Faith Today visits Vancouver’s Downtown
Eastside to understand what it is like to minister
in this hard, hard place BY JULIA CHEUNG
This place is be- yond the law. Or perhaps above it. Most days a black market hrives – as only broken things can – with a limp
and a shuffle. On either side of West
Hastings Avenue, people lay books,
socks, old cellphones and other
random items in neat little rows on
quilts and picnic blankets. Unattended merchandise appears in
random piles up and down the street.
A dishevelled woman sells dan-ishes and doughnuts, while a man
sets up a makeshift bicycle shop.
Others hawk DVDs and jewelry.
It could be any outdoor Canadian
community market, if it weren’t for
the brokenness palpable in the air.
The smell of urine is overwhelming.
The style du jour is stained baseball
caps, baggy jackets and oversized
pants. This is Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES) – a three-block radius of desperation and
sadness, but amazingly a place
where flowers still bloom.
Next to the illegal street market
is an illegal garden of sorts. Ten
years ago Christians broke the lock
on this discarded property “as a
prophetic announcement of God’s
new life breaking into abandoned,
dead spaces” (as recorded in an
obscure You Tube clip). The garden-
ers took over the lot without know-
ing who owned it.
“We thought the last way to find
the owner was to illegally garden
the property,” says one young gar-
dener on the video. “Isaiah the
prophet cast this vision of just liv-
ing, and he said there will be those
among you that restore the streets
to dwelling. It’s this idea of restor-
ing waste places. Of turning it into
these gardens that provide food.”
After four years, a local church
has taken on the mantle of caring
for the garden. It’s fitting to such a
transitory neighborhood. Change
and motion are constant here.
“IT’S SO DIFFERENT in the daytime,”
Cheryl Sutton keeps telling me.
“It’s so different. At nighttime,
that’s really when everyone is
awake and out.” Sutton has been
coming down to volunteer with
Carrall Street Church and to minister in the evenings for over a year.
She’s taking me through the streets
known widely as “Canada’s poorest