The School of Mercy and Justice

Over the last year, we have spent much time in conversation about our Vineyard School of Justice (VSOJ), and about what God may be inviting us into this next season. In short, we sense his pleasure over the VSOJ these past four years – that it has accomplished what it was intended to – and that God is doing something new.

Today, in partnership with Sustainable Faith (the organization that facilitates the School of Spiritual Direction), we are very excited to announce a new school: The School of Mercy and Justice (SOMJ)! Our first cohorts will be this October in Winnipeg and Montreal.

Below, you’ll find a reflection on the VSOJ, the vision of the SOMJ, an overview of the new school curriculum, and tuition and registration information.

APPLY FOR THE SCHOOL OF MERCY AND JUSTICE


Reflection: The Vineyard School of Justice

The end of March, 2017 marked the completion of our fourth school since rebooting the VSOJ in the fall of 2013. As people have set aside six months to pursue what it means to love God and their neighbour in the contexts of poverty and injustice, God has done remarkable things. Here are a few highlights over the last four years (Video Reviews of Each School):

  • 21 total students
  • 12 women & 9 men
  • 2 students from the Vineyard in Montreal
  • 11 students who were street-involved / at risk of homelessness
  • All 5 students in the 2014-2015 school year were street-involved / at risk of homelessness
  • 7 Indigenous students
  • 18 – 63 years: student age range
  • 2 trips to the Himalayan Region Vineyards in Nepal (including visits to every Vineyard church; 1 Nepali VSOJ; and several gatherings/meetings with leaders)
  • 1 intern (Natalie Hamm) who served for a year, then became a leader the next year
  • 1 practicum student last year (Tara Glowacki)
  • 569 “likes” (and counting!) on Facebook
  • We established an articulation agreement with Vineyard Institute (VI) whereby our students could receive credit towards VI programs and certificates

The SOJ’s exposure has grown over the last years. As director of the school, Suhail has been invited to speak about the program / justice / compassion at various gatherings including:

As a result of CauseCon, 7 people (5 students and 2 leaders) from the Heroic Leadership Institute in Duluth came to spend a week with us.

VSOJ class of 2015.

Vision: The School of Mercy and Justice

The SOMJ involves three main changes from the VSOJ.

  • The school will be modular (5 modules, each 2 days, with a particular theme) as opposed to the format of the VSOJ (which was 5 days a week, for 6 months). Modular learning is more in line with trends in modern education and will also allow those who are working or studying to access the program and participate more easily.
  • The school will more intentionally focus on joining the contemplative and active life. The SOMJ offers participants an immersive, integrated, and robust spiritual formation for those who desire to cultivate a deep life with God and engage in the work of mercy and justice in the world. To use Ignatian language, we envision the school as training for those who desire to live as “contemplatives in action.” We want to facilitate joy, purpose, and wholeness in people and churches as they seek to embody mercy and justice in the manner and Spirit of Jesus; that the beauty and good news of the Kingdom may increasingly come to those our world considers “poor.”
  • The school will be an official Sustainable Faith school; it will not be a WCV ministry as the VSOJ was. Sustainable Faith’s Schools of Spiritual Direction comprise the largest spiritual direction training in North America (26 locations, 23 teachers, around 250 students / year, and around 800 students in the last eight to nine years). The organization is increasingly well-known and trusted. Being connected to and overseen by Sustainable Faith will:
    • give the SOMJ greater exposure and credibility. This will likely encourage greater engagement (more students), which will likely precipitate greater breadth (more schools).
    • allow possibilities for the SOMJ to scale and expand beyond WCV, thereby contributing to the spiritual formation of a broader scope of people and churches.
    • relieve WCV of significant administrative responsibilities. Sustainable Faith will administrate all details related to web presence, student applications, and tuition payments.

Who is Involved?

The Winnipeg cohort will be led by Suhail Stephen and Natalie Hamm; the Montreal cohort will be led by Erin O’Neill and Matte Downey.

From left to right: Natalie, Erin, Suhail

Matte

Natalie grew up in Steinbach, Manitoba. She has been a part of the Vineyard since moving to Winnipeg in 2013 where she lived at Flatlanders Inn (a ministry of Winnipeg Centre Vineyard that is an intentional community and place for those at risk of homelessness to get their feet back under them) for one year while also attending the Vineyard School of Justice. Upon completing the school, she spent nine months working with the Himalayan Region Vineyard churches in Nepal and IndiaSince returning to Winnipeg she has lived and worked at House of Hesed (a transitional community for those living with HIV/AIDS), spent two years interning and leading the Vineyard School of Justice, and completed Sustainable Faith’s School of Spiritual Direction. Natalie loves to run, read, bake, and always has at least one knitting project on the go.

Erin is from Quebec and currently lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba, where she is part of the Winnipeg Centre Vineyard. She graduated from the Vineyard School of Justice in 2016, and completed her first year of Sustainable Faith’s School of Spiritual Direction in 2017. She resides and has interned at Flatlanders Inn. She has a Master of Occupational Therapy from the Université de Sherbrooke, and presently works with seniors in long-term care.

Suhail is from India, grew up as a missionary kid, and has lived in a total of seven countries. He currently serves on staff at the Winnipeg Centre Vineyard (WCV) as pastor of the Drop-In (street parish ministry), directed the Vineyard School of Justice for four years, and now directs the School of Mercy and Justice. He has been part of the Vineyard since 2001 and prior to WCV, was part of and led worship at Trinity Vineyard Christian Fellowship in St. Charles, Illinois, and at Kowloon City Vineyard in Hong Kong. He has a B.A in English Literature and Philosophy from Wheaton College and an M.A in Community Leadership and Philanthropy Studies from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He recently completed Sustainable Faith’s School of Spiritual Direction. He and his wife, Jennifer, met at WCV, have been married almost three years, and are expecting their first child this September!

Matte lives in Montreal, Quebec where being an English-speaking, Protestant, white female makes her a minority (and she is good with that). She has a B.Th. in Biblical Studies, an M.A. in Theological Studies, and a Ph.D. in Humanities (Theology/Theatre). She has taught in the Theological Studies Department at Concordia University and is currently an adjunct lecturer at Threshold School of Ministry in Saint John, New Brunswick. She co-hosts The Imaginators Podcast which features conversations on creativity and faith and has presented her work (both theological and theatrical) in conferences near and far. She and her husband, Dean, pastor the Vineyard Montreal Church, and you can find her blog at outword.blogspot.ca.


Overview: The School of Mercy and Justice

Through the combined experience of learning together through teaching and discussion, reading superb literature, film, engaging in individual and group activities and reflection, receiving spiritual direction, and practicing spiritual disciplines — all in a communal setting — students will grow in embodying the contemplative, missional life.

