Students say they are finding healing through the community at Vineyard School of Justice.

School of Justice encourages students to love “the least of these”

Inner-city discipleship program changing lives

This story originally appeared in the print edition of ChristianWeek. View it here.

WINNIPEG, MB—The Vineyard School of Justice is bringing together people from all walks of life to foster a love for people society would call “the least of these.” In the process students are learning to love themselves as well.

The school is a seven-month discipleship program based in the North End of Winnipeg where people from the streets learn alongside those who have never known homelessness. Together, students learn about God and explore social justice issues.

Along with learning in the classroom, school director Suhail Stephen says students participate in various justice-related activities outside the classroom. Stephen explains some students have panhandled before, and offer their story to help the others understand what it’s like. The students then try panhandling themselves to understand life on the street and see those who ask for money with empathy and compassion.

Students also take field trips to visit organizations like House of Hesed, a home for those living with HIV/AIDS, during a unit on justice and the love of God.

In addition to hands-on education in social justice, students say they are finding healing through the community at Vineyard School of Justice.

Patrick grew up as a residential school student. As a child he was physically and sexually abused and found solace from the pain through abusing substances.

“I hated the church. I hated what the church was. I hated the people in the church. I hated God. I hated myself. I hated everybody,” he says. “The only thing I didn’t hate was my addictions.”

Students try panhandling themselves to see those who ask for money with empathy and compassion.
Students try panhandling themselves to see those who ask for money with empathy and compassion.

After enrolling in Vineyard School of Justice, Patrick says he was forever changed after being exposed to the ministry and work of L’Arche Winnipeg, an organization working with people with intellectual disabilities. “I used to laugh at them,” he says. “But the love that they have for people, it was the best part of the year for me. Living on the streets I know what it’s like to have people look down on you and think you’re worth nothing.”

Unlike Patrick, fellow student Natalie grew up in a white, rural, upper-class family and was raised in the church. However, she says her experiences of loss and pain led to her own struggles.

“My childhood may have looked different [from Patrick’s] but we are all human. I lost my dad to depression and suicide which led into part of a struggle with an eating disorder that I battled for a few years,” says Natalie. It led her to wrestle with some deep questions.

“I have often had the thought to not give money [to panhandlers] but then looked at Scripture in Matthew where it says, ‘whatever you do unto these you do unto me.’ If Jesus was to ask me for money, wouldn’t I give Him everything?”

Kirby grew up on a native reserve where drug and alcohol addiction was a part of everyday life. He says he found God and the school because he slept behind the church one night and came in when he heard the music the next morning.

Students like Patrick, Natalie and Kirby range in age, gender, ethnicity, socio-economic standing, and marital status, but say they are finding community together. They are discovering justice starts with recognizing everyone has something to learn from each other.

“I can’t imagine having a school where different kinds of people were not welcome,” Stephen says. “That is what [God’s] Kingdom looks like, where all dividing walls get broken down.”

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About the author

ChristianWeek Western Correspondent