Saturday, 8 December 2018

Wisdom from the Homeless - Neil Craton, M.D.

Lessons a Doctor Learned at a Homeless Shelter

About the Book:

Sometimes the world seems like a very dark place. In this angry world, I have seen a glimpse of light. I have seen kindness, love and hope at a homeless shelter. Siloam Mission is named after a pool where, in Biblical times, Jesus healed a blind man. In this tradition, the Mission has a medical clinic, and I have had the privilege of working there. The homeless men and women I have met at Siloam have taught me profound lessons about perseverance through suffering, expressing joy in dire circumstances, and the rewards of service to those in need. I want to share those lessons with you....


My Thoughts: 

Every once in a while a book comes along, that will stay with you, long after the last page has been read. Wisdom from the Homeless, is that kind of book for me. No doubt, the poignant stories and striking photos gracing these pages will linger for a long time, perhaps even hauntingly. As well they should. We have so much that we can share with the less fortunate!

Another aspect that will linger is the passion and kindness of the people serving the patrons of Siloam Mission, especially those in the medical field. It can't be easy seeing so much pain, disease, addictions... knowing those patients are homeless. I can't imagine nursing my little aches and discomforts, without a clean bed in a warm home to rest in. By contrast, there are people dealing with serious health issues and are living on the street. 

After treating a man with a dangerous bacteria on a badly broken and infected wrist, which 'had been unattended for days', Dr. Craton emphasized it beautifully:  

"This man needed mercy not judgment. I tried to imagine that I held the hand of Jesus, and for me that transformed the moment into something transcendent. I was no longer fighting through the smell of glue and infection or trying to figure out how this man got here; I was meeting God." 

 I had to put the book down for a few minutes - it's difficult to read through tears. 

 I've volunteered at Siloam Mission and know that it's a life-changing experience. That's one of the reasons this book caught my attention. The other is, when the temperature dips to -25C and I'm snug and warm in my bed, I wonder how many are curled up in a cardboard box on the street. That alone has compelled me to reach out. I realize, what I do as a volunteer is minuscule in comparison to Dr. Craton's contribution. However, if we all do something, significant changes will ensue. "Little drops of water, little grains of sand, make the mighty ocean and the pleasant sand. - Julia A. F. Carney.

Woven into each story are Dr. Craton's candid accounts of self-reflections and lessons learned from the homeless. They're thought-provoking and beautiful and help make this such a powerful and heart-warming read: 

"I try to view the act of washing a homeless person’s feet in the context of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. For me, this changes the experience from something clinical, to something sacred."

"Pop (and my daughter) taught me a lesson I need to learn over and over again: that pride and fear can live side by side in my spirit, and both corrupt my expression of who I really am. Pride causes me to love myself more than others, and fear makes my neighbors enemies. Wisdom from the homeless."
If you've ever seen a homeless person, regardless if you've felt sympathy or less than empathetic, and have wondered what brought him/her to this point, you should read this book. It will cause you to pause, self-reflect, give you insights which you may not have otherwise and inspire you to help in some way.

My sincere thanks to Dr. Neil Craton for penning this powerful portrayal of homelessness and for sending me a complimentary e-copy in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Never-Fading Fingerprints

Our fingerprints don’t fade from the lives we touch.
                                                                       -Judy Blume

“You’re more than welcome to come and tour our facility!” concluded Candice, the Rural Liaison for Siloam Mission at the time. “We’ll gladly show you what we’re doing with the support of people like you.”   

For many years, Elm River Hutterite Colony – my community – has supported this homeless shelter in Winnipeg, but that day, I became involved on a personal level. Candice was visiting our colony to share about the work of Siloam Mission and offered to present to the children as well. I work in our school as a teacher, so I helped supervise during her presentation and expressed to our principal my enthusiasm for the proffered tour.

Accepting the invitation on behalf of the school, my younger sister, the principal arranged for the tour of and scheduled it as part of our annual field trip.

