The Final Pages

As we approach the final leg of our journey together in Winnipeg, I think it’s fair to say that we have all been changed individually by our time here. Each of us, be it through the stories of others, the work we have done here, or through learning from those who we have had the privilege of meeting, has had a moment of realization on this trip.

That said, many of us are not ready to come home. We are very blessed to have been given the opportunity to work with such an incredible group. It will be a difficult adjustment, returning to everyday routines that we have left behind in coming out here.

We narrowed our group into two ‘split pieces’ today, with one group returning to the site at Habitat, in order to clean up the build site, mostly. The group worked to get the place in order, so that the future Habitat volunteers would be able to add on a second floor to the structure. The roof and second floor are to be added within the next week, which is exciting to see how far it has come in such a short time.

The other half of the group returned once more to Anishinabe, with the goal of moving all of the that had been displaced back into its proper place, now that the floor wax had finally dried. After that, the group traveled together to Flora House, in order to help tidy up after the week, and buy some of the supplies needed for making lunches for the camp that comes in next week.
It’s truly incredible to think that the few people who work at Flora House, Heidi and Michelle, can keep up their work each week, as it comes and goes. Their tireless patience and enthusiasm for helping is something inspirational to all of us, as they are truly the ‘rocks’ of Flora House. We hope that we were able to give them a well-deserved break with this week.

After our half day of work, we returned back to the church and shared a lunch together. From there, we were allotted a bit of free time, which we collectively decided to spend at the mall. Needless to say, some of us had a bit of fun with our money, and went out to buy ‘dancing shirts’ for our dinner cruise down the river later that night.

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Ah, the dinner cruise… we arrived around six o’clock in order to get on a boat to take us down the river, expecting a night of dancing and dining. Unfortunately, as we happened upon the day after the DJ of the crew had been fired, we got to dance to all of three songs. Bummer. At least the food was good, though!

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As I have mentioned earlier in this blog entry, it will definitely be a change to return to my everyday life. I’m not sure I am ready to accept that our mission trip is drawing to a close; it still feels like we just landed a few hours ago. We are very privileged to have such a strong group, and it will be hard for us to go knowing just how much there is out there that we still need to do. But as always, these things start in us. We hope to come home changed, but also to change. We hope to be true missionaries to relay the stories we have been told.

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Sharing

With so much going on around both the church and our various group activities, it is always tough to iron out the kinks in the blog! But I am going to preface this article by saying that we have now added some pictures to the last blog (which should have been up on the first go). So check those out!

Today was another fairly busy day. Our people at Habitat bravely woke up early to face the day, as they continued to add windows and doors to their building. As always, the early-risers had good things to say of the project, and Angie especially noted that she was enjoying how she was able to handle the tasks that the site manager didn’t think she could do.

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The team at Anishinabe was hard at work even as the wax on the floor refused to dry! While they waited, the group worked diligently, repainting the floor of the attached store, fixing and painting a cabinet and bench that were in need of a loving new coat of paint, and moving around all sorts of things. All the while, Jane ran a ‘yard sale’ of sorts for the locals. Anishinabe was certainly a bustle of activity today!

The third group returned to Fun Mountain, this time with the teenagers of Flora House’s program. Overall, the day was very memorable for a lot of the kids, several of whom had never had the chance to visit Fun Mountain. We lucked out and actually did have fun in the sun (this blogger especially has a lovely burn to show for it). Lots of sliding and water later, it was time to return home, and I think that everyone was quite content with how the day went. One of the Flora House kids had managed to fall asleep on the car ride home, he had so much fun. It was truly a great experience.

As the groups converged, we had the privilege to entertain more guests. This time, we were joined for a ‘family-styled’ supper at the church by Reverend Margaret and Susan. True to the customs of her people, the youth served the ‘elders’ the meal first before we were allowed to take some for ourselves. I’m sure the ‘elders’ got a kick out of that, and definitely hope that we serve them first more often!