Module Themes and Dates

There are five modules, each two days, with a particular theme:

  • Module 1: The Story of Our Life and The Life of Christ
    • Sharing “sacred stories” of personal experiences with mercy and justice; an overview of the life of Jesus through the lens of action and contemplation.
  • Module 2: Compassion and Grief
    • Encountering the God who sees, feels, and responds to our suffering; grieving loss and the power of lament in sustaining a soul’s work in mercy and justice.
  • Module 3: Humility and Power
    • Encountering the God who “empties himself” and welcoming his upside-down Kingdom; invitations to poverty and simplicity.
  • Module 4: Mercy and Justice
    • Responding to people’s immediate needs and addressing systemic/structural issues; discerning vocation in mercy and justice.
  • Module 5: Rhythm and Rule
    • Arranging life for wholeness and spiritual transformation; crafting a rule of life that embodies the rhythms of action and contemplation.

Each module is from 9:00am – 5:00pm, Fridays and Saturdays.   

  • Winnipeg, Canada (location TBD)
    Oct. 27- 28, 2017
    Dec. 8 – 9, 2017
    Feb. 9 – 10, 2018
    Apr. 13 – 14, 2018
    June 8 – 9, 2018
  • Montreal, Canada (location TBD)
    Nov. 3 – 4, 2017
    Dec. 15 – 16, 2017
    Feb. 16 – 17, 2018
    Apr. 20 – 21, 2018
    June 15 – 16, 2018

Requirements

  • Readings (12)
    • Approximately two books per module, with a pace of about a book a month.
  • Activities (8)
    • We are not solely or even primarily thinking beings; much of what actually forms us are the activities with which we engage our bodies. As such, participants will undertake certain activities with a view to more fully encountering God and his heart of mercy and justice in and amongst those who are considered “poor.”
  • Receiving spiritual direction (minimum 6 sessions)
    • Spiritual direction encourages you to rest from doing, and be reflective; to notice, savour, and respond to the presence, voice, and activity of God. This is especially important in mercy and justice work, where needs and issues always seem urgent, ubiquitous, and inexhaustible.
    • Introducing Spiritual Direction [PDF]
  • Practicing spiritual disciplines
    • Each participant selects one to two spiritual disciplines to engage in more deeply over the course of each module.
  • General reports (4)
    • Before each module, you’ll post a one to two page report in which you:
      • share the current circumstances of your own life and spiritual journey
      • reflect on your experience of the readings and activities, receiving direction, and practicing spiritual disciplines
      • answer one or two specific questions related to the module
      • submit any question(s) you’d like to discuss in the upcoming module

Tuition

    • $900 USD (CAD ~ $1,211.40)
    • Note: The above figure does not include books or meals (lunches).
    • A $200 USD (CAD ~ $269.20) deposit secures your place.
    • You can either pay the remaining $700 USD (CAD ~$ 942.20) up front or in monthly instalments throughout the duration of the school.
    • You will be invoiced directly from Sustainable Faith.
    • There is an additional US $40 (CAD ~ $93) fee to cover debit/credit card charges incurred by the school. This charge can be avoided by using Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT); tuition invoices will provide details regarding this.
    • Note: Given that Sustainable Faith establishes tuition in US$, all above fees in CAD$ are approximate. Amounts in CAD$ may fluctuate based on currency exchange rates with the US$.

Who is the School for?

You do not have to be part of the Vineyard to be part of the school. The SOMJ is open to pastors, church leaders, and laypeople alike, and is geared to serve not just one denomination or church tradition, but the larger body of Christ. The training is Christocentric and guides people to embrace the entirety of the life of Christ in terms of his priorities of solitude and prayer, and of engagement and ministry.

    • Note: Each school will typically have no more than 12 students.

Application and Deadlines

October 1, 2017: Registration due
October 8, 2017: $200 USD (CAD ~ $269.20) deposit due to secure your place

    • We encourage you to apply as soon as you can as spaces may fill up.
    • Once we receive your application, we will get in touch with you for an interview and provide deposit/payment information.
    • The link below will take you to Sustainable Faith’s website. Please select the appropriate location (Winnipeg or Montreal), and then fill in your personal information.
    • APPLY FOR THE SCHOOL OF MERCY AND JUSTICE

Traveling to Standing Rock 

by Chloe, Jessica, and Amanda

This coming weekend (November 10-13) we are traveling to Standing Rock Sioux Nation to join water protectors who are resisting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. We are going because we can feel that the Spirit is moving there, and we want to join in that movement. We are going because we want to acknowledge the humanity of the Oceti Sakowin (Sioux Nation) and their right to life. We are going because we want to honor treaties, in this case the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie. We are going because we want to stand against the continuing colonization that exploits Indigenous people and Creation. We are going because Indigenous leaders asked us to “come, with prayerful intention, rooted in love, for the sacredness of water and place.” We are going.

There are plenty of resources online for more information, one we recommend people check out is groundworkforchange.org.

Please support the people and the planet through prayer. You can also offer financial or material support by contacting us before November 10.  We are collecting high quality winter gear (sleeping bags, warm clothes, tents, etc.) and are happy to do pick-ups.  At any point you can contact Manitoba Energy Justice Coalition to get involved, offer support, or learn more.

Vineyard School of Justice 2016-2017 Begins!

The Vineyard School of Justice 2016-2017 has begun! We are excited about the five students God has brought us this year: Karen Merkel-Kopp, Doreen Daniels, Eric Robertson, Dominic Mwaura, and Ray Sanford. Dominic and Ray will be with us for the fall semester as they completed the spring semester last year; the other three will be with us for the entire school year.

We are also thrilled to have Natalie Hamm and Tara Glowacki involved this year. Natalie will be serving as a leader in the school after being a leadership intern last year. And as part of her theological studies, Tara will spend some of her time as a practicum student in WCV with the school.


The Vineyard School of Justice is a unique, six month program designed to foster a passion for loving God and loving your neighbour (especially those society deems “least”). The school facilitates a unique environment where those who are street-involved and those who are not, come together, learn side by side, and encounter Jesus and his kingdom of justice.

Please pray for our school and especially our students in their journey over the next few months.

For more information:
Vineyard School of Justice
School Facebook Page

logotwentytene2

Fragrance of Justice Audio

20 years ago, we hosted a watershed event.  It was a conference called the Fragrance of Justice.  John Wimber, in what was to become one of his last conferences he did before he passed, as well as Jackie Pullinger and David Ruis were the primary speakers.  There are some real gems in the teaching.  They’re great for summer listening, road trips, etc!

>>Get the audio here.

School of Justice in Nepal (Part Four – earthquake edition)

This is the final installment in a four-part series on the Vineyard School of Justice trip to the Himalayan Region Vineyard Churches in Nepal.


Unshakable Amidst Earthquakes

The spiritual vitality in the HRV defies the logic of the earthquakes and their aftermath. During our time, everywhere we went, we witnessed and experienced resilient, radical trust in God’s faithful presence, love, and power. There are some features of faith which are only discovered with experience, and the people in the HRV know what it means to place their hope fully in Jesus. Our time with these precious people reminds me of the Psalmist’s words in Psalm 46, words which the Holy Spirit – in some mysterious way amidst the shaking of the earth – has written indelibly on the hearts of the people in the HRV.

God is our refuge and strength
    an ever-present help in trouble
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea
though its waters roar and foam
    and the mountains quake with their surging

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God
    the holy place where the Most High dwells
God is within her, she will not fall
    God will help her at break of day
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall
    he lifts his voice, the earth melts

The Lord Almighty is with us
    the God of Jacob is our fortress


Video and Photographs

Below, Pastor Uddav Thapa of Chhampi Vineyard describes his experience in the earthquake. Beneath the video, there are several photographs highlighting some of the earthquake realities we witnessed first hand.


