Ministry looks for safer parking after buses torched

WINNIPEG, MB - This isn't the first time vandals have targeted Living Bible Explorers' school buses, but the latest attack is definitely the worst.

George Hill, the inner city ministry's general manager, says he isn't angry at whoever set fire to LBE's three school buses on the night of May 11 by stuffing a lit rag down one of their gas tanks. He just wishes the culprits would start coming to Living Bible Explorers' (LBE) programs instead.

Police don't know who started the fire, but Hill says he's pretty certain it was teenage troublemakers from the inner city - wannabe gangsters who don't like the fact that LBE tries to steer youth away from gang life.

The only people who have a problem with LBE in Winnipeg are these pseudo gangs, says Hill. "We don't have incidents with adults."

The diesel buses were completely destroyed, but things could have been worse.

"They could have taken out a couple of houses nearby if they had been gasoline buses," says Hill. He figures the danger-loving youngsters were hoping to see the buses explode all over the parking lot like they do in the movies.

"The point is, the neighbourhood was safe," he says.

In the past teens have spray painted the buses with derogatory slogans like "bums go to LBE to eat food." It's a way of intimidating children who come to LBE, says Hill. The organization tries to divert youth from the gang life with Bible-based teaching and fun activities.

Hill made sure the buses were towed away before any of the children who come to LBE saw them. "Our concern was to calm the children's hearts," he says. "It would be traumatic for them to see the burnt out buses."

Altogether the three buses were worth about $25,000. Fortunately they were insured. Hill says Christian ministries working in inner city Winnipeg are quick to help each other out. Faith Academy is renting three buses to LBE until they're able to replace their own.

Hill is keeping his eyes peeled for good deals on three full-sized school buses. He's also looking for a warehouse or secure lot to park them in. The parking lot on Burnell Street where the buses were burned doesn't have a fence and is a marketplace for drugs and prostitution, according to Hill. "At night the area attracts another life."

Before January LBE parked its buses in a local warehouse. They had to move them when someone else leased the warehouse space. The ministry can't afford to lease a warehouse of its own, so Hill is hoping to find secure parking at a reduced rate somewhere. LBE won't be using the next-door parking lot anymore.

Maintaining a fleet of school buses is a major expense, says Hill, but the busing ministry is an important part of what LBE does. Each bus picks up about 50 children from a different part of the city and transports them to LBE programs on Saturday mornings and Sunday evenings. Many parents in the inner city don't have cars, and each bus has its own team of LBE staff who get to know the families of the children they pick up. On Saturday mornings the children get sandwiches for breakfast while the bus makes its rounds.

The buses also transport children to LBE's summer camp in St. Malo.

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