By Grace Jones
This week we entered the big city of Vancouver, embarking on our second Urban Plunge of the semester, for which we stayed at the Ivanhoe Hotel. Many words come to mind when reflecting back on this week. Heavy-hearted, challenging, and empowering are just a few. This week was filled with many opportunities and experiences run by staff from YWAM, Vancouver.
On Monday morning, we were greeted by Britt from YWAM; she gave us some background on the city of Vancouver, along with information about what we were going to be doing for the day. The statistics she shared were very hard to swallow: 50% of people in Vancouver eat meal alone, making it one of the loneliest cities in the world. Only 2-3% of Vancouverites classify themselves as Christians.
We set out in groups of 3-4 with the task of learning more about the poorer part of the city, the Downtown Eastside. This was definitely a bit of a shock compared to our Winnipeg Urban Plunge because there was much more evidence of people experiencing homelessness in this area. Given the task to answer questions about the city without any cell phones, we were challenged to put ourselves out there and talk to people on the streets. As well, each group was given an extra lunch to share with someone who needed it. The stories that came out of these encounters were priceless and an excellent reminder that everyone has a story – it is just a matter whether or not you are willing to sit down and hear it.
In the afternoon, our groups travelled to Downtown Vancouver where we discussed the comparisons of these two neighbourhoods. The amount of division between the two areas was unbelievable, especially because they are only a few blocks apart. Compared to the Downtown Eastside, where needs are very evident, Downtown first appeared to be very put together. However, through discussion and lots of observation, it was clear that there was very little sense of community in the more upscale neighbourhood. Later that night we met at a church where we watched a documentary on sex trafficking, followed by a time of reflection with several prayer stations. This was a very powerful experience that left us all feeling very moved.
The next day, we had the opportunity to visit the temples of three different religions: Islam, Sikhism, and Buddhism. Our group really enjoyed learning about new cultures and religions through stories and experiencing the cultures first hand. Despite our differences, hearts were touched by the hospitality displayed by the Sikh Gurdwara. Here a picture was taken with our group to put in their monthly newsletter and we learned how their doors open for 20 hours a day to the public, offering somewhere to sleep and meals to eat. Entering the Buddhist culture, we were encouraged by how they valued our group, being very intentional to learn more about us and our school’s Mennonite background. Seeing the similarities between Islam and Christianity was a very neat experience as well. Overall, we came out of this afternoon with amazing takeaways. To tie into learning about new cultures, we ate at Indian and Vietnamese restaurants for dinner the next two nights; this was a delicious experience for everyone.
We split into our small groups to visit a variety of organizations on Wednesday, doing tasks both behind the scenes and with the public. Wrapping Christmas gifts, serving meals, cleaning, and interacting with the locals were just a few of the ways we helped support local mission. Two of the small groups had the chance in the afternoon to offer free prayer on the streets of Vancouver. Despite the fear of wearing large red aprons and holding “free prayer” signs, it was a humbling experience to offer this service to the public. That night we said goodbye and thanked the staff at YWAM for an incredible week.
On Thursday, we split into more small groups, and were given a random amount of money to bless the city in anyway we chose. Groups received anywhere from $40-$100. This activity was definitely challenging at times, but extremely humbling. Despite unsatisfactory responses, such as having people reject a flower or donut because they didn’t feel they deserved it or simply wishing you had more to give, the smiles, stories, and gratitude far surpassed these hardships. It was amazing to see how much thought and effort each group put into this activity, regardless of how much money they had. Making care packages, handwritten notes of encouragement, and random acts of kindness, such as “paying it forward”, were just a few ways we were able to reach out to the community.
On our way back to Camp Squeah, we met back up with Steve Klassen at the Mark Centre to help clean up their property and do a listening to God exercise. This ended our week on a great note.
For our free weekend this weekend, students were able to choose their own adventure. This included having the opportunity to visit family and friends in the area, hike the trails of Hope, as well as relax and rejuvenate from a very busy week.
For myself, this week was filled with challenges, heartbreaking experiences and times of being overwhelmed, but the learning and growth that came out of it was life changing. It has left me with confusion of what I did to deserve the life I live and a tremendous amount of gratitude for the family I grew up in. I have been inspired to take what I have learned here in Vancouver and bring it to my hometown. Through conversations with many locals, learning about the obstacles of homelessness in the city and their passion to make a difference, I have been empowered to also make a difference. It has been an incredible reminder of the power of learning. This was a week I will always remember.