted the next. What is okay one day deserves a slap across the face the next. Promises are broken, people come and go. Trust in anyone except yourself is foolish.

This fact makes my job, and that of all the other interns, rather difficult. It's not easy establishing a meaningful, lasting relationship with children who have decided that relationships are not meaningful, and they don't last. I had no idea how to go about altering this mindset they have developed, so I resorted to the one and only technique that I know works without fail: love.

Passing the Test

The first few days of camp seemed to be a series of tests; not for the children, but for us. The discipline techniques we had been taught and encouraged to use were implemented on day one. Kids were put on time outs, sent to see the supervisor, and even suspended. We spent the day chasing after runaways, working through arguments, and forcing a smile when the kids told us that camp sucks or they hate us. By the time we collapsed onto the couches at the end of the day we wondered what we had gotten ourselves into.

But we were encouraged by our supervisors who insisted that this was simply a phase. "They are testing you," they said with a smile. Well that much is obvious, I thought. I felt like a rubber band that the kids were stretching and pulling to see how much it would take before I snapped and went shooting off in the opposite direction. By the end of the third day with the children, it seemed it would be impossible to ever establish anything more than a surface level relationship with the kids. But I was determined to love them regardless; to pass their tests and show them that no matter what they did, I would love them anyways. That with every step they took away from me, I would take two steps towards them, arms outstretched with love.

"Don't just pretend to love others. Really love them." (Romans 12:9a) 

Not all Rainbows and Butterflies

In all honesty, the concept of "loving unconditionally" is a lot more romantic sounding than it is in actuality. Loving unconditionally is the exact opposite of what our sinful flesh desires, which makes it uncomfortable and even painful at times. Loving unconditionally can often mean the battering on your pride, or the plummeting of your reputation. Loving unconditionally doesn't mean prancing around kissing the cheeks of your enemies and as a result having them take your hand and prance along next to you into the sunset. Loving unconditionally doesn't always bear immediate visible results, and sometimes the results are not visible at all. Loving unconditionally means humility, self-rejection, and an honest, unbridled reliance on God. 

Unconditional love is what these kids need, and it's what I'm determined to give them. It's what everyone needs...the cashier drudgingly ringing through your items, the middle-aged man falling asleep on the subway, the kid in the back of the classroom who makes obscene remarks. The co-worker you can't stand, the girl you always pass in the hall on the way to chemistry. The woman in front of you in line, the man behind you on the escalator. Every single person on this planet wants love. Every single person on this planet needs love.

 Your Purpose Isn't a Mystery

"Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples - when they see the love you have for each other." (John 13: 34-35)

And we were meant to give it. If you have laid eyes on them, you are meant to love them. Everybody who has entered your life in any way, shape, or form - whether briefly or consistently - God has put them in your life so that you may love them.

How do I know this? Because you have no other purpose in life except to love. It's really all it boils down to. How easily distracted we are! How easily we forget our purpose! Praise be to God whose love for us is never distracted. 

Let's be real here: I'm not cut out to love these kids. I'm probably the worst choice of person called to love unconditionally. Good thing it's not my love that I'm giving them.

"We love each other because He loved us first." (1 John 4:19) 

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Control: the Dangerous Illusion

 The ups and downs of my first week in Toronto


 "My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts," says the Lord. "And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts." (Isaiah 55:8,9)

I imagine there is a time in everyone's life at some point, when one steps back, shaking one's head in bewilderment, thinking "this is not how I planned things to go". As humans, we have an innate tendency to plan the future, whether consciously or subconsciously. We expect, we presume, and we hope. It is a dangerous tendency.

On Sunday, September 8th, I began my journey with Urban Promise Toronto. My parents and I ventured out to the intern director's home for a lunch where I would meet the other interns. I didn't know a single person, and it scared me a lot. But as I got to meet and talk with the interns, I became confident that though it would be stretching, it would be a great year. The group is diverse, with interns from British Columbia, Australia, Scotland, and seven interns from Germany. With the Germans specifically, there is a great language barrier to overcome, which has proved to be frustrating and exhausting for them.


After lunch, the girls ventured to the apartment on Jane and Finch where we would be spending the night. I soon learned the joys of urban living: constant traffic, frequent sirens, loud music, drunk and angry neighbors, and of course, many cockroaches. Who would have thought that cockroaches is a main problem in the city! However, we did not have to endure this for long, as the next morning we left for Muskoka Woods for four days of training and bonding.

