Work with First Nations inspires CMU students

January 18, 2012 | Young Voices
Emily Loewen | Young Voices Co-editor

When Kelsey Enns started at the North End Family Centre, Winnipeg, he stood out from everyone else using the drop-in centre. So as a young white man serving at a facility that aims to develop healthy interpersonal relationships to combat the gang problem prevalent in the area and that serves mostly First Nations people, he was certainly obvious to the parents and grandparents who use the facility.

Enns, a member of Charleswood Mennonite Church, Winnipeg, worked at the centre for his work placement that is required of every student graduating from Canadian Mennonite University (CMU). He chose the centre because, of all the missions in the city, its size and ambitious goal of fighting gangs in the First Nations population stood out for him.

Bethany Abrahamson, a member of Christian Fellowship Church in Birch River, Man., was also very interested in working with aboriginal people. She spent the summer as program director at Steeprock Bay Bible Camp, Swan River, Man.

Both Enns and Abrahamson felt God’s call to serve within Manitoba’s First Nations communities and both remained connected to their work after their placements finished. They hope to further serve those groups going forward.

While he intended to serve the community, Enns found he also benefitted from the experience. The opportunity to hear stories from the people visiting the drop-in was a highlight for him. It took some patrons a while to open up to him, but once they did, he says, “I heard some stories about the residential schools and the experiences they’ve had with that.” He continues to volunteer at the centre once a week while he completes his final year of studies.

But the work also came with a set of challenges because of the difference in values. “There’s a bit of a culture shock when you go there, because some of the values that are held are very different than what you see in a suburban area,” Enns says. Many of the men believe in more traditional gender roles and people at the centre often relate to each other in sexual ways.

While Abrahamson worked with children, instead of adults, she, too, learned important lessons from her summer. She found her work got exhausting by the end of the week, the busy job of program director compounded by the high number of kids who either were diagnosed, or had symptoms of, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Often by Thursday she felt worn out, and realized that she had to delegate more tasks. “That was tough,” she says, “but I think it was probably good for me also just to recognize that I can’t do everything, and I have to let people step in and help me out sometimes.”

The work may have challenged them at times, but both Abrahamson and Enns believe their work and the programs themselves serve an important purpose.

“Most of [the kids] come from pretty rough reserves, and just giving them a chance to see that there are people out there who love God and who love them” makes it worthwhile, says Abrahamson. And in some ways the difficult work comes with more rewards than other camps, she says. “It’s exciting because you feel like you’re really making a difference and you’re really somebody different to them than what they’re used to.”

For Enns, the drop-in centre provides one way he can fulfill the call to demonstrate God’s love to the world close to home: “I think we view service work as something that’s done far away, but with this one it’s right in a very poor area of our own city that is neglected by a lot of people.”

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