We have perhaps never before seen such a sudden collision of crises crashing together all at once to target our most vulnerable: a pandemic sweeping through our region, homelessness at an all-time high, vacancy rates stubbornly low, a painful affordability crisis persisting, and an opioid poisoning epidemic surging to record levels. With so many risks stacking up against our neighbours in metro Vancouver, there is now greater urgency than ever before to offer hope and respite to the men, women, and children we serve.
At Vancouver’s Union Gospel Mission, we are feeding hope and changing lives despite the long list of emerging and entrenched crises. Through our faith-based and comprehensive range of life-changing efforts, our neighbours in need find hope, safety, and transformation as they navigate complex systems and growing emergencies in search of stability. We attempt to serve our neighbours at every step of their journey by developing a “continuum of care,” or series of supports they can rely on in every stage of crisis and recovery: street-level outreach, meals, chaplaincy, emergency shelter, family services and stabilization, after-school supports, alcohol and drug recovery, aftercare, employment and education services, stabilization, safe housing, and more.
Our role as an organization is textured, in that while we offer tangible immediate support for people experiencing poverty, homelessness, and addiction, we also take care to research and respond to the various systems and barriers that needlessly hinder our community from flourishing. Through community and church engagement, we also challenge and inspire our partners to take responsibility for those who are struggling, and in doing so broaden our impact. These partnerships have led to life-giving collaborations that have long-lasting benefits across sectors, like job creation through social enterprises for those facing barriers to employment.
While Union Gospel Mission has roots deeply planted in the Christian faith, we have never been overseen or led by one particular denomination. Instead, we rely on believers from every corner of the Christian spectrum who have each contributed to, led, and engaged in walking alongside our community to see the kingdom of God grow. While this harmony brings with it various values and worldviews, it has also created an environment of generous cooperation and steadfast focus on the greatest commandments: to love God and to love your neighbour as yourself. Operating in this fashion reminds us to love and learn from one another through our differences. This culture ultimately draws our communities back to the comforting truth that our Creator has made each person with intention and delight, and that generates indelible hope.
We cling to the hope that we have in Christ and the hope that we have for our community. Yet, for our vulnerable communities, the act of hoping is an act of rebellion. It assumes there could be more, that things can be healed, and that communities can be transformed. Hope confronts injustice, and suggests that things not only can be different but also will be different. Consequently, this simple but beautiful act of hoping fuels not only the transformation of those we are serving but our own transformation as well.
Gleaning from the prophet Isaiah, we learn it is our responsibility to take care of others—especially those experiencing loss and oppression. Union Gospel Mission is simply doing what is asked of us, knowing that it is through our actions that God is making things right.
I’ll tell you what it really means to worship the Lord. Remove the chains of prisoners who are chained unjustly. Free those who are abused! Share your food with everyone who is hungry; share your home with the poor and homeless. Give clothes to those in need; don’t turn away your relatives. Then your light will shine like the dawning sun, and you will quickly be healed. Your honesty will protect you as you advance, and the glory of the Lord will defend you from behind. (Isaiah 58:6–8 CEV)
Our relationships with our community and the transformative love that serves as their foundation are the most important outcomes that we pursue. It is a special thing to treat all peoples without discrimination as equal image bearers of God. In this light, we are powered by the genuine love of Christ to come alongside our guests, walk through their crises together, and empower them to reach our ultimate goal: to transform (all) communities one life at a time.
Our hope is that, one day, we will succeed in working ourselves out of a job, hoping that our role will no longer be needed, as we march toward a more just and equitable society. But until then we will continue to show up for the community, and love them with all we’ve got.