Before I tell the story that had the biggest impact on me this month, I first want to retell the story of Jesus and the 10 lepers. To summarize, in Luke 17:11-19, 10 men who suffered from leprosy came to Jesus asking for healing. Jesus cleansed all 10, but only one turned back to give praise to God. Jesus asked, “Were not all 10 cleansed? Where are the other 9? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then Jesus said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”
This Bible story is a great illustration of what I experienced on our last Urban Plunge day in Vancouver. We were divided into groups of three and given various amounts of money to make an impact in any way we could think of. I believe the biggest impact of the day was actually the one I experienced.
To start the day off, my group members and I decided we would go to the Westside (the higher-end part of Vancouver), to see where our money could best be used to make an impact. A short time later we were buying markers, notebooks, and big jugs of Tim Hortons coffee. The outcome of these purchases was three girls standing in the rain on a busy shopping street intersection with a sign that said “FREE COFFEE” and a notebook that invited people to write down something they were thankful for.
As our jug of coffee started to empty, our gratitude journal started to fill with a few things people were thankful for. In between the several people who gave thanks for things such as free coffee, their moms, sisters, music, and legalizing weed, there were the people who walked by us with their shopping bags scoffing at us or pretending to be on their phones so they didn’t have to acknowledge our existence.
We ran out of coffee and decided we should head to the Eastside (the “needy” part of Vancouver), to do the same thing. This time we bought double the coffee, stood in the rain on the busiest intersection and held our free coffee sign. Immediately, the people on the streets swarmed us with grateful attitudes and were almost more excited to write in our gratitude journal than to get a free cup of coffee. After serving over sixty people of the Downtown Eastside, we rejoined the rest of our site to debrief the day.
As I read through the gratitude journal and saw all that people were thankful for, I was reminded of the story of the 10 lepers and the importance of giving thanks. Along with many other, more privileged people on the Westside, I often forget to give thanks to God for the things I have been blessed with. However, for those living on the Downtown Eastside who don’t have very much, they are like the foreigner in the story who turned back to Jesus and gave thanks for everything; like “ Jesus being here”, “salvation”, “good health”, “shelters”, “being alive”, and “food”. That day reminded me to always have an attitude of gratitude.
– Kaitlyn Shuart, Site Two South Africa student, 2018-19
It’s January and I’ve been thinking about hope. I love the Advent season we’ve just been through, in part because it’s festive, but also because the reality of God becoming a human is enough to knock me down and lift me back up again. British poet Malcolm Guite writes, “It’s just as well he dared to be, dared to come out of the invulnerable realm of ideas and into the bloody theatre of history, that he might change and redeem it from within.” That God comes and encounters us in our very particular, very human situations is stunning to me. But it's January now, with all of its busyness and resolutions and self-help mantras, and I am quick to forget that this is who God is.
Towards the end of December, I moved into a new neighbourhood. There’s a lot of good about this place—a more central location, friends who live within walking distance, new shops and cafes to discover. But there is also a lot of brokenness and heartache in the neighbourhood, and it makes me wonder where hope resides. I’m reminded of the tensions our Outtatown students wrestle with throughout the program: how do we reconcile the world’s beauty and diversity with its pain?
I love the way the Message phrases John 1:14, “The word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighbourhood.” I wonder if part of the answer is found in the hope of a God who enters our reality and dwells with us in our circumstances; a God who moves into the neighbourhood. I’m not the only one building a new sense of home this year—Outtatown students will soon be arriving in their international locations, and will discover the extraordinary beauty and diversity of South Africa and Guatemala. But they will also encounter each country’s pain. My prayer is that, as we all enter the New Year, we hold onto this hope: that God became flesh and blood, and entered into our reality, wherever we may find ourselves, so that he might “redeem it from within”.
– Renee Willms, Outtatown Program Manager