Saskatoon Action Reconnaissance 2003 By Chris Meehan

On July 29, nine people from six locations of the community gathered in Saskatoon, the site of our Saskatoon mission branch and the largest city in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan. We were on a reconnaissance trip for Action division, and our job was to collect as much information as we could about the aboriginal (Indian) people who live in the city, primarily on the west side. The Action program office wanted to determine what the needs were, and whether there was a a way the community could meet those  needs by making a special, intensive effort to build the kingdom of God, much as we’re attempting to do it in Shreveport.

Team members include Pat Murphy (Servant Branch), who was our leader, Kevin Daly (Servant Branch), Brea Delaplane (Rockford), Sharon Gouveia (Oahu), Mary Grams (Colorado Springs), Konrad Pawloski (northern Virginia), and Brian Meeks, Joan Pingel and me (South Bend).  Most of us didn’t know one another at all at the start of the trip, but we felt a strong camaraderie by the end. what comes to my mind as I consider the group are those goofy “survivor” TV shows, except that we grew in admiration and friendship  in Christ as we overcame the obstacles along our way, and we gained team members instead of losing them, as mission-branch members joined us for the work.

None of us had a good idea of what we were getting into at the start of the trip. In fact, our drive through the target area in the first few hours of our visit almost gave us a false impression. Most of the houses we drove by appeared to be in quite livable condition. That was a surprise to some of us who had been expecting the kind of homes we’d seen in pictures of Allendale, places which could use some obvious repairs. Later, as we listened to the voices of the neighbors and social workers in the area, a better, more accurate picture came to mind.

Misery and despair are the order of the day in those neighborhoods; poverty and suffering a daily experience. Drugs, gangs, prostitution and alcohol abuseseparately or in combinationtake their tollon the native population, and this situation is often met with apathy or, even worse, collusion on the part of the other residents. Old treaties which were intended to establish lasting peace between native peoples and other have instead caused lasting friction. Native peoples are relegated to the status of permanent and dependent victims, and this in turn fosters resentment among those who are now forced to pay for their ever-growing needs. It’s a tangled mess, causing many natives to live with suspicion and without dignity, while others are frustrated in their efforts to help. We found that children were particularly victims in the area, often running the streets after dark, served up as prostitutes or trained in petty burglary to make money for their parents or gangs to buy drugs or alcohol.

In short, it was a sobering trip. Only our faith in God and our confidence in the potentially transforming power of Christian community kept us from becoming downhearted as we faced so many troubles. Encouraging, too, was the dedication and perseverance of the many social workers and clergy we interviewed, with their optimism strengthened through years of service. For that matter, every time we looked into the hopeful eyes of aboriginal youngsters, we felt an urgent desire to do whatever we could for them.

Of course, who could be disheartened in the face of the consistent support of the members of the mission branch, who took particular joy in meeting our every need, from the moment we arrived to the moment we left? It appears that they put their personal lives on hold for those 10 days so they could cart us around, house us, feed us elaborate breakfasts, lunches, and dinners as well as host several parties, and, when they had the time, they joined us to learn what they could about their neighbors across town. Several mission branch members also knew people in the local religious and service communities who were of great help to us.

The more we spoke to the inhabitants of these neighborhoods and to those who are trying to help them, the more possibilities for service came to mind. On the other hand, great obstacles presented themselves as well. One interesting possibility occurred to us in the course of one of our several walk-throughs of the troubled neighborhoods. Three of our team members came upon some recent immigrants from Africa. These people were quite willing to talk with us about their situation. Although they had experienced quite a bit of help entering the country, they faced a variety of other needs in the  process of settling in. Another walk in a nearby area with a high number of immigrants confirmed that they could be a group of people who might benefit form our version of kingdom-building.

When we returned to our homes, we were exhausted but filled with a host of fond memories of our opportunity to do the Lord’s work. We submitted our reports to the Action program office, and are trusting that the Lord will show us as a community specifically where we can direct our efforts to build his kingdom.

  • Chris Meehan “Saskatoon Action Reconnaissance 2003” People of Praise Vine and Branches Vol. 19, No. 1-4 (Jan.-Apr., 2004) Used with permission.