For one group of young people, a week spent in Vancouver, B.C., could very well be their summer 2017 highlight. But it wasn’t a week spent as tourists in one of the world’s most desirable cities. Vancouver SERVE 2017 was a partnership with Youth Unlimited, the parachurch organization that supports youth ministry in the Christian Reformed Church, and provided a week of community service for young people from three CRC congregations: The River Community CRC in Edmonton, Alta.; Sonrise CRC in Ponoka, Alta., and Willloughby CRC in Langley B.C.
The week, July 8 to 15, was hosted and planned by a team from Fleetwood CRC in Surrey, B.C., and First CRC in Vancouver, led by pastors Rev. Trevor Vanderveen and Rev. Julia Vanderveen. The visiting teens were welcomed at a Sunday morning service in the 70-year-old clapboard church building that served as headquarters for the week’s events. The small, long-established congregation is on the edge of the city’s east side and adjacent to a refugee welcome center.
The theme for all of Youth Unlimited’s 28 SERVE projects this summer is “authentic community.” Rev. Bruce Gritter, pastor at The River Community CRC who joined the trip as a leader, explained that the theme was developed with a two-fold focus. “First of all, to come together as a team so that we experience the kind of ‘authentic community’ that we can only experience in Christ. Second, to serve our neighbors and friends in the inner city of Vancouver passionately and unconditionally.”
Morning devotions, evening chapels and small group conversations gave shape to the team’s days. Hamish Parke, from the Willoughby group, was drawn to the two questions that they were challenged with during one of the first chapels: What is God doing in this neighborhood already and how might we be able to contribute?
The teens were invited to serve in a number of ways in the vicinity around the church, including spending time at Jacob’s Well, a center on East Hastings, a neighborhood of the city greatly affected by homelessness; doing yard work; cleaning up litter; and meeting children at the refugee welcome center. The experience had an impact on the team members and those they met. “We definitely felt the Spirit’s presence,” reflected Willoughby CRC’s youth pastor, Curtis Meliefste. “The Holy Spirit was right with us the whole way, while our actions were impacting the physical neighborhood and turning heads.”
The team took time to enjoy the city’s Stanley Park and the Sea to Sky gondola, north of the city. They also took in the more sobering and contrasting east side neighborhoods where the people without housing gather and sleep. Evenings were spent playing games, walking in the neighborhood and sharing stories of the day.
Throughout the week the team sang Sandra McCracken’s “We Will Feast in the House of Zion.” A line in the song summed up the experience for the team: “He has done great things, we will say together.”