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Our esteemed guests, featuring a sly grin from each!

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Our family-styled dinner setup of the evening

After supper finished, Margaret and Susan joined us for our evening debrief, and shared with us some of the lessons of the Native peoples. Margaret showed us her ‘bundle,’ which can be seen below, before explaining each part of it to us. She also showed us a smudging ritual, which is a type of cleansing of the spirit, as well as a prayer.

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The many lessons that Margaret taught to us were very cool, and offered us all a deeper insight to the culture of those we came here to serve. It amazed us how similar the lessons that were instilled in us through church were to those that are passed orally down by tradition in Native culture, even though the practice is (for reasons beyond me) looked down upon. Margaret also explained to us the concept of a spirit name, which is remarkable as she told us that it took her close to forty years to grow into hers.

At this point, I’d like to ask that we keep the people of Anishinabe, Place of Hope, and Flora House in our prayers. Susan expressed to us that spiritual warfare is very much alive in the city of Winnipeg. The least we can do is keep them in our minds, as they can use our support, even in spirit alone. Please spare a prayer for them, as the hard work they have been doing so thanklessly is an incredible thing in this world, even when it seems so cold at times. What they do is truly irreplaceable.

To conclude our night together, Margaret engaged us in a ‘sharing circle,’ where each of us were asked to ponder the question of how the trip would affect us down the road. The main recurring themes that seemed to strike people was how joyful the children were, even when things were difficult, or how Michelle was so resilient in getting back up, even with the odds against her. It was a humbling experience to reflect upon our trip, and we look forward to bringing our individual and collective stories home to share.

A VERY Busy Day

We had a few celebrities in our midsts this morning! Reid, Sarah, and Laura went to the local Christian music station to briefly do an interview about our mission trip. We woke up to hear them speak about our experiences with the children of Flora House, and the mission on the whole. They spoke with confidence, and we were all very proud of them for representing our mission so well, and getting the word out there about what we have been up to. The interview will be put up on either the Facebook page or website of CHVN Radio (95.1).

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As mentioned in our previous blog, we sent a group to help at Habitat for Humanity. Our group helped to frame in the windows of the house they have been working on. When asked, they mentioned to us that they were very sore and tired after working hard all day, though the work they had been doing was “very fulfilling.”

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Our second group returned to work with the 5-10 year olds at Flora House, taking them to the Fun Mountain Water Park. Our missionaries paired up individually with the younger kids, taking them on the water slides. Lots of water “fun in the sun…” minus the sun. After they returned to Flora House, there was a birthday celebration for one of the kids, complete with cupcakes, Beyblades, and Littlest Pet Shop toys. The girls were asking one another what they should name their pets as the boys assembled their Beyblades. We were privileged to be able to share that sort of moment with the Flora House children, and we are keeping them in our prayers.

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The third and final group was sent over to Anishinabe to help out with the store and the main area. Before the groups separated, we all were able to leave a mark on the mural that had been framed in yesterday. It was cool to think that we have left our mark on the area, at least until the people at Anishinabe decide to repaint.

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After painting, it was time to strip the floor of the old wax, and put on a new layer of wax to make the floors sparkle. And after the diligent work and mopping of Mike and some of our Knox missionaries, the floors look much nicer.

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We also helped Jane (the lovely woman at Anishinabe who helps out with the store) with preparations for the yard sale they are having tomorrow! We got to sort clothes, and as a couple of our leaders got cold, Jane offered to give them free jackets off of the store shelves. However, when Vaughn entered and sighed in exasperation at the aforementioned leaders’ shopaholic tendencies, asking how much it would cost, Jane burst out laughing, and told him that it would be twenty dollars for him. For those who haven’t seen Vaughn speechless; he was.

