So today started off with a “Prayer Tour” through Toronto. Bosco, our host, guided us as we drove to various locations around the city and then circled up outside to learn about some of the ugly sides of Toronto. I took some notes, here they are:
- At “Salvation Army 614“: The 614 stands for Isaiah 61:4, which says “They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.” Their vision is to do this within the city of Toronto. Being located directly across the street from Regent Park (Canada’s oldest housing project), God placed them in a great position to renew even the darkest parts of the city.
- Regent Park‘s “Remodeling”: Regent Park takes up a few blocks, but only has one road running through it, and is therefore not easily accessible by police or emergency vehicles. That means there’s lots of violence and drug dealing within a very confined area. The government is working to renovate and restore Regent Park by tearing down buildings and rebuilding newer ones in hopes to cut down on the crime that takes place there. There is a 7 year waiting list to get a place in Regent Park, and those who do live there are mostly immigrants from around the world. In order to get a job in Toronto most employers require work experience in Canada, so immigrants have a very difficult time finding work (even if they were lawyers or doctors in their homelands, they often find themselves unemployable here). The government is basically kicking people out of their homes in order to tear them down and rebuild them – but instead of allowing them back in once the building is completed, they’re only allowing those who have jobs to move back in, which will leave many many families on the street and without a home. It seems like a self-feeding vicious cycle to me… much prayer and action is required here.
- We also drove past Seaton House, which is Canada’s largest overnight housing site with 600 beds for men experiencing homelessness. Seaton House is known for housing the roughest of the rough and is often referred to as “Satan House” because of the frequency of fights and violence that happens there. Many would rather stay on the streets than stay in Seaton House.
- We then drove down Church Street, which was filled with rainbow flags and had a billboard with two men romantically holding hands on it. Ironically, Church Street is the center of the Gay/Lesbian community in Toronto and most people there have a very negative view of the Church and Christians.
- Sanctuary is a church just off of Church St. Recently bought by a group of Christians who found themselves with a strong ministry to those who are often marginalized by more traditional churches, they have a growing and vibrant evangelical ministry. Located just next door to an upscale condominium high-rise complex, they were recently offered between $2,000,000-$3,000,000 for their land so another upscale housing site could be built. The Elders met and sought the Lord and were convinced that He placed them there to continue making an impact for Christ and they rejected the offer. Pray for their ministry to be blessed.
- George is a man who randomly approached our group while we were circled up in front of Sanctuary. He is an Asian man who I estimate is around 60. George was drunk. He said he’s been drunk since 1955 (which is confusing, because that would make him at least 55, and he didn’t look it, but since he was drunk his words were so slurred he was difficult to understand). Despite his inebriation, George thanked us for what we’re doing in Toronto and told us that he attends the services at Sanctuary. When we told him we were going to pray, he asked that we would pray not only for him or the homeless in Toronto, but for all those who are experiencing homelessness around the world. He also urged us to share what we’re learning with others when we get back home… we told him we would.
- The Casey House is a home for those who are HIV positive. Many there struggle with loneliness and depression resulting from others distancing themselves from them out of fear of contracting HIV. The former director used to forbid (or at least discourage) Christians from volunteering there, but the new director is a Christian. Please pray for followers of Christ to humbly and loving serve those who stay in Casey House.
- St. James Town is home to 17,000 people and is the largest low-income housing site in all of Canada and takes up four large blocks within the city. To put this in perspective: According to the 2000 Census, the combined population of Norfolk and Millis is 18, 362.
After lunch we drive out to Hixon Road in Hamilton, ON (just outside of Toronto) where we had our orientation to the tutoring ministry we’d ll be participating in throughout the week. Originally we had been told we’d be working a “Somali Ministry,” however Iskaashiga Ministries has expanded their work beyond only the Somali community. In fact, none of us will be paired up with a Somali family this week! Some are paired with Indian families and Sri Lankan families, others are with a Chinese family as well as one Pakistani family. Our first day of tutoring went really well, everyone was so excited to share about their kids when we re-grouped at the end of our time. Unfortunately, we probably won’t have any pictures to share of our kids due to the desire to be sensitive to their cultures.
For dinner we went to an authentic Indian restaurant, which was buffet style, and the food was amazing! Some had a difficult time with the spices, but most found something they really enjoyed. Here’s my plate, mmm!
Tonight we also went on our Sandwich Run, handing out “Bagged Lunches” to people on the streets. We call them bag lunches because “food” is street lingo for crack cocaine; so if we offered people a bag of food they might not be expecting a PB&J sandwich, apple, and juice box! Our team was divided into three groups and mixed with another group from Canada which is also with CSM this week. One group drove the van around the outskirts of the city and delivered the lunches to people along the road which goes through Regent Park. The group was very excited to see George there and to give him a lunch (he didn’t seem to recognize them). When they van stopped along the road through Regent Park a fight almost broke out as there were fewer bagged lunches than there were people; it was quite the experience that really drove home the severity of life on the streets. The other groups also had an eye-opening experience realizing that many of these people were simply normal people who lost their jobs and didn’t have money to pay their bills. One man we met has only been without a job for three months, but his savings account ran dry and he gets a 40% penalty if he makes a withdrawal from his Retirement Fund; he said he thinks he has a job lined up as a truck driver.
- Those experiencing homelessness: This is a term they use up here rather than calling people homeless, because your home status shouldn’t define who you are. Pray for job opportunities and freedom from addictions.
- Immigrants: Toronto is one of the most attractive cities in the world for immigrants because of the very loose immigration laws. Pray for families as they experience culture shock while trying to find jobs. Many who held prestigious positions and have advanced degrees in their home countries find themselves unable to get jobs here.
- Many people with money in power in Toronto are completely oblivious to many of the problems across the street from them. We were taken down a few streets where prostitution, human trafficking, and even child prostitution take place late at night. We were told about a Christian ministry which rescues people who are trapped in the sex industry. This is a serious and ugly reality that many people would rather not recognize. Pray, pray, pray.
- Pray for our team as we learn about the different cultures we are engaging with (especially the culture of the families of the children we are tutoring).