School of Justice in Nepal (Part Three)

This is the third installment in a four-part series on the Vineyard School of Justice trip to the Himalayan Region Vineyard Churches in Nepal. Read Part One and Part Two.


NESSING

IMG_2338.jpg

Unlike Gatlang, Nessing is a mountain village without road access. With Pastor Prem’s brother as our guide, we trekked for two hours through the mountains to get to Nessing from Gatlang.

Serving in Nessing

Pastor Raju and Suresh Tolange (worship leader and intern) from Kathmandu Vineyard had spent several weeks in Nessing prior to our arrival. They had been rebuilding homes, befriending villagers and learning their language (Tamang), and facilitating gatherings at the Vineyard to encourage people in Jesus. Of the approximately 70 homes in Nessing, around 50 of them are believers, with a few people getting baptized just days before we arrived. It was a joy to see Pastor Raju, Suresh, and Pastor Kunni (pastor of Nessing Vineyard).

IMG_2388.jpg

Suresh plays guitar outside Nessing Vineyard

Pastor Raju took us for a brief walk around Nessing and we especially enjoyed hanging out at the far end of the village, with its stunning mountain views. That evening, the Vineyard was screening “The Passion of the Christ” and many people came to watch. We had supper and eventually went to bed, sleeping on the floor of Nessing Vineyard.

IMG_2339.jpg

View of “neighbouring” village from Nessing

Saturday Service

The next morning was a gorgeous Saturday morning, with clear views of the Himalayas. People began trickling into the Vineyard in their very best traditional clothing and eventually the Vineyard was packed with people for the morning service. Suresh led worship and the people poured themselves into it, filling the room with singing. Nessing Vineyard was commissioning several new leaders and I had the great privilege of praying for and blessing them.

I preached on the story of Jesus’ interaction with Bartimaeus, how Jesus asked “What do you want me to do for you?” At one point, I asked everyone how many of them had experienced Jesus healing them – nearly everyone raised their hand. People seemed to engage deeply in ministry time and several people expressed a desire to take the gospel outside the village and share Jesus beyond Nessing. It was so very inspiring; Nessing Vineyard is alive and on fire.

IMG_2425.jpg

Those raising their hands have experienced Jesus healing them

After the service, we took a group photograph and then trekked down two hours or so with Pastor Raju and Suresh to Syabrubesi, the normal point of origin for treks in the Langtang Valley. We met Sonam (who drove us everywhere during our time in Nepal) and our vehicle there and eventually arrived in Kathmandu late in the evening.


GORKHA

IMG_2479.jpg

Pastor Raju is from Gorkha and we travelled with him there for an overnight stay. Gorkha was the epicentre region of the earthquake; it’s about a six hour drive north-west of Kathmandu, south of the China border. Though many homes (including Pastor Raju’s parents’) were destroyed in the earthquake, thankfully the Vineyard building remained intact.

We stayed at the Gorkha Vineyard (some of us sleeping on the floor of the church and others in a tent outside) and Pastor Paul and Subadra (pastors of Gorkha Vineyard) took excellent care of us, providing us with great meals and gracious hospitality. Gorkha has a lot of fertile land and the food is all fresh, home grown, and organic.

Teaching and Training

Pastor Paul had invited people (as well as pastors from other churches) to come the next day for some teaching and training. I did three hours of teaching from the third and fourth chapters of Luke – on Jesus’ baptism, temptation, and the inauguration of his mission. Afterwards, everyone ate lunch together care of Gorkha Vineyard. We spent the evening relaxing and finished with another great meal at Pastor Paul and Subadra’s home. The next day, after lunch at Pastor Raju’s parents’, we drove back to Kathmandu.


REFLECTIONS

Words don’t do justice to all that we witnessed, experienced, and felt during our time in Nepal. Nonetheless, there were a few recurring themes our team discerned throughout the course of our activities.

First, the HRV excels in hospitality. One cannot possibly enumerate the cups of tea and snacks shared, the meals provided, the homes in which we were invited, and the plentiful ways we were not only welcomed but honoured. Right from the leadership to the very poorest of church members, the Vineyard in Nepal is an exemplary model of gracious, abundant hospitality. We were treated like close family everywhere we went, and it was overwhelming.

Second, there is a strong coherence of vision within the HRV. All of the Vineyard communities are deeply committed to worship, prayer, and outreach – these things are entirely non-negotiable. Worship and prayer were regular features of virtually every gathering or encounter in which we participated, regardless of whether we were in church services or at a farewell dinner. Jesus is welcomed, adored, and sought in every sphere of life.

IMG_2109.jpg

Wednesday morning prayer, Chhampi Vineyard

Outreach is also part and parcel of the way the gospel is lived out, regardless of the size or resources of the Vineyard church in question. Though Chhampi Vineyard, for example, takes in a weekly offering of around 250-400 rupees (around CAD$3-5), the church still reserves money for food hampers for Lugandol and visits the village faithfully every week. It is no wonder there is such growth in the HRV; the Vineyard churches go, and the sheer numbers of people who have experienced healing, deliverance, have come to faith, been baptized, and become part of the Vineyard is a testimony to this commitment.

IMG_2035.jpg

House visits and outreach in Chhampi

Third, there is high degree of strength and unity amongst the leadership. Pastors and leaders from various Vineyard churches, regardless of geographic distance, seem deeply connected in friendship. Leaders enjoy one another and there is a high degree of understanding, camaraderie, and teamwork amongst them. Perhaps this is in part a result of the earthquake, which required a uniquely concerted, unified effort on the part of the HRV leadership. Regardless of the exact reasons, it is obvious that the leadership is thriving.

Finally, there is a radical, obvious, and palpable passion for and faith in Jesus. You can sense this vitality in how people give their money during offerings and especially in times of worship, prayer, and ministry. Young children, youth, adults, and elders worship alike with abandon. During every occasion of prayer, people pray together in unison, with scarcely a bystander. There is significant engagement with and participation in ministry time, with people often streaming forward for prayer. There is real, prevalent belief that Jesus not only exists, but cares and acts in the here and now. And there is a beautiful sense of people being unashamed of Jesus, of people not being self-conscious in pursuing Jesus with everything they have. The Vineyard communities are alive and flourishing with faith.

School of Justice in Nepal (Part Two)

This is the second installment in a four-part series on the Vineyard School of Justice trip to the Himalayan Region Vineyard Churches in Nepal. Read Part One here.


CHHAMPI

IMG_2119.jpg

Chhampi is another village on the outskirts of Kathmandu, within an hour’s drive of the city. We visited the village twice – once for a two-day stay and another time just for the day.

House Visits

Shortly after our first visit, we hopped into our trusty vehicle and visited a few Vineyard people’s homes in the afternoon. Two years ago, we met a lady named Thuli Amma; she’s since become a leader in the Vineyard. Her house was completely destroyed by the earthquake. Her new home is beside her old one, and we drank tea together and listened to her tell her story of coming to believe in Jesus. After praying for her, we went to visit David Tamang, who was the first believer in the village and whose home used to serve as the meeting place for the Vineyard. The next day we visited Maila Dai and his wife in their home. We had a good time visiting and praying for people.

