by Kent Dueck
WINNIPEG It’s been close to 33 years since the first ministry initiative in what is now Inner City Youth Alive. I have fond recollections of the willingness of Fort Garry EMC to help launch this initiative. Many EMC churches got on board and soon EMMC and CMC churches.
Those early days were hand to mouth. I often shielded my wife from just how desperate our financial needs were month to month. It was Sarah Reimer from Aberdeen EMC, our volunteer book keeper, who used to give me that heads up that things were dire in the bank account so off I would go as, what I often chided myself, Winnipeg’s biggest panhandler.
Our connection to our many supporters in the Tri-Conference (CMC, EMMC, and EMC) is one for which we are deeply appreciative. How many times I have been at my wits’ end with a problem in the community and have talked it through with a pastor from one of our supporting churches. This is vital in a ministry that can be lonely.
Especially in those early years I made a promise to myself early on: when it got to the point that the world was looking on, I would not forget from where I came from. It was an overly ambitious thought 30-plus years ago. Perhaps I had some prescient sense, though, that if we did this work and reached those amazing kids that society had forgotten, at some point Winnipeg would take note.
Isaiah 58 talks about the true fast and how when one pours themselves out on behalf of the poor, clothes the naked, feeds the hungry, and seeks justice, something amazing happens. It says “then your light will shine forth like the dawn….” In my leadership, from the beginning it has been about both the youth and the fact that the mission to youth came with a biblical mandate.
The temptation to do this work of justice could be something that stops with justice. It is possible, as many organizations bear out, to forget that the work that one is doing has been commissioned and blessed by the bride of Christ himself—the Church. We see ourselves as sent by the many wonderful churches that support us.
I was recently asked a question from a dear atheist friend of mine who is a community activist fighting for the rights of the poor in our city. “What is wrong with your churches? They take so many hits in the media and are criticized every single day! You guys are like sheep to the slaughter. Why don’t you stand up for yourselves? As far as I am concerned; the only people I want to work with are Christians—you guys are the only ones getting anything done.” He is stirring for justice and is seeing that light that breaks forth like the dawn mentioned in Isaiah. I recently introduced him to a colleague as the atheist who deepens my faith in God. Go figure.
Seriously, whether it is that group of women from Rosenort who made meals for kids every week, the youth groups from Niverville that come out and volunteer in the drop-in, the men from Pleasant Valley who have practically built our entire camp along with the amazing youth from Mitchell, or the many other people who get what it means to be Christ followers: Your light is shining! The world around us is taking note! Sing along with us: “This little light of mine. I’m gonna let it shine!” Thanks for helping ICYA be light in a dark place.
Kent Dueck is the director of Inner City Youth Alive in the north end of Winnipeg, Man.