Written by Cassidy Acheson
Reflecting over this past Urban Mission Dynamics (UMD) weekend, my mind and heart feel overwhelmed in a way I have not previously experienced. This time spent in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside has greatly impacted me and I hope that I will not soon forget all that I learned and saw. Through everything from listening to speakers to walking the streets, my thinking has changed and I have gained a new perspective.
One incident that was very powerful for me was speaking to a woman who introduced herself as “Jellybean”. When we first met her she was handing out flyers for an upcoming event. She spoke with much excitement about this event and laughed as she told us of the costume she planned to wear. At some point, the conversation changed and she began to open up to us about some current difficulties in her life. My heart broke as tears began to roll down her face. Before we concluded our conversation with her, we asked if she would allow us to pray for her. We bowed our heads together, myself and the other girl in our group praying for Jellybean. I felt my heart beating within my chest as we prayed over this woman. This was unlike anything I had experienced before.
Since I had never done street ministry before, this time with Jellybean was particularly impactful for me. Though we had only just met her, this woman opened up to us in a way that was so vulnerable. She allowed us to share in her pain and receive a glimpse of what life is like for her. Talking with her gave me a face of homelessness. It was powerful to hear her story, yet even more powerful to pray with her. This was the first time I have openly prayed in such a public space, standing in the middle of the sidewalk. It was incredible to know that even in the Downtown Eastside, God is present and working. God is not limited to our homes or church buildings, but he is there even in the midst of such suffering and chaos. This was such an excellent reminder for me. If I have another opportunity like this, I hope that I would be able to immediately look past the outward appearance to the heart of that person. I hope that I would see them as my equal, not simply someone who is marginalized. I am grateful for this experience as it has allowed me to become more aware of the plight of those living in poverty. It has opened my eyes to the realities that confront these people each day. I have come to recognize the judgements that I often place on others, when I should see them simply as people no less than myself. I now realize the struggles that many of these people face each day. I am thankful to now have a story to remember when I think of those living in poverty. This experience has definitely changed how I view the homeless. They are not just statistics or some hopeless individuals living far removed from me. They each have names, faces, and stories. They are not that different from me.
This weekend opened my eyes to the reality of life on the streets, yet it also broadened my view of what ministry is and how we are called to live for God in the city. While working with those who are marginalized in this area is great, I found that a major theme of the weekend was that we are to find ways to serve in our own communities. We do not need to move to Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside in order to have an impact. We can impact the world in our own way wherever we may find ourselves.
Cassidy is a current student in the Praxis program and participated in the October 2014 UMD weekend.