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Briana SoutherlandHave you ever wondered what it would take to see people transformed by the Gospel in Calgary? To truly see people live abundantly, joyfully, and in freedom?

I have! But then at times I can be so discouraged … All around us there’s need. We see addictions, homelessness, prostitution, poverty, displaced peoples, and so much more. It’s daunting!

But one thing I’ve been reminded of over the last few years is that we cannot focus on the magnitude of the problem. If we do, we’ll become frozen, stuck, and immobilized for the task we’re called to do.

There have been periods of my life where I was stuck. See, I grew up as a youth pastor’s kid, and from a young age I realized I had a passion for serving the brokenhearted, the poor, the outcast, and displaced peoples. I wanted to see justice in the lives of these people; I wanted to see freedom!

But I started to believe lies that made me feel like I couldn’t do anything about it. The world is so messed up … and I’m just 1 person. Soon after, I started to believe that the church also had no opportunity for me to make a real difference. I didn’t see my local church joining God’s mission, so I assumed that was true of all churches. My desire to serve and make a difference began to fade.

When I hit high school, I had pretty much desensitized myself from the realities around the world. Watching the news was depressing … walking downtown was depressing … so I ignored it all. I combated the pain and need in the world by finding comfort and routine in my everyday life. If I just woke up, went to school, worked, played soccer, etc., I would keep my mind at ease. I also found that if my relationships became surface level, that would keep me from any real concerns.

I put blinders on my life to keep my heart apathetic. It’s easier that way, right?

To keep a long journey short … God decided to change all of that through a series of experiences. First, I went on a short-term trip to San Jose, Costa Rica that woke me from my hibernation. I saw poverty, racism, injustice, and so much more face-to-face. I couldn’t run anymore – the pain of the world was all around me. I had to make a choice to let down my walls – and I did. When my wall fell, I clearly heard God call me to give my life to serve others.

Then after I graduated I moved to Berlin, Germany where I lived with church planters. I saw people rely on God to open doors to build relationships with their neighbours and friends. It was beautiful! My wall against the church began to crumble slowly.

Shortly after living in Berlin, I got married and moved to Calgary, Alberta, Canada (I’m from Minnesota). When I moved I was naive. I thought I could move, set up my life and begin to work in a non-profit to fight the injustices of our world and my new home. I was wrong … I began a 10-month journey of waiting …

And waiting …

God worked in my heart to refine my identity. He called me to surrender my plans to Him and let Him guide my life.

God opened the doors for me to begin to work and serve at First Alliance Church (FAC) in Calgary. In my mind this was a quick stepping-stone. I would gain some experience and then move on to where I wanted to be – in a non-profit serving the city and the world.

But instead I began another journey … God prepared me for the role that was to come 4 years later. During the 4 years, God called me to wait. To learn. To stretch myself. To surrender my fears and dreams.

Most importantly over the 4 years, God taught me a profound lesson. Without Him, there is no sustainable justice.

Only God can transform a community into a completely new creation. The church is His chosen outpost in our world of pain and darkness.

We, FAC, are able to transform our community in ways we never imagined. I am a chosen change-agent in this world. How humbling is that?!?

Jesus even says to us, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent Me, I am sending you.” (John 20:21) Jesus is sending us to carry on His mission.

For you and me, this starts here, in Calgary.

What would it look like to make a difference in 1 aspect of our city? If each one of us who is burdened, disturbed, or distressed over an injustice realized we can make a difference … we could see a city transformed.

Do you dare to dream this dream with me?

“Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21)

Where to Begin?

My hope is that we are challenged to dream these God-sized dreams in our city. We each have passions and gifts that can make a difference. But if you’re struggling to know where to begin, I encourage you to start making small changes: 

  1. Pray for your neighbourhood, city, and world. Ask God to break your heart for the things that break His. Try a prayer walk (pray for people and places in your sphere of influence).
  2. Read Scripture and ask God to reveal His heart for the world.
  3. Look for opportunities … Be ready, look for moments to talk, listen, and serve your neighbours and those you encounter each day.
  4. Be intentional! Bake cookies for your neighbours, introduce yourself, offer help when you see someone in need.
  5. Relationships are key! I know they’re not easy and you have to be vulnerable. This can be scary but I guarantee relationships will transform your heart. The more you hear the stories of those who are hurting and ask God to give you compassion and empathy … the more your life will begin to look different. Our focus moves from inward to outward and we begin to look more like Jesus.
  6. Invite people over to share a meal or watch a football game. Look for ways to share hospitality.
  7. Keep a homeless care kit in your car to pass out when you see someone in need.

At FAC we also partner with local key organizations that work with some of the biggest needs in our city, including:

I’m going to highlight one of these amazing organizations – The Mustard Seed, who works to prevent and end homelessness. They work with Christ-centred values, transparency, and respect, and they provide holistic care. Their mission is, “To build hope and well-being for our most vulnerable citizens through Jesus’ love.”

Opportunities through The Mustard Seed

Mustard Seed Residents Apartment

  • As a family, small group, or individual, prepare a “Move-In Kit” to welcome new residents to The Mustard Seed. Derrick Mitchell, Church Engagement Coordinator, explains the program, saying, “One of the primary goals of the Mustard Seed is to help people transition out of homelessness and into housing. Individuals moving into our apartments often arrive with limited resources; for some, this may be the first place they will live in on their own. We are eager to partner with churches to provide home essentials for these individuals as a gift on their move-in day. Items like cutlery, plates, glasses, cups, cooking utensils, can openers, shower curtains, bed sheets and comforters (twin size), pillows, and other household necessities can greatly increase someone’s sense of comfort as they settle into their new residence. Please consider donating any new or used items to The Mustard Seed so we can welcome our guests to their new home.” Once kits are completed, drop them off directly to The Mustard Seed’s 1010 Centre (The Seed’s apartment building providing stable, low-income housing) or bring them to FAC. What to include:

  • Attend “SeedTalks,” Monday, September 23, 6:30-8:30 pm at the Central Public Library. (Patricia A. Whelan Performance Hall, Calgary Central Public Library, 800 3 Street SE, Calgary, AB). The Mustard Seed will facilitate dialogue around the question “Is it possible to end homelessness?” The panel will include a former Mustard Seed client, current staff, and more. Register here: seedtalks.eventbrite.ca.

Remember these are just ideas … There’s no limit to the dreams God gives you – and I encourage you to live those out.

Written by Briana Southerland, Share Ministries Pastor


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