24-7 Communities: Vancouver 614

Vancouver 614

"They will rebuild the ancient ruins, repairing the cities destroyed long ago. They will revive them, though they have been deserted for many generations."

These words from Isaiah 61.4 have been the foundational scripture passage of our Salvation Army community, known as 614 Vancouver. It speaks about going back to places – cities in particular – that have been abandoned for generations, forgotten or ignored by the powers of this world. But it also speaks of great hope, and the possibility that those who have been oppressed, mourning, despairing and captive and now be those who rebuild, restore and renew. God made this promise to Israel originally, but we believe this same God wants to do the same things in our forgotten places, here and now.

We are a seven-year old Corps (church) plant of the Salvation Army. Even people within our denomination have a difficult time characterising us. We don't have meetings on Sunday, we don't play brass (well, maybe at Christmas) and we don't run a charity shop. All these things are fine, but we have chosen to focus our community around prayer, incarnational presence in our locality, joy and justice.

We've all moved into the Downtown Eastside, a neighbourhood which is considered by many to be a blight on an otherwise world-class city. But we don't see it that way. This is our home and these people are our neighbours. We have discovered great beauty, love and possibility on these mean streets. We run cell groups, small church fellowships in apartments, slum hotels, homeless shelters and local parks. We invite our friends and neighbours to come to learn and worship with us. We play, work and garden, raise families and live out a regular pattern of life here, as we fight for our neighbourhood. Huge forces and powers wish to see this place demolished, and its inhabitants moved elsewhere. We fight because the people we love are being left to die from AIDS, drugs overdoses, violence or just plain old poverty.

Most importantly, we pray. This is not separate from living, playing, working, teaching or fighting. It is present in all these things. It is the reason why we do them and the strength behind them. For the past five years we have been maintaining a form of 24-7 Prayer vigil for our community. For the first three and a half years, we prayed non-stop in a slum hotel room overlooking Main and Hastings, the centre of the open drug trade. Now, our prayer room sits above a homeless shelter and women's refuge, but in reality the prayer has actually moved beyond the bounds of four walls, and happens in the daily warp and woof of community life.

Our prayer rhythm comprises daily community prayers, prayer walking combined with visiting houses and street evangelism, artistic and musical worship, multiple community meals, teaching, listening, gardening, praying scripture, and personal prayer shifts in a place we call the War Room. During summer, we often send people on missions and visits, so maintain a prayer rhythm based around three daily psalms, creating artistic and poetic prayer resources to accompany them. We host a variety of prayer teams and pilgrims, especially during the 2010 Olympic games, during which many of our streets are going to be facing the threat of dislocation.

Over the years we've learnt that the purpose of prayer is not intercession or petition (though these are parts of prayer, whether we know how they work or not), but rather intimacy and obedience. Prayer takes our attention off of ourselves, refixing our gaze on the only one worth looking at (Colossians 3). He receives our prayerful attention, and then teaches us to see the people around us, often for the first time. As we grow in this discipline of intimate attention, we see with Kingdom eyes, seeing evidence of life and beauty where others see only death and ruin. We become aware of the seeds of the Kingdom that Jesus has sown around us already, in unlikely places and among unlikely people, and we get to witness its growth. The Kingdom, Jesus tells us, starts small, invisible and even buried, but it grows and eventually covers the whole garden. We've seen the Kingdom growing, bringing release from captivity, freedom from oppression and hope for change. We've seen some of these people inspired to become re-builders, restorers, re-newers. When prayerful community is formed along these lines, with people from all kinds of differing backgrounds and experience, the Kingdom seed sprouts and spreads branches in surprising places.

Prayer is the main thing. Honouring the father was the primary passion in Jesus' life. It must be ours as well. Prayer is no add on, nor something we use to make our programs more effective. Coming before God in thanksgiving, humility and praise, desperate for intimacy, is the greatest pursuit of our lives. When we're in the busy places of ministry, despair and obvious need, we can easily sideline prayer. We trust that God knows and cares for these things more deeply than ourselves. In an intimate encounter with Jesus, we learn to be obedient to his commands, capture something of his plan of renewal for the forgotten places.


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