When an extreme weather advisory threatened people who live on the street, Gateway Christian Reformed Church in Abbotsford, B.C., stepped up to provide food and shelter for 25 people in its gym this past Christmas.
Abbotsford, a city of about 185,000, is in the “Bible Belt” of the Fraser Valley and has a registered homeless population of 160. The city’s three existing shelters provide meals but do not have sufficient beds; with the anticipation of an unusual cold snap, a mass email was sent out to the 150 area churches asking for help. Not one church responded.
However, when staff at Gateway were approached personally by an agency wanting to partner with them for use of their space they decided to open wide their doors. “We are a church. We have room. How can we say no?” asked Anthony Jansen, the church’s youth pastor.
Things happened quickly. On December 23 Gateway had 25 people sleeping in its gym. At 6:00 a.m. on Christmas morning, 25 members showed up to prepare breakfast for their guests. Members continue to drop off blankets, sleeping bags, socks and scarves, pots of soup, or chili and buns. The response has been overwhelming.
The church is located kilometers away from the city centre. “We may not be the closest church or the most convenient church for [people who are] homeless to come to, but they seem willing to walk here, take the taxi, or use the free bus system provided,” Jansen added.
Gateway’s mission is simple: Helping people to love and serve Jesus. “This fits directly with our mission,” said Jansen. “We hardly had time to sit in meetings and plan. We had to act and get it done.”
The blessing and encouragements are many. A guest shared that it was his first homeless Christmas; what he had thought would be the worst Christmas turned out to be really good because of the Christmas breakfast. A well-dressed woman knocked on the back door and quietly thanked Gateway staff, having heard that her daughter had spent a night there. Another guest said, “Please thank all the people of this church for opening up your doors at night. They may not know it, but you are saving the lives of people by giving us a warm place to sleep during this cold weather.”
Jansen’s own young daughters, Hailey and Jordyn, made cards, handed out candy canes, and continue to have lots of questions about the guests and their circumstances. “Dad, we should be honored that the [people who are] homeless are staying in our church,” said Hailey, age 7.
As the cold weather continues, Jansen said, “We are already having conversations about next winter. How can we do this better as we continue to help people love and serve Jesus?”