My morning on Ottawa’s streets. The start of a Faith Today story

When we first moved to Ottawa in January, a brand new city for us,  we didn’t know much of anything about living in the area. A fun group of parishioners from our new church who live in the same neighbourhood as we do had a get-together to welcome us and answer questions. They filled scrapbook pages with tips on things like where to get the best thai food and cupcakes (those ‘must-know’ bits of information).

Later, on the “Day Trip” page, I  noticed one woman had written, “Shadow me on the sidewalks of downtown Ottawa and minister to the poor.” And she doodled a smiley face in blue marker beside her invitation.

Last Thursday, I took her up on it. We met at our downtown church at 7:30am and fuelled ourselves with coffee and breakfast at a nearby diner, where I heard her heart for this ministry of presence on the streets of the nation’s capital. Then we wandered the sidewalks to reach out to the homeless we came upon. My friend Jill is executive director with  Urban Christian Outreach Ottawa. She spends usually two days a week doing what we did last week, prayerfully walking down the sidewalks of downtown Ottawa, trying to be salt and light to those who need her.

We ducked into a courtroom to see if any of Jill’s friends were there. We wandered through a mall where many of them used to hang out to see if anyone needed her there. We stopped and spoke to men (because it was just men on that day), who were panhandling and offered to get them water or coffee. In one case, Jill bought breakfast for a veteran who was sitting in a wheelchair, cup out for donations.

We sat in McDonald’s, while Jill tried to help one of the men we met that day.

The story he told us was sad and complicated, and hinted at the maze like process veterans have to navigate, sometimes alone, to get the help they may need. In the end, our friend wheeled away from us in frustration, assuming we were just another dead end. Undaunted, Jill pulled out her phone to make calls to see if she could still find out anything that would help the man find a home.

As I accompanied Jill for those few short hours, I thought of how this kind of ministry is happening all across Canada, certainly in all the major cities, and probably in many of our towns. In my  mind, I started to lay the foundation for a future Faith Today story, about people like Jill and the ones she serves. I left my morning with Jill with pages of notes and observations, including lots of questions. These are the times when it is such a privilege to be part of the Church, and part of the world of Christian journalism that serves it by telling its stories.

Karen Stiller is a senior editor of Faith Today, Canada’s Christian magazine. Subscribe today to  not miss another story about the Church in Canada.

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