Accommodations and Service

Pastor Uddav and Puja are the leaders of Chhampi Vineyard. Their home was also completely destroyed by the earthquake. A Hindu family gave them and many others shelter – 40 people lived together in close quarters as they were waiting for their new homes to be built. Pastor Uddav says this was a blessing as it enabled him to really get to know the people of his village. Now, Pastor Uddav, Puja, and their baby girl Ulani, live in a tin structure that shares a wall with the Chhampi Vineyard. I stayed with them and Erin, Natalie, and Laura slept in the Chhampi Vineyard building.

IMG_1951.jpg

Puja, Uddav, Ulani, and Jenish (from left to right)

On our first evening in Chhampi, we had a great time worshipping together. There are several ladies who love to dance during worship and inevitably they pulled a few of us into worship. At one point, there were several of us dancing together before the Lord, and it was absolutely delightful. The four of us from the School of Justice shared on loving God and loving your neighbour. Once again, ministry time was remarkable, with a sweet sense of the Spirit touching and filling people with the love of God.

IMG_2076.jpg

Afterwards, several of us went to the shop at the junction of the village to enjoy some tea with truly fresh milk. It was heavenly! We then went back to Pastor Uddav and Puja’s home for dinner and, eventually, bedtime.

Lugandol

The next morning, after a great breakfast with Pastor Uddav and Puja, a group of people from Chhampi Vineyard gathered for prayer before outreach to a nearby village called Lugandol. Lugandol is about a thirty minute walk from Chhampi and, as of now, currently has no believers – it’s an entirely Hindu village. The Vineyard has been reaching out with food hampers, relationship, and prayer and we were excited to participate.

We saw wonderful things in Lugandol. After handing out food hampers the first time we visited, we met an elderly lady whose knees had been troublesome for quite some time. We prayed for her and when we asked her to try walking, she did a little jig and said that the pain was gone – she was completely healed.

We also heard that there was a man who was paralyzed on one side of his body, and were eager to pray for him. People told us not to waste our time as they believed he was going to die. His wife was fatigued from having to take care of him. When we saw him, he looked like a ghost of a person – totally weak and lifeless. Apparently he had not moved from his house in 30 days. As we greeted him, he had to lift one of his hands with the other to greet us back. We prayed for him and after the first round of prayer, asked how he was feeling. He was responding and talking to us, and we came to find out that since his paralysis he hadn’t been able to hear. Yet now, somehow, Jesus had opened his ears and he was hearing and talking!

This of course gave us more faith to pray that he’d be able to walk. We prayed for him again and afterwards, asked if we could help him up. He agreed and as we helped him, his legs were strong enough to walk to the other side of his home! After this episode, and before we visited the man a second time a week or so later, Pastor Uddav told us that the man was walking around the village. When we finally saw him for the second time, he was lying down in his home. Entirely on his own strength, he sat up, greeted us (this time with both hands functioning) and then proceeded to pick up the mat he was sitting on, walk outside with it, and sit down and visit with us. It was incredible to see him so filled with life. We saw Jesus heal a deaf, paralyzed man!

IMG_2569.jpg

The second time we visited Lugandol, we prayed for a woman whose right eye was totally blind and had been for years. She had visited doctors, who had told her there was nothing they could do for her. As we prayed for her, she said she could see flickers of light and said that she now had confidence that she would be able to completely see. God’s presence was strong upon this lady as we prayed for her. We also prayed for a woman who described feeling “thorns” all over her body. Pastor Ramesh felt that this was a result of all the spiritual practices going on in her home – the lady’s husband is a witch doctor. We prayed for her and as we did, her husband joined us, so we asked him if we could pray for him too and he agreed! He said he had pain “from the gods” on his head and legs on occasion, so we laid hands on him and prayed. As we were doing so, he said the pain was moving from one leg to the other. We prayed that Jesus would reveal himself to the witch doctor as the one, true God. Afterward, the man looked brighter and more joyful. Lugandol was a special place for us indeed.


GATLANG

IMG_2292.jpg

View of Gatlang (the small collection of homes)

From Kathmandu, we drove around eight hours to Gatlang, a traditional mountain village in Rasuwa district which is near the Tibet border. The drive through the mountains is at once beautiful and treacherous, requiring some death-defying driving which Sonam (on staff at Kathmandu Vineyard, and our driver) handled expertly.

Our small, wooden guest house had quite a view of Lantang Lirung, the highest mountain in the Langtang Himal range. Even though Nepal is full of hills and mountains, seeing the Himalayas is always uniquely breathtaking. We met Pastor Prem and two other leaders from Gatlang Vineyard, enjoyed some tea together, and then turned in for the night after finding (and killing) around eight spiders in our rooms!

Post-Earthquake Devastation

The next morning Pastor Prem met us for breakfast at the guest house, after which he took us to visit various people from the Vineyard. We sat in their homes and prayed for them. The devastation and discouragement wrought by the earthquake was the most obvious here of all the places we visited. The rubble of stone houses is ubiquitous and though no one from the Vineyard here (or anywhere in the HRV for that matter) died during the earthquake, virtually everyone’s home in Gatlang was destroyed. This includes Pastor Prem’s home, his family’s, and the youth leader’s. In fact, all that remains of the old Vineyard building is one isolated, mint-green wall. The Vineyard is now meeting in a make-shift wood and tin structure. We felt for Pastor Prem and the congregation.

Lemba

Perhaps one of our most special interactions was with a man named Lemba. Lemba is unable to speak and has trouble seeing through one eye. His parents passed away and their graves are side by side on his property; he lives alone. He is part of the Gatlang Vineyard and Pastor Prem told us that he is one of their strongest believers, regularly praying for people for healing. He radiated the joy and light of Jesus. He was thrilled to welcome us into his home and seemed so pleased that we had visited. We prayed for him and afterwards, he excitedly showed us various fruit trees on his property. Pastor Prem told us that he wanted us to return to eat the fruit in season.

IMG_2238.jpg

We finished our time in Gatlang at Pastor Prem’s home, having tea, talking, and praying with the family.

IMG_2261.jpg

School of Justice in Nepal (Part One)

In May 2016, a little over a year after the devastating earthquakes in Nepal, four of us (Laura Dahl, Erin O’Neill, myself, Natalie Hamm, pictured above) from the Vineyard School of Justice travelled to Nepal to be with the Himalayan Region Vineyard churches there. This is the first installment of what will be a four part report.

There are currently six established Vineyard churches in Nepal – in Kathmandu, Kotgaon, Chhampi, Gatlang, Nessing, and Gorkha. Our team visited all six churches, which is a particularly special feat given geographic considerations – it takes an eight hour drive from Kathmandu followed by a two hour trek in the mountains to get to the Vineyard in Nessing, for example.

