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May27MonCaring for those in need starts with heartfelt service. May 27, 2013 by Melissa Yue Wallace
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Prince Edward Island, like other Canadian provinces, has its share of social issues. Here, you will not only observe a lush landscape with rolling hills and picturesque views, but also unemployment, poverty, injustice and addictions. And with a total population of about 140,000, those who struggle are more visible and less likely to become lost amid a sea of faces.
If you were to track the footsteps of someone who was looking for food and friendship in the capital city, you might find yourself at The Salvation Army Charlottetown Community Church where, on weekday mornings, people from all walks of life sit down with a coffee and doughnut and talk to trusted staff about what is going on in their lives.
“Many people have come our way after life has presented them with some significant struggle,” says Captain Jamie Locke, corps officer. “It is our hope that they will find our church a welcoming environment and a place where they can feel safe and learn of God's unconditional love and transforming power.”
Captains Jamie and Elaine Locke have looked after this congregation and its social ministries since last July. On weekdays from 9 to 11 a.m., approximately 200 people come through the doors of the church for breakfast and about 20 to 40 people seek help from the church's food bank, which opens on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
“When our doors open, there's a mass of people coming in,” says Captain Jamie Locke. “They come downstairs and we have Christian music playing and it quickly becomes an environment where people are sitting and enjoying conversation with one another.”
“Just being able to have conversations with these people has opened my eyes and a lot of them have blessed my heart because their stories are so deep,” says Captain Elaine Locke, corps officer. “They just need someone to talk to.”
Beth Cruwys, the church's community and family services worker since June 2011, helps people with community resources such as job skills training, public health and income support. She also regularly supports those who confide in her. She mentions a regular visitor to the church who shared his grief when his father passed away and a woman who faced eviction after her house was robbed.
“The people who come here have experienced more of life than most of us would ever want,” says Cruwys. “You have to be real with them to have them trust you. They need to know that they are accepted, not being judged, and can feel comfortable and not alone.”
At 5 p.m., the Bedford MacDonald House opens its doors. The house, located two and a half blocks away from the church, is a men's homeless shelter operated by The Salvation Army and managed by the Lockes. The shelter offers seven beds and a safe place to rest for the night. The shelter reopened in December 2012 after a two-month hiatus and has been brought up to code for health and safety standards.
“I admit them, make sure they have a shower before they come downstairs and then chitchat with them to find out where they're at,” says Gordie Clow, a member of the shelter's staff. “They come here for a seven-day period, but if they're dealing with social services or waiting for an apartment we grant them extensions.”
The most challenging part of the job, he says, is getting the men to open up.
“A lot of people that need the shelter don't like to share a lot of their background,” says Clow. “Sometimes it's kind of embarrassing for them.
“We try to get some kind of rapport with them because there may be something we can do to help.”
When the shelter closes at 7:30 a.m., staff encourage the men to go to the church for breakfast where some have their only meal of the day.
With such an active social ministry, the congregation at Charlottetown Community Church continues to change in a positive way as it welcomes all who step through their doors for morning worship, Sunday school, youth group and other programs.
“Our daughters are involved in Pioneer Club on Wednesday night and the majority of the children who come are from our social ministry,” says Captain Elaine Locke. “They all love being together and have adapted well.”
“Everyone has a story to share and those stories grow, evolve and develop each day,” says Captain Jamie Locke. “And we're pleased that God has caused our stories to intersect.
“We're here to celebrate with our people when good things are happening and we are also a shoulder to cry on when life sometimes takes them down difficult paths.”
Three and a half years ago, Bobbi-Jo came to Charlottetown Community Church. As a single mother of two who felt alone in her struggles, she was at first wary of the friendly volunteers who were distributing food at the food bank and the strangers greeting her during the few church services she attended. But she also noticed something different about them that caused her to keep the door open. She began taking her sons, Christopher, 8, and Jacob, 3, to the Pioneer Club and volunteering. It was then that she started to open up to the staff.
“This church family has become my family,” she says. “They've been here for me, have helped us and have loved us through our difficulties.
“They did a lot more than just providing food, helping out and assisting us.”
Christopher had various medical issues and was diagnosed with kidney disease last December. For Bobbi-Jo, who is on social assistance and also cares for Jacob at home, the frequent hospital visits were taking their toll.
“The only reason my children had food to eat was because of the church,” says Bobbi-Jo.
At the church's Christmas service, she was touched by the simple message that “all we needed was God's love.” She accepted Jesus as her Saviour that day and—despite the ongoing concerns in her life—she offers this advice to others who may be struggling: “Hang in there, find a church and sit through some services—even if it's uncomfortable. God will meet you where you're at and he'll do the rest.”