Vancouver Urban Plunge – Kyla Willms
There were a lot of mixed emotions going into this week for the entire site. Some of us had amazing experiences during our urban plunge in Winnipeg, and others not so much. We all knew for sure that we were walking into a challenging week. Venturing into downtown Vancouver some of us definitely felt culture shock. It was impossible to ignore the obvious signs of material poverty and brokenness that surrounded the streets.
We spent the week being lead in different experiences by our partner for the week, Youth With A Mission Vancouver. The first day we were split into small groups to discover and connect with Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. It was amazing to make so many connections with people who were generous with their time and willing to talk to us as we went along saying our hi’s and hellos, and so many of these people appreciated having a couple of willing listening ears to talk to.
Many people I met had some of the biggest hearts I have ever encountered. They were so caring and concerned that my group knew how to be safe. Although I experienced a lot of anxiety for this day in particular, God met me in that and showed me exactly where God was among the places that scared me. People were so vulnerable with their stories of either drug addiction, broken families, or personal faith journeys. It made me wonder how willing I would be to tell a complete stranger my deepest struggles. For a lot of us it was easy to see Jesus that day. We could see how Jesus was sitting right with his children in their brokenness and how he was reaching out to different people in so many different ways. I can honestly say that I was blessed by those people more than my presence could have blessed them. Just a smile was all that was needed to spark conversation. Kindness is a bit counter-cultural in that way.
We were also able to serve with organizations that were working with the beautiful people of the Downtown Eastside. I was in a group of ten girls that went to Door Is Open, a community centre that hands out breakfast and lunch every day of the year. Fellow Outtatown student, Natalie Ladd, and I started the day handing out sandwiches through a window, again getting beautiful opportunities to offer smiles and good mornings to people. It was inspiring to see the interactions of the staff with the regulars that visited the organization. Other groups served at Union Gospel Mission and Powell Street Getaway.
A really impactful part of the week for me was Wednesday afternoon, where a group of us held ‘Free Prayer’ signs and stood on street corners in large red shirts. It’s a beautiful thing to witness total strangers admitting to themselves that their problems are bigger than they can handle and taking up the offer to ask for help from their Creator. God brought so many people to us that day that were either celebrating, mourning, or questioning. Another fellow student, Olivia Hazelton, commented, “The prayer stations were a great way to connect to people, through taking the time to struggle together and to ask God for help.” God’s children are reaching out for their Creator in every corner of the earth, especially where you least expect it.
We wrapped up our week with a day called ‘impact’. In groups of three or four we were given a certain amount of money and challenged to go bless the community. With a lot of enthusiasm, some groups decided to draw with chalk on the sidewalks, either proclaiming God’s love or just spreading a sense of child-like joy. During debrief of the day, it was obvious that the act of kindness not only blessed the community but also the group that had decided to do it. Their joy and smiles from the day lit up our meeting room at the Ivanhoe Hotel. Another group, moved by the Indigenous Remembrance Day ceremony that was taking place, chose to donate their money to the cause. Multiple groups decided to hand out flowers to different people trying to shake their day with some colour.
Overall, we were all able to realize that representing Jesus in the world is much simpler than we thought. Just our smiles and greetings were able to cause God’s kingdom to light up in Vancouver. We also recognize that God is already in all of the areas that we visit, before and after. We don’t bring God to these places, but we meet him there and he tells us what we need to do. Many of my anxieties for the week were washed away by God’s faithfulness in providing purpose in my experience. We didn’t have to bring anything to Vancouver but the willingness to learn, and God showed all of us how to be a blessing there.