KATHMANDU

“The Mother Church”

One of the first things you notice when you arrive at Kathmandu Vineyard is that it’s a complex. There’s a large sanctuary where the Saturday service (Sunday is a work day in Nepal) and other meetings take place, a spacious courtyard in the centre of the premises, and an assortment of rooms surrounding the courtyard.

Children who live in outlying Nepali villages frequently have insufficient access to education; some also experience unstable family situations. As a result, the Vineyard has faithfully taken in children over the years, providing them with a place to live and a healthy family environment, and facilitating their education. One of the joys of staying at Kathmandu Vineyard is being able to live and interact with these children. Though people refer to Kathmandu Vineyard as “the mother church” because it’s the biggest, oldest Vineyard in the HRV and serves as hub, the phrase is also an apt description of practical ways the community promotes the wellbeing of children.

IMG_1717.jpg

The courtyard at Kathmandu Vineyard

Wednesday Prayer Meeting

Wednesday is a day of prayer and fasting and since our first full day was a Wednesday, we joined the prayer meeting. It began to rain as we started. During worship, a woman began to manifest a demon – engaging with these sorts of realities is a common occurrence in the HRV. The leaders told us that they’d been praying for this woman to be free. Several of us gathered around and prayed for her, rebuking the evil spirit in the name of Jesus and hearing it retort (in Nepali) things like “I’m not going to leave!” and “She belongs to me!” Eventually, the woman reported some respite and peace, though she sensed that she needed more prayer to be completely free. A few weeks later, one leader told me that she had since been totally freed.

Moments such as these are good reminders – especially for those of us entrenched in a Western cultural mindset – that we struggle against “powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil” (Ephesians 6:12). Being a kingdom people committed to the Lord Jesus Christ and to bringing his rule and reign everywhere inevitably puts us in conflict with the enemy’s schemes. Few things so poignantly illustrate the reality of this conflict (and ultimately the supremacy of Jesus and his kingdom) like deliverance from demonic oppression.

Saturday Services, Youth, House Fellowship

We attended two services at Kathmandu Vineyard. The first was “combined” – every first Saturday of the month, Kathmandu Vineyard hosts the Vineyard communities from Kotgaon and Chhampi (both villages are within an hour’s drive). The second service was a normal gathering with just the Kathmandu Vineyard community.

Though the former was more packed with people, both were equally electric. I have been with the HRV several times, and I am always undone by the sheer vitality of the worship and prayer. The passion and zeal with which people pursue Jesus is almost palpable. This is no doubt a testimony to the fact that so many have come to faith because of personal experiences of healing or deliverance. Such experiences render Jesus as real and as far as I can tell, the earthquake has in no way diminished people’s passion and zeal.

I preached at the two services: first on the story of Jesus raising Lazarus in John 11 and second on the story of Jesus healing a man with leprosy in Luke 5. On both occasions, many people came forward for ministry – it was awesome, to say the least. After the combined service, four people got baptized, which was a wonderful way to end our gathering together.

After the services, everyone mingles in the courtyard and enjoys juice or tea together. Several smaller gatherings follow – for fathers, mothers, youth etc. Natalie and Erin shared at the youth fellowship on the first and last Saturday we were in Nepal, respectively.

We also attended a house fellowship one evening. The host family has the farthest commute to Kathmandu Vineyard of anyone in the congregation. Natalie, Erin, and Laura shared spectacularly on women and the importance of women in ministry. As we were about to close in prayer, the family asked that we would pray for their son. He was traveling home from India and the family had not heard from him in a week. As we began to pray, the mother burst into tears – how unimaginable the torment of not knowing your own child’s whereabouts. Amazingly, the son got in touch two days later!

IMG_2559.jpg

House fellowship

Outreach

The exciting, beautiful things that happen within the walls of Kathmandu Vineyard are but one facet of the community’s life. A great deal happens outside, as a result of the leaders’ faithful commitment to go and share the love of Jesus with those on the margins.

Once a week, a group from Kathmandu Vineyard visits the so-called “riverbed” – a crowded slum alongside the highly polluted Bagmati River. There is quite a long, beautiful history of connection. Recently, the Vineyard began visiting a different part of the riverbed where people haven’t heard the gospel. The Vineyard provided a water tank so that those living in the area could access clean water.

We went to the riverbed one Monday afternoon, handed out food hampers, met with people in their make-shift shelters, and prayed for whatever needs arose as a result.

IMG_1921

Riverbed

Afterwards, we visited several single mothers who are part of Kathmandu Vineyard. Single mothers are often heavily stigmatized in Nepali culture, not to mention impoverished, so it’s entirely fitting for the church to make a bee-line for them and surround them with compassion and support. The Vineyard has provided seed money to many of these women so that they can start small businesses (managing a little snack or vegetable cart, for example) with a view to becoming self-sufficient.

We visited one woman (Sushila Didi, a leader in Kathmandu Vineyard who was in our School of Justice two years ago) in her home. She lives in tiny quarters with her children, three floors up in a precarious building that is especially so after the earthquake. As we prayed for her, she felt the tangible warmth of God’s presence on her head. Afterwards, she brought out Sprite and snacks that she had especially bought to share with us.

IMG_1937

Precarious housing

During our time in Kathmandu, we also visited two men who were sick: one in hospital and one resting at home. Though the latter is a believer, he’s not part of the Vineyard. Both men are friends of leaders from the Vineyard, which is why we visited them. It was yet another great example of how the people in the Vineyard care for those outside their own walls and circles.


KOTGAON

IMG_1831.jpg

View from Kotgaon guest house

Raju and Amit

Kotgaon is a 200-year old village, about an hour’s drive from Kathmandu, and situated in the hills above the Kathmandu Valley. Two years ago, our Nepali School of Justice went to Kotgaon and prayed for a man, Raju, who hadn’t left his bed in weeks due to depression and physical ailments. That evening as we prayed, we saw Raju walk to the other side of his home and by the end of our time in Nepal, he was sitting in Kathmandu Vineyard during a combined service.

I have often thought of Raju and the experience as it was a profound window into the compassion and power of God. As our team drove towards Kotgaon this time, I asked about Raju and was told that he was doing well. Even more exciting, we were going to visit him.

Raju’s family home was entirely destroyed by the earthquake. His new home is replete with light and colour, as is his countenance, which is a stark contrast to the way he appeared that evening when we first met him two years ago. We sat and talked with him and his father, Amit, who loves praying for healing and has acquired quite a reputation in the village. Hindu neighbours bring him their sick animals (goats etc.) and as Amit lays hands on them and prays, they get healed! We prayed for and blessed his passion for healing and he had a tangible sense of God’s presence touching his body. A few of us received prayer from Amit and Raju afterwards. Interestingly, just as with the Kathmandu Vineyard prayer meeting, every time we started to pray, it began to rain! By the third or fourth time, we felt delighted at the realization that the natural was somehow speaking of the invisible.

IMG_1738.jpg

Outside Raju and Amit’s new home

Water

We stayed for two days and one night in Kotgaon, at a guesthouse with a spectacular view of the Kathmandu Valley. During the days, Pastor Madan (pastor of Kotgaon Vineyard) took us around the village. Given its location, Kotgaon is in desperate need of water; Pastor Madan is involved with a drilling project and drilling was to commence the day after our arrival. He took us to the prospective drilling site and we prayed that water would be found and that somehow, even as the rains had come whenever we prayed earlier, that God would provide water for the village. We later found out that the project had successfully found water 300 feet deep into the mountain! The village is still in need of financing for all the associated costs of the water project.