Founded in 1987, by Suk Woon Lee, a former penitentiary inmate, Siloam Mission is a faith-based, faith-operated organization. Their mission statement reads: A connecting point between the compassionate and Winnipeg’s less fortunate, Siloam Mission is a Christian humanitarian organization that alleviates hardships and provides opportunities for change for those affected by homelessness.

Together with board members and volunteers, Mr. Woon Lee established this inner-city ministry providing meals and counseling services. They believe that addressing homelessness is about meeting not only physical needs but also psychological and spiritual ones. By means of a spiritual care program, they provide an inclusive space for healing and growth for people of any faith or spiritual background, where they conduct two weekly Bible Study Sharing Circles for interested guests. 

Siloam Mission has expanded considerably over the years: Hannah’s Place, an emergency shelter on the second floor, opened its doors to 110 homeless men and women, providing a safe place for the night. An onsite Health Centre has been added as well, along with a Resource Centre dedicated to providing art therapy and computer training.   

During our tour, we learned that the late Dr. Saul Sair donated state-of-the-art equipment for a full dental lab, and a variety of dentists, hygienists and practicum students gladly volunteer their time.   In 2011 –  with the support of all three levels of government – The Madison was bought, then renovated and turned into supportive housing. Transition Services help guests move forward in their lives through goal setting, weekly meetings, supports and accountability. 

Today Siloam Mission has seventy employees and over the course of a year, five thousand volunteers offer their time and energy, serving in a variety of ways. Three times daily, four hundred and fifty meals are served.  The vast majority of the Mission’s funding comes from private donations, from individual people, businesses and Hutterite colonies. The remainder comes from the grants of foundations and charities, as well as all three levels of government.

On the day of our tour, Candice was joined by John, a Siloam Mission teacher, in showing us around.  I didn't know what to expect, but I was impressed by what we saw: classroom, kitchen, dining hall, fitness room, clinic, sleeping area, stocked storage rooms.... everything was clean, neat and ready for the patrons.

Most surprising and mesmerizing of everything we saw that day was the art room. Bright and spacious, it provided a place for patrons to practice their artistic skills and creative expression. Not only stocked with everything necessary for painting, it was graced with gorgeous completed paintings, as well as works-in-progress:  on tables, walls, easels, standing in the windows and even on the floor – all by Siloam Mission patrons – people who call this place home. It was deeply touching to learn that they were given this opportunity and taking advantage of it. 

“Some even sell their work as framed pictures or cards,” we were informed. It was easy to imagine how much this might mean to someone living on the street. Walking out of there, I knew I wanted one of those pretty paintings for my wall. A few weeks later I bought a lovely winter scene, which is now displayed in our home – a constant reminder of my visit to Siloam Mission and the importance of faithfully supporting places like it.  

Later that summer, when the kitchen at Siloam Mission was being renovated, we prepared and served one of the evening meals to hundreds of patrons: vegetable soup, ham sandwiches, salad and chocolate chip cookies. The kitchen was managed by an efficient, well-organized team and I thoroughly enjoyed working with them. Serving food to hundreds of people that day, I was reminded of these words from the prophet Jeremiah: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and hope”, Jeremiah 29:11.

My heart went out to these men and women whose smiles radiated gratitude as they took their plate and sat down. I know supplying basic needs is but the first step towards “a future and a hope”.  However, learning through our tour about changed lives and volunteering at the mission, I came away grateful that places like Siloam Mission exist, and that we have opportunities to serve in soup kitchens and homeless shelters. We have so much more than we need, that it was a poignant reminder of how much we take for granted. 

It’s one thing to have my Hutterite community offering financial support to places like Siloam Mission, but there’s nothing like personal involvement to enhance the meaning of our Lord’s teaching, And the King will say, “I tell you the truth: when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me,” Matthew 25:40.

