What do you think of when you hear the words ‘marginalized,’ ‘oppressed,’ or ‘vulnerable’? Is it starving children in Africa? Refugees living in a camp? Orphans and widows in the developing world? It’s easy to associate these words to these groups of people because it’s easier to think of them as “those people over there,” rather than “these people here.” In every group, in every community, there are always marginalized people.
As Navigators, we aim to find these people and help them feel loved, safe and valued. This is happening in every Navigator ministry across the country and beyond, such as those at the universities of Queen’s and Carleton.
The Ottawa Booth Centre, run by the Salvation Army, works to help vulnerable men and women living on the streets. In October 2013, the Booth Centre chaplain told the Carleton Navigators about how the centre had seen more and more young men coming out of prison who were now homeless and needed something to do. After a trial run in late October, a group of approximately eight Navigators began organizing weekly sports matches for between 10 and 20 participants. These matches began this past January and are currently ongoing.
Peter Van Dyck, now a fourth-year engineering student, has been responsible for organizing this outreach. He says one of the big lessons he’s learned has been that “something as small as playing soccer with these guys can mean something to them. There were five of them, they’d come every week, and they looked forward to it. It’s good to know that what we’re doing means something.”
Bruce Narbaitz, a member of the team that went in late October, posted the following after his experience:
Further to the south, in Kingston, Curtis Carmichael has been involved with nightlight, a drop-in centre for vulnerable, inner-city people to build meaningful relationships with volunteers from all over Kingston. Curtis, a receiver for the Queen’s Gaels football team and member of the Kingston Navigators group, has been involved with nightlight since January 2012. He says his time at nightlight has taught him the importance of looking past people’s problems and seeing them for who they are.
One of the men he’s developed a relationship with over the years has been a man named Andrew*. “We just talked about whatever he wanted to talk about. He had kind of an obsessive personality where he liked talking about certain things, like basketball, [and] we only ever talked about one basketball team and the same topics, so it felt kind of redundant.”
“Just recently this year, about a year and a half after meeting him, all we talk about is God, every time we see each other. It’s crazy how God has used our relationship, because at first, I’m like ‘I have no clue if we’re going to talk about life, ever.’ But now he’s big in my faith journey, he encourages me and he knows a lot about my life, personally, and there’s a lot of huge stuff I know about him as well.”
Seeing beyond the illness
“The cool thing is how I’ve developed a mentality where I see beyond his illness. If I didn’t know him, the way society would look at him and go, ‘Oh, that guy has a problem.’ That’s how they usually classify people and put people in boxes. But I feel like, after a while, you see beyond the illness and you actually know why the person is why the way they are. They’re no longer identified by whatever they’re suffering from. It’d be like, ‘Andrew is Andrew,’ not ‘this person with schizophrenia named Andrew.’ It switches your mentality.”
Curtis has also been involved in Mission Immersion, an intensive four-month program aimed at giving participants the knowledge and experiences necessary to seek out and help the marginalized and vulnerable in their communities. However, he also says he’s learned you can’t have an agenda when reaching out to people.
“At first I was confused because you still want to love people, to show people Jesus, but after dissecting that I can see how it plays out. As a Christian, I want everyone to experience the same love I experience, the same transformation I experienced, but that’s not the reason I’m talking to people. The reason I’m talking to people is that I want to spend time with them, learning about them and from them. You have, ‘the only reason I’m talking to you is I want to tell you something,’ versus ‘the reason I’m talking to you is because I care about you and I care about your life.'”