Our group at Anishinabe finished the day by going for a tour at Winnipeg Harvest, the food bank. Dave ended up stunning the tour guide with his amount of knowledge on the subject, and we were forced to wear were given lovely and stylish hair nets to sort lentils. With the speed we attained, we had bagged 4.35 bags per minute, and powered through three 60kg bags in around an hour. We sure know how to leave an impression!

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After a busy day like that, it’s tough to imagine that more could have happened. But we were proud to welcome guests to dinner with us: Heidi and Michelle from Flora House.

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Michelle was kind enough to share her life story with us, which was incredibly impactful and really touched a lot of us on a deeper level. It can only be summed up in one word: amazing. I will do my best to account the night.
After opening with a beautiful song that she learned from dating a member of a local band, Michelle told us her life story in a way that enraptured the attention of everyone around the circle. She told us how she had struggled with finding God in her life, and how she grappled with her addiction to be able to have custody over her children. The impact it left on all of us – the circumstances she grew up in, especially – was stunning. It really brought the conditions of what life can be like in Winnipeg into perspective. Michelle told her story in a beautiful, powerful, and emotionally-gripping way that reached out to all of us. She truly has a way with words.

Though our week is half over, we reflected upon the fact that our work was nowhere near done. There are real kids, and real people struggling and battling every day, just like Michelle and Vivian. Even in Winnipeg, Flora House, Anishinabe, and their incredible works go largely unnoticed. We are missionaries, and we know that we need to spread the word of these amazing places around.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013 – Habitiat Build, Tinkertown and Anishinabe

Today we split into three groups. One group went to Anishinabe, including myself. Today we finished up most of the painting and added a frame around a mural on one of the walls that we were told not to paint over. We had been thinking of ideas about how to frame it all day when Heather finally decided to try painting it with a plastic bag. Then completely by accident she touched the wall with her hand that was covered in paint. She then called everyone over and we all dipped our hands into the paint trays and covered the wall in our hand prints.

The second group went to Flora House to help with the camp. Today they took the kids to an amusement park called Tinkertown. From what I’ve heard all the kids really enjoyed themselves! One of the kids shared that their birthday was coming up this Saturday and when he was asked if he usually gets presents, he responded that he hadn’t gotten any last year and he didn’t expect to get any this year. Since birthday presents are usually something that we take for granted, some of the group members decided that we should get him a birthday present. So tonight while some of us were at a baseball game, others went out to the store and bought presents for all the kids that we will hand out tomorrow.

The third group went to a Habitat build, today they framed a basement and will be working on the windows tomorrow.

Overall, today was a very productive and enjoyable day and we all hope tomorrow will be just as educational and fun.

Impacts and Perspectives

The morning certainly crept up on us today! We woke up to eat breakfast and prepare lunch before 8:30, when we were slated to share our ‘blue room’ (the room in which we prepare our meals) with the day care service, which is run out of the church. After a rushed exit, we made our way over to Anishinabe as a group, ready for an orientation with Rev. Margaret and Susan in the Place of Hope.

Personally, going into this morning, I was not entirely sure what to expect in this orientation. We made our way to the room in which the worship is held, and sat in a circle to listen to the stories that were shared by Rev. Margaret, Susan, and also Vivian. It was a very moving morning that really brought things into perspective, as Margaret and Susan both expressed what had called them to their work at Inner-City Missions, stating that “God must have a sense of humour.”

Vivian shared with us an unabashed recounting of her story of surviving the residential schools. As it was later put at our nightly ‘debriefing,’ it is one thing to watch a documentary on the workings of the schools, but another entirely to hear the firsthand account, and see its aftermath inflicted upon her body, but also her soul. But Vivian was clearly a very determined soul, as she took the hard path through life, winding through rehabilitation, and ultimately, she was able to learn to be a parent and strengthen her skills.
As a parent, Vivian’s story continued on. She had a son, who was looking to be different. He was on the road to get his Grade 12 education, and eventually become a cop. He was clean, and was very determined to “be good in the ‘hood,” which is absolutely no easy task when the odds are stacked against you. His life was cut short by a tumour in his head, which hit home and struck a chord with many of us. This boy, fighting so hard to be different, is (in my mind, at least) an inspiration and a beacon of hope. It is a story that I will carry with me, and I could only hope to give it the gravity that it carried when told by Vivian.