In the past, Hutterites may not have seen themselves as obligated to contribute directly to places like urban homeless shelters or even soup kitchens, but after a century of life in Canada, it is becoming more of a reality and they are doing it with increasing frequency. At Siloam Mission, Hutterites lend a hand on numerous levels, in addition to financial donations:  preparing and serving meals, sorting clothing, sewing quilts, donating vegetables and other food items, and helping with renovation projects. 

There are probably several reasons for the shift in thinking which has inspired Hutterites to become more actively involved in altruistic outreach, including leaders who encourage it. It’s also the willingness of grass roots Hutterites to serve in that capacity, as well as seeing the value of sharing from their bounty and doing good beyond their own communities in response to the call, But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? 1 John 3:17.

 As a result of this involvement, Elm River received two tickets to Siloam Mission’s fundraising gala “Home for the Holidays” held at Winnipeg’s huge Convention Centre a few years ago. The invitation featured a quotation by American writer, Judy Blume Our fingerprints don’t fade from the lives we touch. What a simple, yet meaningful and memorable motto for people who support and work for places like Siloam Mission! Our colony responded to the invitation by buying additional tickets, so eight more people were able to attend. 

The Convention Centre banquet hall was spectacular – festive, elegant, sparkly. Upon arrival I stood for a few minutes to appreciate the splendor of the decked-out hall. Candle-lit tables were flawlessly set for a full-course meal. Each plate held a set of cards featuring art work by Siloam Mission patrons. The evening started out with a mocktail reception and delicious hors d’oeuvres, while a variety of groups, including the Silver Winds Colony choir entertained the guests. 

Then came the four-course dinner – the type where you are compelled to figure out which fork to pick up first. We started with button-mushroom, wild rice soup – hot and deliciously smooth. The second course included romaine lettuce salad with tomato and buffalo mozzarella, garnished with Crostini, eggplant chips and almonds, drizzled with fire-roasted red pepper vinaigrette. The entrĂ©e consisted of chicken roulade, bruschetta with pancetta, feta cheese and tomato sauce. For the final course we were served chai cheese cake topped with rich, creamy chocolate sauce. 

After the meal, we were treated to stories by people who experienced homelessness – heartbreaking accounts of individuals fleeing abusive relationships, struggling with addictions, or are dealing with mental illnesses. Through Siloam Mission they find food, shelter, hope and a renewed purpose to life. Many come away wishing to give back by helping others change their lives around. In this year’s annual report, one of the patrons stated it beautifully: “It’s only by God’s grace that I ended up at the doors of Siloam Mission. Now all I want to do is give back to the community that embraced me with open arms.”

 It was heart-warming and gratifying to learn about the Mission’s history, the goals and milestones that have been realized and the continuing dreams of management and staff, dreams that all of us can help make a reality. It served as a reminder of the constant needs at soup kitchens and shelters that can’t function without the support of caring contributors. 

Sadly, sleeping in a cardboard box and going hungry are the daily norms of so many around the world. I cannot imagine spending the night in a cardboard box during our harsh winters. Each winter, it seems, we hear of at least one homeless person freezing to death. Every year, too many women, men and children face the holiday season struggling with unemployment, poverty, homelessness and mental health issues. 

Together with Siloam Mission, we are blessed and honoured to leave never-fading fingerprints, spreading hope and love and joy, ensuring that these people can experience some measure of “Home for the Holidays”.

Saturday, 3 November 2018

Hutterite Heirloom Seeds - A Harvest of Memories

As long as the earth remains, there will be planting and harvest,
 cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night." Genesis 8:22

Nephew, Terrance helping with harvest
On a Hutterite colony, typically one couple is in charge of the vegetable garden. They’re the ones who decide what will be planted, when the garden needs weeding or produce is ready to be picked. For these tasks, the women’s work group and sometimes the men and older children will help as well. When it’s a smaller task, like digging a few boxes of carrots for the kitchen, the gardener couple will do it with a few Dienen, young women.

I have many happy memories of helping Josh Vetter and Kate Basel, my aunt and uncle, when they were the gardeners at our colony. One memorable autumn task for me is Fasielen dreschn, harvesting dry beans. We had combines, of course, but unlike today’s gardeners, Josh Vetter preferred the old way. 

