Writer Julia Cheung Takes us Behind the Scenes With Vancouver Story

by Julia Cheung

So clearly God’s gift to us—a hint of His character and of His goodness—beauty reveals God to a blinded humanity. Beauty opens us up to worship.

Faith Today visited Vancouver's Downtown Eastside to understand what it is like to minister in this hard place.
Faith Today visited Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside to understand what it is like to minister in this hard place.

I am an artist at heart, I suppose. And what I mean by that is simply that I am particularly sensitive to beauty. A rose will stop me in my tracks. So will a multicolored sky, a lovely piano chord, or even an elegantly designed chair. But beauty in ashes? Can I be attuned to that sort of aesthetic?

When an editor from Faith Today first phoned me earlier this year to ask me to write about the Downtown Eastside, Canada’s poorest postal code, I was equally intrigued and repelled.

Repelled: Issues of homelessness and addiction certainly weren’t new to me. After all, I had been a Vancouverite for over a decade. You live here long enough, read enough newspaper stories—it’s easy to develop a certain callousness.

Intrigued: my journalist’s nose had already been sensing that there was more to the neighborhood of the Downtown Eastside than just a trail of discarded needles or political controversy. Even before the editor phoned me, I had been hearing whispers of God’s call. He beckons his children to stand down from their places of privilege and stand up for the powerless.

I’d written about beautiful food and beautiful design trends. I’d waxed eloquent on great scenery or posh restaurants. Now I asked myself if I could pick my way through what felt (and smelled) like piles of garbage to find strands of redemption or retrieve ingots of hope. And so, I embarked on my adventure into resolutely non-middle-class territory. This would be a detour from my usual subject matter—but a detour that I suspected would be very good for my soul.

So as I conducted my interviews and walked the (literally) beaten paths, the question dangled ponderously over my head: would God show me flashes of color amidst seemingly endless palettes of grey? In the end, I think He did. But that, dear reader, is finally up to you to decide. Let’s see where my journalist’s nose and your readerly judgement take us. Together we will refine our definitions of true beauty.

Julia Cheung is a Vancouver-based writer. She wrote Ministry in Canada’s Poorest Postal Code for the Sep/Oct issue of Faith Today. Subscribe now to Faith Today

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