ILMC: Potter's Place
We have had some great opportunities to partner with organizations throughout the lower mainland. We wanted to share a little bit about one of them - Potter's Place Mission - and what they are about. We were there at the end of March serving a meal and hosting a service. We've asked our very own Ceilidh Dobbie to share some of her experience with Potter's.
I’ve lived in Langley my entire life. For me it was a relatively safe place to live and learn and hide away from the chaos and brokenness of the rest of the world. It wasn’t until I was eight years old that I realized there was chaos and brokenness in my own “backyard”, the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. I remember very clearly during a drive into the city, when my fight or flight response kicked in and I locked the car doors and closed the backseat windows. We had only been on the road for thirty-five minutes but it felt like I was in a new, and fiercely intimidating world. Through the protection of the car window I saw people huddled together, disheveled, cold, dirty, different and unpredictable. Different, and unpredictable. For some reason in my mind this meant unsafe. Unfortunately (but thank goodness eventually), it took me ten years to figure out how wrong I was.
What I initially pictured when I thought about the Downtown Eastside was addiction and profound poverty. What I’ve learned to see the Downtown Eastside as, is people and community. So often people (myself included) assign, and fear labels: Drug addicts, prostitutes, pimps, convicts, and gang members, but neglect to see what’s behind them: people with stories, people with souls. I have heard many of their stories and connected with these souls through small organization downtown called Potter’s Place Mission.
I gotten to know some of the crew at City Collective through completely different avenues, but as has been the case for much of their early days they came upon it by “chance”. Needless to say, I was excited when I heard that they were supporting what was going on at Potter’s.
Potter’s Place Mission is a church, soup kitchen, community, and refuge for the people on the Downtown Eastside. Potter’s provides tangible opportunities for the people on the Downtown Eastside to come together, and be loved. Not only do they invite people to two church and meal services every day, but their community housing doors are also open to people seeking a safe place for recovery and transition from a life of using. The people of Potter’s recognize the impact of poverty on the Downtown Eastside and the need for restoration. They connect to people by creating trust, fellowship, and worship within the walls of the mission, and the streets of Vancouver. My days volunteering there consisted of walking the streets with fresh fruit and coffee for the homeless community between services, handing out long stem roses for the sex workers, and prayer for all.
The very first night service I attended I was told to place myself at the front door to welcome people in and also help with security. I thought this was hilarious. Me? A naïve, scared little Langley girl on security duty? Okay God…if you say so. I marched away from the kitchen at the back (where I was most comfortable), to the doors that enter directly onto East Hastings Street. It was busy and people starting filing in. A man came in, and just like myself, it was his first time at Potter’s Place. For privacy sake, let’s call him Robert. Robert and I shared our testimonies that night with each other. He told me he hadn’t been to church in thirty years because he was afraid and felt unworthy of stepping into a church and being in presence of the Lord. I asked him why he decided to come in tonight after such a long hiatus, and he said that when he saw me, he knew it was safe to come in because I looked like his daughter. Robert had been waiting for a sign of confirmation to come clean from using and reach out to his daughter again – and seeing me was that sign. He knew his first step was walking into Potter’s Place that night. Now the security guard thing made sense.
We laughed together, shared a meal together, and prayed together; the ordinary moments that defined us that night I will forever cherish.I had a choice to see the labels (drug addict, convict, gang member, homeless, HIV positive, violent) or to see Robert. I chose Robert. He went into the hospital that night after the service. I don’t know if Robert is still alive, I don’t know if He is still on the Downtown Eastside, I don’t even know if He ever reconnected with his daughter– all I know is that Robert prayed for forgiveness and salvation that night in Potter’s Place, and my own perspective was forever changed. My time with Robert led me to see the Downtown Eastside as a place filled with profound generosity, vulnerability, hope and resilience.
I love that the growing community at City Collective is passionate about learning from the people at Potter’s Place Mission and on the Downtown Eastside. The way that Potter’s Place loves and serves is radical. They are quick to share the gospel and stories of Jesus through word and deed. They literally wash the feet of the people, who by the rest of the world’s standards are deemed unclean and unworthy. This is our privilege, to serve alongside them, see past labels, and welcome people like Robert who walk through the doors. We pray that no matter where we are, our community is characterized by Christ and sees the beauty of people, listens their stories, and loves them first. I love that we embrace and rejoice in the paradox that the people God loves are both unpredictable and different - and there is freedom not fear in that reality. The act of kneeling down on the floor to wash the feet of a child of God is a simple gesture of love and kindness, but communicates so much more. A hope that with God, you are forgiven, clean, and accepted. Radical and humble love creates space for people to discover life in Jesus. And for many that is the first step in finding hope and freedom! And I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE seeing that happen!