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Feb20ThuFinding God in the alleys of downtown Winnipeg. February 20, 2020 by Kaitlin vanDeursen
(Above) Kaitlin vanDeursen, a Salvationist and social work student at Booth University College in Winnipeg, in front of a mural by artist Mike Valcourt. The mural is dedicated to missing and murdered Indigenous women
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The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighbourhood.—John 1:14 (The Message)
Over the past few months, this verse has become so much more real for me. I’m studying social work at The Salvation Army’s Booth University College in Winnipeg, and have been doing a practicum at Main Street Project, a non-profit community health agency, located behind the Army’s Centre of Hope. I’m there 40 hours a week and on the ground running for most of those hours.
The neighbourhood around the project is a stark contrast from the safe, supportive and loving community I grew up in. As I walk through the garbage-littered streets, I often look over my shoulder to be aware of my surroundings. When meeting with clients, I wonder, “God, how can this be happening to your people?” Sometimes I go home at the end of the day and realize I haven’t spoken with God at all, because he feels so distant.
It is hard to see people suffering from the effects of intergenerational trauma, abuse, addiction and poverty. Our city is hurting. In the last months, there have been robberies, violence and senseless murders, including two stabbings right outside my practicum. I’ve seen a group of teenagers with a gun just down the road from me.
But John 1:14 reminds me that while the Word was in my comfortable neighbourhood growing up, the Word is also in Winnipeg’s downtown. When the Word became flesh and blood in the form of Jesus, our Saviour, he did not just move into affluent neighbourhoods or church communities. He moved under the Osborne Street Bridge, he moved into the tent city, he moved into the crack houses and cockroach-filled hotels, he moved into the dark back alleys and into the dumpsters.
While it may not be glamourous to think about our Saviour in this way, we have to remember that in his time on earth Jesus associated with many people who would be the impoverished, addicted and homeless of today. He socialized with lepers and those with physical disabilities. He spoke with people tormented by demons and various mental illnesses. He walked through areas of conflict. He went to Jerusalem, knowing there were people who were going to be violent toward him.
In a way, Jesus is one of the people sleeping on mats in a room of 75 other people. You can see him in the person in psychosis and talking to the voices in their head. You can see him in the faces of the cold and shivering. You can see him in the physically ill. Jesus became a neighbour to the addicts, the chronically homeless, the mentally ill and the heavy-burdened.
I encourage you to take a little extra time this week to reflect on John 1:14. Do we fully believe that the Word became flesh and moved into the neighbourhood? Do we believe that the Word only moved into “nice” communities or do we believe that he is also present in the “not so nice” neighbourhoods?
Let’s keep this verse in mind as we minister to those who are from neighbourhoods different from our own. Let’s also remember that even though society characterizes some people as unlovable (and some days we might be unlovable ourselves), Christ loved each and every one of us so much that he came to be our neighbour, and he is still with us.