“Girls, you can start pulling out the bean plants,” Kate Basel announced when we arrived at the garden. “Posst ober auf! Se sein zimblich truckn. Be careful they’re very dry.” The sun-dried, brittle beans sang their crackly harvest song as we worked. 

Using pitchforks, we placed the plants on one half of a huge tarp, then pulled the other half on top of the plants, completely covering them. With his little garden tractor, Josh Vetter drove back and forth on the tarp a few times. This broke the pods, so the beans fell out. After that, the tarp was lifted, the plants thrown out and the beans, plus a lot of plant bits and dirt poured into a huge container. “Who needs a combine, when we can thresh like this.” Josh Vetter quipped from his perch on his Farmall A. “Geat’s nit guet?” I agreed with my uncle, it was fun, because it was like stepping back into pioneer days.

Finally, it was time for the wind winnowing process, to separate the beans from the dirt. Kate Basel filled a dipper, held it high over a tub and slowly emptied it. The beans fell into the tub, while the chaff was blown away by the breeze. If there wasn’t any wind that day, a large fan worked just as well. 

Much as I enjoyed this process every September, the beans were of no significance to me. I didn’t enjoy eating them and certainly wasn’t aware that there was anything special about the variety we grew back then. I probably didn’t even know that there were numerous varieties. These beans were pale green with a distinct black rim around the eye. The ones we grow now are white and smaller in size. For the most part, we cook the beans and serve them with sausages. Left overs become pork and beans to be served with the fries at supper, or soup the next day.

These bean-memories were reawakened recently when I read an article by Sandra Fisher, titled Living Heirlooms, in the Fayetteville Observer, an online Iowa newspaper that landed in my inbox via my Google Alerts Hutterites setting. The blurb that caught my attention read, “Seeds which have been preserved keep people in touch with their ancestry and help retain history. Imagine a variety of fruit or vegetable that was so important to a family’s history or homeland that they would bring it with them when they immigrated to America. Such is the case with Greek melons, which were introduced in the early 20th century when Greek immigrants settled in Utah, and Hutterite Soup Beans, which came to North America in the 1870s by virtue of Hutterite Christians fleeing persecution in Europe.”
Bean Soup
 Intrigued, I sent a message to the author. She didn’t know much more than she had in her article, but suggested I contact the Seed Savers Exchange in Iowa. Upon researching via Google, I found a website that boasted: “Hutterite Soup Beans make a soup unlike any other bean.” Other websites described the soup from these beans as “rich, delicious and creamy”, and also have their origin in the bean’s description. 

Some, however, express doubt that the bean was brought to America by Hutterites in the 1870’s, since there is evidence of these beans being in North America before that. William Woys Weaver, an internationally known food historian, believes the bean is a Russian variety, known as China Yellow, and that, “The Hutterites could indeed, have brought the bean with them to Canada and the Dakotas”. The original strain was called Lemon Yellow, which “may indicate some crossing with a white variety, sometime in the past, perhaps to improve its quality as a soup bean.” 

Hutterite Soup Beans
I asked other Hutterites whether they ever heard of the heirloom beans. Few knew anything about them or had only a vague memory. However, one gardener couple has been growing them for a number of years, after buying a package from the Seed Savers Exchange. They were told that the beans cannot be bought in bulk. Therefore, they save some of their beans every year for seed – for their own use and to share with others. They kindly offered me some. I plan to offer them to our vegetable gardeners, in the hopes that we’ll start growing Hutterite Soup Beans once again. Only this time, I know the story behind them. 

As we celebrate Thanksgiving, I’m in awe that a late-nineteenth century Hutterite gardener had the faith and foresight – before crossing the Atlantic on the S. S. Hammonia – to tuck a bag of dry beans into his trunk. 

Over a hundred and forty years later, they are featured on national seed catalogue pages as heirloom seeds – registered Hutterite Soup Beans!