Services

Pastor Madan arranged two special mid-week services at Kotgaon Vineyard for us to do some teaching and ministry. At one service, I shared on the story of Jesus forgiving and healing the paralyzed man who was lowered through the roof. At another service, Natalie shared on the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well; how Jesus gives and is living water. On both occasions, many people came forward for ministry and we had a chance to lay hands on and pray for lots of people. The Spirit was moving deeply, and it was particularly humbling to see people – some very elderly and hardly able to walk – respond to the invitation to receive forgiveness by coming forward and falling to their knees. These people then prayed for others who were responding to the invitation to receive healing. What a touching glimpse of the kingdom.

Meals

We were shown such remarkable hospitality in Kotgaon. A Vineyard family prepared a wonderful dinner for us in their home, we were invited to breakfast at another lady’s home (the first believer in the village, in fact!), and had a fantastic lunch at Pastor Madan’s house on our last day.

Within and Without

We are thrilled about the release of our brand new worship album “Within and Without!” The album features 12 original songs from our community and is digitally released and distributed worldwide by Vineyard Worship Canada.

CD Sales

CDs are $15 and payment can be made by cash, cheque, or credit card. You can purchase the album at any of our Sunday services or by visiting our church office during office hours (Tuesday 9am – 5pm, Wednesday 9am – 3pm, Thursday 9am – 5pm).  You can also download a digital copy via iTunes.

Tracklist

01. Glorious One (written by Sherry Ansloos)
02. On and On (written by Sherry Ansloos)
03. Needing You (written by Jocelyn Armbruster)
04. Come Alive (written by Sonya Braun)
05. You Are With Us (written by Suhail Stephen)
06. Let Worship and Justice Kiss (written by Suhail Stephen)
07. We Dare to Believe (written by Krista Heide)
08. One Heart, One Mind (written by Nathan Rieger)
09. Prodigal Son (written by Nathan Rieger)
10. You’re Right Here (written by Stephanie Woelke)
11. Worthy is the Lamb (written by Sherry Ansloos)
12. Christ as a Light (written by Brian James)

Information

The phrase “within and without” is part of a Celtic prayer that we have used frequently at WCV and Flatlanders (the prayer also comprises the words of one of the songs on the album). The Celtic prayer is itself adapted from another famous prayer written around 430 A.D called St. Patrick’s Breastplate.

In the Celtic prayer, the old English phrase “within and without” refers to a cry for Christ to immerse and surround the entirety of life – what’s going on inside and what’s going on outside. This inside/outside dynamic embodies the core values of worship and justice at WCV and how we long for both these values to “kiss” and have equal expression in the life of our community.

We long to love Jesus with all of our heart, mind, and strength, and we long to love our neighbours as we love ourselves. The two are entirely inseparable. We care about following, adoring, and cultivating intimacy with Jesus, and we care about mercy, compassion, and justice relative to those Jesus identifies with – those considered “least” in our world. We want Christ and his kingdom to permeate every aspect of our lives; to be a people who are always seeking to love God and others, within and without. The songs on the album reflect these defining impulses of our community.

Vineyard Global Family Reflection


During the week of July 6 -10, three of us from Winnipeg Centre Vineyard, along with our dear friend Noel Isaacs from the Himalayan Region Vineyard churches, attended the Vineyard USA National Conference in Columbus, Ohio. This was no ordinary national conference, however, as Vineyard people from around the world were invited to participate in a “rich, intentional ‘family reunion’ [to] celebrate our roots, calling, and destiny together.”

The conference was hosted at the immense premises of Vineyard Columbus and within minutes of arriving I met a person from Turkey, another from Kenya, and (as if that beggars belief) still another from Ohio. Our movement is comprised of over 2,400 churches in 75 countries worldwide; amazingly, around 60 countries were represented at the conference.

It’s easy to focus on what God is doing within our local faith communities, but amidst a palette of people from many tribes, tongues, and nations, I was again reminded that we are part of something far greater that God is doing across the earth. It is humbling when the limitlessness of his kingdom becomes visible and it is particularly inspiring to realize that we have Vineyard brothers and sisters – propelled with similar vision – from so vast an expanse. We are far from alone. Even more, despite our geographic and cultural diversity, there was a palpable sense of togetherness and camaraderie amongst us throughout the conference. It really felt as if we had known each other for ages. We are a closely knit family, growing closer still and, as was said frequently during the week, we are “better together.”


11692556_10152868319630653_5648584928305223063_n


Worship

Each session began with worship and the first time we sang together, we sang in Swahili! Every worship time featured a pair of different worship leaders as well as an additional language to English. This was a wonderful testimony to the diversity of our movement. Add to this our gifted worship leaders, the sound of thousands of us singing our hearts out to God, and a lovely sense of Jesus’ presence as he inhabited our praises and it’s little wonder that our times of worship were so spectacular. Worship is such a hallmark of the Vineyard and at our gatherings it was both obvious and encouraging to see (and hear!) how deeply it characterizes us.


There were several meetings alongside the main sessions, one of which was a worship leader lunch. Several hundred worship leaders gathered in the gymnasium and after lunch, David Ruis shared a few reflections on simple devotion to Jesus. He asked us to open our hands and invited the Spirit to come and as we did, it began to rain outside. There was something refreshing, even magical, about the room being silent except for the sound of rain. Somehow, it feels as if a new spring of worship is upon us! We so desperately need God’s life and presence to rejuvenate us, to fill us with new creativity and artistry, and to sustain our hearts as we go on to lead others in worship. May we always remember that we are first worshippers and lovers of Jesus whom, by some grace, he’s invited and entrusted to serve in worship in our communities.


The Kingdom of God

We are also a kingdom people – bristling with an expectancy that the glory of God’s kingdom can break into the present at any moment and all the while steadied by the notion that its fullness – when all things are made new – is yet to come. In the midst of worship one evening we laid hands on and prayed for all those who needed healing. In the midst of worship on the last evening, David Ruis and Noel Isaacs led us in a very powerful time of crying out and interceding for our family in the Himalayan region devastated by the earthquake. We celebrate healing and empathize with suffering, and our worship rightly featured both. May we continue to faithfully hold this important kingdom tension.


“Come, Holy Spirit” and Everyone Can Play

I was overjoyed with the many ministry time opportunities throughout the week as we gave space and time for the Holy Spirit to do what only he can do. It was especially encouraging to see hundreds upon hundreds of people receiving prayer, and hundreds upon hundreds of people praying for them. There was no sense of elite ministry personnel; rather in true Vineyard fashion, we were all invited to participate. Without doubt, the Spirit was gracious in his power, presence, and gifts during these times and I believe God touched many people in deep and significant ways.

