My experience at Sanctuary was unlike any other I’ve had.
On the weekend of March 26th, my friend Nic and I drove from Kingston to Toronto for an urban mission experience at Sanctuary Church as part of our involvement with The Navigators’ Mission Immersion Project.
The Mission Immersion Project is a four-month program where we as participants seek to live life in a way that contributes positive change to the world. Through the program we become involved in local missional contexts (such as Nightlight Kingston, where I’m involved) and meet together weekly with others in our cities to study the Gospel of Luke, engage with the program’s curriculum and encourage one another as we discuss our missional experiences. We also travel for broader opportunities to see what mission looks like outside of our local contexts. This is where the urban mission experience at Sanctuary fits into the program.
We arrived during the church’s weekly coffee house, where the church band (led by Sanctuary founder Greg Paul) was playing as people mingled, ate food and talked together.
I was nervous at first, as I tend to be shy around new people. Once I got comfortable I started talking to a lot of people in the community. All of them had different personalities, came from different backgrounds and had different stories to tell - it was super awesome!
One of the community members prayed for me, and as they spoke, I could really feel the Lord in that moment. What struck me that night were the people dancing in front of the stage. They were being themselves, dancing freely and being who God created them to be. I have never seen anyone act so freely as these amazing people. This is what Sanctuary allows them to do.
Beauty is Redemption
The next day our team was split into four groups: Beauty, Compassion, Justice and Relationship. I was in the Beauty group. We went to a coffee shop to find beauty in the Bible and discuss what beauty meant to each of us. As a group, we had this breakthrough moment: beauty is redemption.
This idea became real for me when I looked out the window of the coffee house and saw a tree standing there. I really felt this image of a tree related well to Sanctuary and its community members. Many of those who come to Sanctuary have been torn down and hurt throughout their lives, but Jesus redeems them.
If a tree is cut down, it becomes broken and ugly. But over time, it grows back stronger and more beautiful. As it is with the tree, so it is with many who call the Sanctuary community home: they were beautiful before and they’re even more beautiful in their redemption.
Walking the Streets
Later that night, we split up into groups of two to walk around the northern part of Toronto’s downtown. As part of the exercise, our leaders challenged us to make eye contact with people as we walked, and think about a series of questions they had given us on a sheet of paper. We returned to Sanctuary close to midnight to talk about our walks, what we learned and what we saw.
I hadn’t been expecting anything to come of this walk, except maybe to see more people on the streets. I remember seeing someone lying on the bare concrete outside a bank. It’s not something you usually see in Kingston, where I’m from.
“Hello,” I said. She looked up at me with a smile from her place on the pavement.
“How are you?” I asked. She smiled and nodded. She had blue eyes. I love blue eyes, and knowing I had to find the beautiful in the broken I told her I loved her beautiful blue eyes. She smiled wider. I’m never going to forget that moment.
These experiences taught me a lot, but it wasn’t until a month after that I realized how much God had transformed me during this weekend at Sanctuary and changed my outlook on people and life.
I learned to stop judging people because I don’t know their story.
I learned to find beauty in everything, because if God created it, there has to be beauty in it.
I learned to listen to people, not to talk so much and really be a support system for everyone in my life.
I learned the importance of relationships, not only with my friends and family but with the people I meet on the street and at the Nightlight drop-in centre in Kingston.
I learned to love everyone and not to express hate.
I learned to be a more positive person and to avoid becoming negative by focusing on the positives in my life and finding them in everyday situations.
I learned to trust God more, knowing he loves me, and that he is only one I can completely rely on for my strength and courage. I can always put my life in his hands as I continue to pray and come closer in relationship with him.
I learned a lot from the community at Sanctuary. I heard many stories that broke my heart and many stories I had thought I would only read in news articles, not as first-hand accounts from the people who lived them. These amazing community members taught me a lot about how to be a family, how to love and how to cherish the people I have in my life.
I learned that people come and go, but God is forever.
I hope to one day go back to Sanctuary for a church service because their church services are like no other. You come as you are, who you are, from wherever you are and your life is cherished. You matter. Everyone matters and everyone deserves love – all you need is a willingness to give it.
I learned that although I make mistakes and even though others cannot always forgive me, God forgives and will give you as many chances as you need. No matter who you are or what you have done, he loves you. His everlasting love surrounds you and will never let you go.
This experience has been imprinted on my heart and mind forever. I will always be grateful to the people I met and the community I experienced during this weekend at Sanctuary.
Stephanie Maunder is a Geological Sciences and Engineering student at Queen's University in Kingston, ON. She is a weekend gymnastics coach and loves being out in nature, doing CrossFit and yoga. She has a desire to grow deeper in relationship with God and be a positive change in the world.