After our morning orientation, we split off into two groups. One that was to stay to paint Anishinabe, and the other which was going to head off to Flora House to help out with a day camp, taking the kids to a nearby park (which took a fair bit of recalculation by the GPS and a bit of expertise from the children to locate). I was able to go to the park with the youth aged 5-10, where we set up games, blew bubbles, and played a few games of freeze tag.

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Just blowing some bubbles

Getting to know the kids was an incredible experience. It was easy to get engaged with them, and it was pretty awesome that they were so excited to have us around. The time flew by as we gave countless piggy backs, threw around the Frisbees, and had a quick snack before flying right back into it.

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A snapshot of the dodges in Freeze Tag!

We went on after lunch to a playground, where games of Grounder and Cops and Robbers were carried out, Cyclone popsicles were enjoyed, ladybugs were thoroughly examined and photographed, and much laughter was shared.

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Climbing? Or just posing for the camera?

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Showcasing a ladybug, the subject of much interest

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After our stay at the playground, it was time to go back. This was very tough, as though the kids we had just gotten to know we’re so happy and eager to play, like any other kids, they were going back to tougher places than we know. The courage and resolve of these young people, just starting to place their roots, is something that was really humbling.

On the way home, a story was shared as one of our vans was stopped at a red light near a Taco Bell. One girl, with enthusiasm, struck up a conversation about the place and how she loved it, while another averted her gaze entirely, blocking it with a raised hand. When she was asked about it, she responded that her uncle had died there. Though it would seem reasonable to us that he died of a heart attack, or something of the sort, she later told us that he was stabbed because he had money. This story was another that really opened our eyes to the different perspectives here.

Today was our first ‘real’ day, in my opinion. We connected to the youth, and maybe some of us will feel the same pulls that Margaret and Susan have. One thing is for certain; we are learning from them, and though we are serving them, they have given us just as much and more in reciprocation, whether they know it or not.

The Journey Begins

Today was our first full day in Winnipeg! We woke up early (at least, in the mind of this blogger) after a night of getting acquainted with our living accommodations for the next week, long games of “Four on a Couch” and “Spoons,” and an excessive amount of pizza from a local pizza store.

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Pizzaland: They bring the 'zah.

Needless to say, after fifteen boxes of pizza between the 25 of us staying here, we might be eating pizza for a little while. A few people have suggested having some for breakfast… but I digress.

Our morning was made up of a service in St. James Presbyterian Church, done by a visiting minister, following a pizza-and-cereal breakfast. We were very well-welcomed as we filled up about half of the pews, and nearly tripled the size of the congregation. There was quite an emphatic welcome, as we were engaged in many a conversation about how excited they were that we were here. Very blessed to have such a welcome!

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The Anishinabe Community Centre, painted by former Knox missionaries

Our afternoon was spent at Anishinabe Community Centre, where we volunteered to help with running a festival and barbecue for the locals. Here we met Rev. Margaret and her team, who helped to get us organized while diligently keeping everything in order.

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The festival in progress!

The festival was very well-received. Our youth manned several stations, such as a water balloon toss, ‘Goofy Golf,’ bouncy castles, and preparing/serving hotdogs. Because we had our vans and drivers, we were able to bring families to the fair who otherwise would not necessarily have a chance to attend. Driving these families around inner-city Winnipeg was a very eye-opening experience.

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The bouncy castle race!

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Hard at work serving hotdogs!

All in all, the day was very hot, but also very rewarding, as the general consensus dictates! We fed and entertained a crowd of a couple hundred, which was a blast and a privilege. As a group, we eagerly look forward to the experience, and are very happy to continue to give for the rest of our trip!