11174988_10152879855965653_8841686056008415277_n


Teaching

The teaching was superb and featured a variety of speakers from around the world (Brazil, Zambia, and South Africa to name a few). John and Eleanor Mumford – National Directors of the UK and Ireland – began the first session, with the latter giving an articulate and impassioned portrait of our distinctive Vineyard values. If anyone was on the fence about whether they’d like to be part of this thing or not, her talk would’ve surely tipped the balance! The next morning, Rich Nathan – pastor of Vineyard Columbus – provided a truly fantastic outline of Jesus-centred leadership and its expression in the Vineyard.

11692546_10152866298050653_1208136847020108375_n 11046575_10152867069385653_8831339683318366853_n


Reconciliation

An especially poignant talk was by Rev. Dr. Charles A. Montgomery, who shared brilliantly about the kingdom being a place where dividing walls of hostility come down. Against the backdrop of recent incidences in Charleston and Ferguson highlighting racial division in America, and coming from an African-American preacher who vulnerably shared his own journey in racial reconciliation, it was incredible to hear such a clear, prophetic call towards being people who prioritize following Jesus above mere cultural allegiance.

11667334_10152870918715653_3820219945114661832_n

It was a stirring talk, understandably received with a standing ovation. Martin Buehlmann – who along with his wife serve as National Directors in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland – had both the sensitivity and maturity to forego his planned talk (scheduled immediately afterward) in place of facilitating a time of reconciliation, saying “We have to respond.”

11659503_10152871008165653_4730083389241592489_n

There was a sober call for any who felt particularly convicted of racism to come forward for prayer. People trickled forward and as they did, they too received a standing ovation. After this, several people groups – African Americans, Africans, and Indigenous people from around the world – were called forward as others – on behalf of their own groups – asked for forgiveness for being disrespectful, judgmental, and exclusive. Words do not do justice to the weight of the moment, which is perhaps why Phil Strout – National Director of the USA – described what was happening as a “kairos moment.” Suffice to say it was a sweet, profoundly moving kingdom moment in the conference – perhaps even a watershed one.


Justice

Nathan and I attended a Vineyard Justice Network (VJN) breakfast, where around 130 people who are either interested or involved in justice-related work in their churches gathered to fellowship and network. I was one of two peopled asked to briefly share about the personal meaningfulness of the VJN summit two years ago in Chicago. I spoke about how the summit helped enlarge vision for drop-in – not that we would simply have a more efficient, effective ministry, but that we would also have an eye on what it would take to eventually close down. In other words, what would we need to do to end poverty in our neighbourhood?

I also attended a Vineyard Educators and Trainers forum where, in light of our recent articulation agreement with Vineyard Institute, I shared about the vision of the Vineyard School of Justice. I met with other leaders of Vineyard discipleship schools including Heroic Leadership Institute and School of Kingdom Ministry and it was fun to brainstorm about what collaboration might look like.

Both these gatherings were helpful in terms of connecting with and learning from other people involved in justice and education, as well as enhancing exposure about what we do at WCV and in the SOJ.


At the very least, a family reunion ought to evoke joy for those who participate – joy in actually gathering together and a kind of rejuvenated, subsequent joy in being associated with one another.

The Vineyard is not the only movement in the world. It is not even the coolest or best. Nonetheless, it is a movement of God’s making. I loved being with our people during the conference and couldn’t be more thrilled to be part of the Vineyard Global Family. May we continue to be a people of joy, loving each other well and bringing delight to our Father.


To hear audio from the sessions as well as to order DVDs of the conference, visit Vineyard Resources.


2014-2015 Vineyard School of Justice Graduation

After six months of learning in the Vineyard School of Justice, we had the privilege of celebrating our four students this past Monday evening with a moving graduation ceremony. Below you can see the year-end video screened in their honour, read Suhail’s (the director of the school) commencement address, as well as the pieces read for each student prior to their receipt of their graduation certificate. It was a thrilling and celebratory evening, and we finished with photographs, cake, and some delicious punch! Congratulations Shawn, George, Cora, and Brad – the best is yet to come!


YEAR END VIDEO


COMMENCEMENT ADDRESS

In 2006, the BBC Natural History Unit premiered an 11-part television series narrated by David Attenborough called “Planet Earth.” The series was five years in the making, was the most expensive ever to be commissioned by the BBC, and was the first of its kind to be filmed in high definition. The result is a truly incomparable cinematic feat – both in terms of its global scope and its unparalleled footage of animals in their natural habitat.

The first episode surveys several locations across the planet, and happens to include my favourite segment in the entire series: the Kalahari desert in Southern Africa. Covering a surface of red sand of almost a million square kilometers in Botswana and Namibia, the Kalahari gets its name from two Tswana words meaning “the great thirst” and “a waterless place.” These descriptions thoroughly characterize the experience of a vast array of animals that inhabit the Kalahari.

During the height of the dry season, thousands of elephants embark on a journey hundreds of miles towards a vast inland area called the Okavango valley. The journey is arduous, exhausting, long, but the animals are propelled by a desperate thirst, as well as by the prospect of water. Water, you see – and all the life it holds – is its own motivation and reward.

But technically, water isn’t in the Okavango. It falls around a thousand miles away in the highlands of Angola and nearly five months later, after coursing, bending, and turning its way through the African landscape, it arrives in the valley, transforming the Kalahari into – as David Attenborough says – “a fertile paradise [and] a lush waterworld.” My favourite scene in the episode, let alone the series, is an underwater perspective of a particular animal moving through a newly formed Okavango lake. It’s an elephant, and all you see is its legs – once so coarse, dry, and cracked from miles of walking through the Kalahari – now paddling, swimming, and playing in billows of bubbles and water.

This year’s Vineyard School of Justice reminds me of this Kalahari tale: of the Okavango becoming an oasis, of deserts becoming pools, of the deepest thirst mingling with a steady stream of hope.

You see our neighbourhood, the North End, though brimming with life of all kinds, is so often also a desert. Economic disadvantage and poverty, coupled with the absence of major grocery stores, profoundly limits access to healthy, affordable, and fresh food. In their lives prior to school and even during their time in school, this year’s students have had to navigate the challenges of this “food desert” in one way or another. They’ve also all experienced their own wastelands of loneliness, suffered the desolations of charred families and relationships, and faced the cold, hard facts of trauma which flung them to the comfort of addiction, only to find it a disappointing mirage. They know, in the very marrow of their bones, the meaning of the Tswana words: they understand great thirst and they’re familiar with a waterless place.

Yet it is precisely in this kind of desert that thirst becomes real. And it was this real thirst – especially for belonging, for justice, for God – paired with some vague hope of satisfaction that drew our four graduates to the School of Justice this year.

You – students of this year’s school – have been the most noble of travelers. You heard the voice of one calling to you in the wilderness, and you responded. This year you have especially journeyed – often through the dirt, dust, and cobwebs of injustice behind, around, and within you – to move closer to this voice because you believe from it springs the words of life. I deeply admire your courage, belief, your faith even – you have demonstrated a stunning certainty about what you hope for and a surprising sureness about what you cannot see.

You have defied the expectations of your own histories – which are in so many ways filled with deserts in their own right – but you have also defied the expectations of our society. You have studied and lived contrary to what people think is possible, recognizing that you were made for more than what your environment claims and, in fact, that God – the creator – made you. And together you have been on a radical journey to recognize Him everywhere and to invite his kingdom into every traveler and desert till His glory covers the earth as waters cover the sea.

