Gateway Community Church’s Extreme Weather Shelter started as a response to a call put out by the Abbotsford, B.C., community services in 2017. “When the ask came, we had to say yes,” said Marcel deRegt, pastor of Faith Formation at the Christian Reformed congregation in Abbotsford. “As a church, we could not turn down a request to help those who are less fortunate. We had no idea what we were getting into, and we are still learning everyday.”
Seven years in, continuing to serve as a place of refuge isn’t easy, but despite the challenges, Gateway remains committed to its choice to say “yes.”
The shelter runs from Nov. 1 to March 31 and is operated in partnership with BC Housing. It can accommodate 30 beds each night the shelter is open, though some nights as many as 50 people have used the space for shelter. As an extreme weather shelter, the space at Gateway church is open on evenings that are below freezing, or where there are any special weather advisories in place for the area.
Anyone entering the Gateway church building would notice the sheets of plywood replacing what had been panes of glass in a few of the entrance doors. DeRegt said, “We have been a little slow to repair the doors. I like the imagery that it creates. We live in a broken world that needs Jesus. Maybe these broken doors will stir some conversations, and thoughts as people walk past them on Sunday mornings.”
The broken doors occurred over a series of break-ins from Nov. 1 to mid-December. Most of the electronic equipment that was used for Kids Church programs was taken. While there have been previous break-ins to the church building, never has there been so many—three—in a short period of time.
Jenny VanderHeide, who has been coordinator of the shelter for the past six seasons, shares deRegt’s thoughts of what the paneled up doors might stir up for church attendees. Those involved in the shelter ministry might not see a broken door as a surprise, but people who have different expectations of the building’s purpose might have a different response seeing a broken window or door on Sunday morning. “It’s very easy to only see the negative from the outside, if you don’t see the changed lives, or hear how we are making a difference. I can see how that would lead to a dark place,” VanderHeide said.
Laura Nicole, who is in her first year as the shelter coordinator, has already experienced the inside view that VanderHeide referenced. Recently a shelter attendee died from an accidental overdose while at the shelter. “Yet, even in that, we have hope,” Nicole shared. “Earlier in the evening before Marvin had passed away, he had shared his story and testimony with some of the volunteers, expressing his faith in Jesus. Those are the stories that keep you going and give you confidence that we are making a difference in a dark world.”
Nicole, VanderHeide, and deRegt express a desire to persevere even in the face of break-ins and overdoses. “It can be tough,” said deRegt. “You often only hear only success stories. So, what do you do when it doesn’t always feel like a success? You bathe it in prayer.”
“No one here doubts we are doing the Lord’s work. We are in a broken world, and the challenges we are facing are a sure sign of that. Yet we have hope, for we know that this brokenness will one day be healed. If we can be agents of bringing that healing to those who need it most, then we must keep going.”
Despite some of the setbacks and difficulties, the buy-in from the congregation and greater community remains high, they said. Volunteers from Gateway and multiple other local churches have committed their time to ensure the shelter remains open.