At this point, I still did not know where I would be staying permanently. Urban Promise is divided into three different camps which target three different communities throughout Toronto: Camp Freedom, Camp Victory, and Camp Hope. The girls serving with Camp Freedom and Victory stay at the apartment on Jane and Finch in the west end of the city, while the girls serving with Camp Hope stay at the apartment on Don Mills in the east end. At each location, there was the possibility of working with the children's program (ages 5-10) or the Youth Making A Difference (YMAD) program (ages 11-14).

As most people know, I have a passion for young teen girls, and so I was desperately hoping I would be placed with the YMAD program. Furthermore, I secretly wanted to be placed at one of the camps on the west side of Toronto, for I had been able to connect with many of the girls living at these locations, and the majority of the girls would be here. Being a "people person", the people I am involved with have the tendency to make or break a situation for me. I prayed fervently that I would be placed at one of these locations.

"People often speak about praying boldly...they believe it is a great act of faith to be able to ask boldly for something from God. But this is not so, it takes more faith to pray "your will be done", for in praying this, we forfeit all is the scariest thing we can do." 

Don't Go.

On Monday night, our placements were posted. I raced over to see where I would be spending the upcoming year, and when I did, my heart dropped. I was placed at Camp Hope, with the children's program, living with all Germans. Now don't get me wrong, I have nothing against any of the Germans, but the language barrier made it very difficult to connect with them, and all the new friends I had made were on the opposite end of the city. Essentially, it was the opposite of everything I had hoped, wanted, and prayed for.

I would like to say that I was mature and accepting of the situation; that I took it with a grain of salt and moved on. That I remained confident that God knew best and that His plan is better than mine. I would like to say all these things, but unfortunately this was not the case. I was miserable. I was upset, distraught, and worst of all, angry at God. I could not understand why He would choose to put me where I would have the most difficulty.

"I will boast all the more gladly in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest on me" (2 Corinthians 12:9)

I didn't understand, but I also did not want to understand. I ignored God, refused to seek peace but instead wallowed in my own bitterness. I am ashamed to admit this, but blessed be the name of the Lord, who looks past our ignorance, and loves and teaches us inspite of ourselves.

 Leaving it Behind

The devotion the next morning was on John 4: the story of Jesus and the woman at the well. The point was made that after Jesus had given the woman the gift of living water, she went to tell others and left her water jar behind. The woman recognized that Christ was sufficient, and in the process of sharing this gift with others, she forsook her own physical wants and needs. As we start this year of ministry we were challenged to leave it all behind - all of our expectations, and desires, and leave it with Jesus, trusting that He will provide.

It has been a gradual process, but little by little I have given this year up to God. It is difficult...we always sing that we surrender it all to God, but do we actually? Because in reality...control is a dangerous illusion. We can't control what will happen in the next year, week, or even minute. So why don't we give up our every breath to the One who makes it possible? Because I can assure you, that at some point in your existence God will throw a curveball, perhaps as His way of saying, "Take a seat. I've got this."

So here I am, in my new apartment with a beautiful view of the city I love, eager to have no control over anything.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Beautiful Feet

A Glimpse into my Journey to Urban Promise Toronto

Uncertain Beginnings

Though I wish I could, I cannot truthfully say that I always knew it was my calling to serve as an urban missionary, and I cannot truthfully say that I know it is now. But it is the next step in my walk with Christ, though the journey that has led to this step has been anything but easy...

"But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them...How beautiful are the feet which bring good news!" (Romans 10: 14-15)

"And what do you want to be when you grow up, honey?" This is a common question we were all asked as young children to which we gave often humorous answers. But as we grow the question transforms into, "So what are you going to do after high school?", to which we attempt to answer on the grounds of uncertainties. 
As most high school students know, there is intense pressure early on in secondary school to decide the direction one's life is going to take. Grade nines who hardly know where their classes were or how to navigate the hallways without getting ran over, are bombarded with adamant teachers and guidance counselors who insist that they should know exactly what career they plan on pursuing or at least the university they wish to attend.
Though this might be an exaggeration, the pressure from the public school system to plan one's future is intimidating to say the least. Perhaps they assume that we will fall by the wayside and end up flipping burgers the rest of our lives unless they prompt us along every step of the way. We are taught that with the right amount of hard work, we can do anything we we better choose what we want, hop on that train and don't look back. God's desire or will for our lives is definitely not a factor.
As a high school student, the possibility that I could miss the train that led me to my future sent me scrambling to the guidance counselor with the hope that she could possibly show me what-the-heck I was supposed to do with my life.
I did well in high school, and my range of courses was broad. I took everything from visual arts to biology to business. I enjoyed school in general, and had no idea which subject I wanted to pursue, but in my peripherals I saw my friends choosing the subject, and then career, and then university that they were going to strive for. And here I was without a clue.
So at sixteen I sat before the nasally sounding guidance counselor and asked her what I was supposed to do after high school - a question that I should have been asking God.