But yours is not the only journey to speak of this evening.

A few thousand years ago, in the highlands of Bethlehem, God – the fountain of living water and life itself – trickled into humanity as a baby in an animal feeding trough. This birth inaugurated ripples of a kingdom which would swell and surge around Palestine, and eventually spill into the ends of the earth.

It has been such a joy to see both journeys come together this year: to see the heights of heaven flow to the depths of your thirst; to see Jesus and his kingdom run into and overwhelm your shore, flooding your lives and transforming so many of the dry parts of your hearts into reservoirs of love, faith, and compassion. In so doing, heaven has come to earth; Eden has moved a little more into the North End; and you now know even more what satisfaction feels like. We call all of this justice – one of God’s deepest desires and greatest works – and together we have felt its power, healing, and delightfulness first hand.

I am so proud of you. For not giving up, for coming back when you left, for sharing when it hurt, for taking risks of faith and stepping onto water, for finishing well. And I am proud to have had you as my teachers and guides. My life is fuller because of you, and I thank you for trusting me and sharing yourselves so generously with me. All of us here this evening celebrate you and your achievements – many of which cannot be spoken of, much less listed. Nonetheless, it is obvious that you are different people – you have encountered God and become more like him – and we know that the Spirit has written on each of your hearts in ways that are too deep for words to express.

Tonight we find ourselves in peculiar moment. On one hand, we reflect on several months of excellent learning; on the other hand, we look forward to how all of this will translate into real living. With both hands we thank and praise God, who is and will be faithful to complete the good work that He has started in you. You are finishing one thing, and you are also beginning another. You see there are many more thirsty people out there, waiting to be satisfied – orphans, widows, brothers and sisters who are impoverished, marginalised, abused, addicted, prostituted, homeless, hungry, lonely.

Listen to what Isaiah 41:17-20 says:

“The poor and needy search for water,
but there is none;
their tongues are parched with thirst.
But I the Lord will answer them;
I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them.
18 I will make rivers flow on barren heights,
and springs within the valleys.
I will turn the desert into pools of water,
and the parched ground into springs.
19 I will put in the desert
the cedar and the acacia, the myrtle and the olive.
I will set junipers in the wasteland,
the fir and the cypress together,
20 so that people may see and know,
may consider and understand,
that the hand of the Lord has done this,
that the Holy One of Israel has created it.

This evening we bless you to be God’s answers; his very own rivers of justice sent from the creator to the lowliest and most desolate of places and flowing like a never-ending stream. We bless you to know what is good and what the Lord requires of you: to love mercy and walk humbly with God into the desert, flooding it with the rain of his kingdom and his Spirit. We bless you to especially notice and love parched people, that through you they might taste and see that the Lord is good. And we bless you to go into the unlikeliest of places, even right here into our very own neighbourhood, and to invite as many as you can to drink of living water and, ultimately, to paddle and splash in an impossible pool of God’s joy. Just as you have. Just like elephants in the Okavango.


PRESENTATION OF GRADUATION CERTIFICATES

The prospect of being in the school of justice so captivated this student’s heart that he decided to enrol months prior to the beginning of this year’s program. Even more, each month he would diligently set aside a portion of his Employment Income Assistance money to cover his school fees. He was the first confirmed participant of our program this year. A few weeks before we started, his mother – whom he loves so very dearly – passed away. Understanding his need for safety, support, and family, she encouraged him to continue with school as planned; she sensed that he was in good hands here with us. She was right. But we were in good hands with him too; the school would not have been the same without him. We have been blessed by his selflessness and service – he often prepares coffee before class, rolls cigarettes and shares them with his classmates, and even walks them home. Though understandably tempted to isolate himself, he has remained faithful to God, his classmates, to school, and to his mother’s wishes. And in great courage and bravery he has stepped far outside of his comfort zone, and flourished. Tonight, here and now, all of heaven is celebrating and says: “This is my son, whom I love, in whom I am well pleased.” Thank you for showing us what faithfulness that reaches to the skies looks like. George Matiowsky.

The real value of education is not what one can recite but how one’s life is transformed. The system labelled this student as being unable to process information normally. During our unit called “A Just Vision” on the importance of seeing people not issues, this student walked home and saw a man who was idling on the street. Though he would’ve normally judged the man – thinking he ought to be working rather than simply collecting welfare money – this student took a moment to see deeply, with the eyes of Jesus. He saw that the man was missing a foot and felt compassion and empathy for him. This student’s vision has changed dramatically throughout the course of this year, and he sees God much more clearly. In desperate times he has called out to Jesus and has seen God come through miraculously for him. On one occasion he was praying desperately for provision and at that very moment twenty dollars floated across the pavement. Now he sees the fingerprints of the creator on the lives of others and, perhaps most miraculously, even on his own life. It’s no wonder that he gets lost in worship and prayer, with eyes closed and hands raised in praise and thanksgiving to the God who saves. Thank you for showing us that that anyone who is in Christ is a new creation; the old is gone and the new has come. Bradley Morand.

With a sparkling intelligence, an avid curiosity, and a genuine openness to others, this student’s presence in the school was a true gift. She – and there was only one she this year – made class enjoyable with her consistent participation and enthusiasm about what we were learning. She is one of the most hospitable and transparent people you will ever meet – sharing her thoughts and feelings with great generosity of spirit. She makes others feel like gold because she easily recognizes people’s strengths and goodness, and doesn’t hesitate to affirm, encourage, and celebrate them. She cares. About the world. About justice. About people. About her family. About her children. She cares with a gentle ferocity and though it may not be loud and flashy, she will be with you through thick and thin, in humble companionship. This student has a very deep, profound desire for God, and it has been a joy to watch the Spirit lavishly pour himself upon her and to see how sensitive she is to even his most subtle whispers and movements. She is a woman full of faith in God who will not turn her back on what she knows and believes despite the many obstacles and challenges that may come her way. Thank you for showing us that in quietness and trust there is strength. Coralynn Stevenson.

This student has been a familiar fixture of Winnipeg Centre Vineyard. His hands have many times scrubbed and cleaned the very floor of this room. He has facilitated worship here in more ways than we can express. Even more, he loves and worships God with a rare, precious kind of honesty. He never pretends, he’s real about who he is and what he thinks, and is always honest about what’s going on and how he’s feeling. During the first weekly debrief of the school, he entrusted us with the most vulnerable story of his life and, by example, set the stage for the true community and sharing that has so characterized our school this year. He has consistently faced his demons and let Christ get the better of him, and he has been overtaken with the new life of the kingdom. Though he thought he was unable to feel emotion, his heart has beaten faster and faster to God’s drum. The Spirit came upon him powerfully during school, reducing him to tears, and subsequently motivating him to pray for around 30 people the following Sunday. Two weeks ago, we wrote letters to those persecuted for their faith, and in his letter to a Christian in prison in China, this student wrote “I wish I could trade places with you.” Thank you for showing us what it looks like to be the kind of worshipper the Father is seeking, one who worships in Spirit and in truth. Shawn Wood.