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 entrée 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”.