Nudges from the Father

Often times, Christians have a tendency to say that God is being "silent" when, in fact, He could very well be screaming in our faces. Our ignorance and selfishness blocks out the answers that He has, many times, laid right before our noses. But blessed be the Lord, who opens our eyes to see pieces of the plan He has for us.
Such was the case for me and my search for a purpose. Summer of 2012 was coming to a close, and I was heading into grade twelve. I was speaking to a friend, and he asked the dreaded question: "So, what are you going to do after high school?" I admitted that I didn't have a clue, but somewhere along in the conversation I mentioned urban missions work had always interested me. He then told me about a lady he knew of who worked with children in inner city Toronto, with a Christian organization called Urban Promise Toronto, and gave me the woman's email.
Never having met her in my life, I emailed Ruthann Brock and asked her about what she did in her ministry. Throughout the series of emails, I bombarded her with question after question, and she answered them diligently, and eventually mentioned a way I could get involved: through a year long internship. I applied immediately.

However, the process leading up to the internship was not smooth sailing. My application got lost, I didn't hear back from the organization after the interview, and the question of the expenses that went along with the year loomed in my mind. But as always, God pulled through, and reassured me time after time that this was where He wanted me in the fall.
This reassurance didn't come to me through a flashing sign on the side of the highway, or writing in the sky, but instead a series of events falling into place and the door being opened. I believe God often works in this way - He asks us to take small steps of faith, and if anywhere along the way God closes the door, then that is not where we are supposed to be. He will continue to close and open doors until He has us exactly where He wants us. And no matter what the circumstance, where God wants us is the best place we could be.

The Land of the Free...?

I will now just take a second to fill you in on what ignited my desire to work on the urban missions field. Like many things in my life, it was a gradual interest that began to form, sparked by various things in my everyday life. Throughout my entire life, the idea of being a missionary in an urban environment interested me more than flying overseas to a third-world country to evangelize. Something about working with people from a similar culture, yet an entirely different walk of life intrigued me immensely. I have always found it odd that Canada is supposed to be a place in which anybody can be anything they want to be, because we are so abundantly blessed as a country, yet factors such as race and economic status prohibit many Canadians from achieving this, despite the fact that it is one of the most developed countries in the world.  
We boast that we live in "the land of the free", yet many living in certain urban communities are enslaved by a vicious cycle of drugs, alcoholism, gangs, and broken families. This is where my heart is - it is these people that I wish to serve.
Christian rap artist Lecrae put out a song in 2008 called Beautiful Feet, which speaks of inspiring true stories which occurred in broken, urban communities. It is a song urging us to turn from our comfortable ways of life to look at the projects and the people there who are hurting. This song was the final spark that ignited my desire to serve in this way.
"You never knew the streets, but truth is what you preach/ I pray that more would be burdened to have beautiful feet." ~Lecrae, "Beautiful Feet"~

 Calling All Unqualified

So here I am...about to embark on the biggest adventure of my life thus far. To anyone looking on, I seem ridiculously unqualified for the mission I am about to undertake. I'm a small town girl - born and raised on a farm in a safe and quiet community - preparing to live in not only Canada's biggest city, but the most dangerous areas of it. I seem like the absolute least adequate person to be serving in this setting, but then I remember that God has a habit of calling the inadequate. God has a tendency to choose the unqualified, the "last picks". Just look at Moses, or Esther, or Paul. But God did amazing works through them, using their weaknesses to showcase His power.
"Each time he said, 'My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.' So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me."
(2 Corinthians 12:9)
There is still many uncertainties regarding this internship...I don't know where I'm staying, who I'm staying with, or which age of children I will be working with. At times, these unknowns cause me to freak out, and lose sight of Christ. But I do not want to be like the Israelites, who experience God's faithfulness one minute, and turn around and immediately forget it the next. Instead, I keep my eyes fixed on the prize, and run with beautiful feet the race that has been set before me.