Six proud graduates stood together on stage after receiving their certificates on Mon., March 24 at the Winnipeg Centre Vineyard church at Main Street and Sutherland Avenue.
This small class had just completed six months of intense study at the Vineyard School of Justice, where they learned about topics such as residential schools, human trafficking, addiction, and homelessness. For 18 hours each week, the students listened, served, and discussed their experiences ranging from helping at the church’s drop-in to discovering what it’s like to panhandle. Films, books, and guest speakers rounded out their basic understanding of social justice issues.
The class wasn’t so much a transfer of information as it was a transformation of living. Each student encountered his or her own beliefs and past experiences and processed them with the group. The sheer diversity of the group was a daily lesson in itself, as it featured a 30-year age span, a mix of men and women, students from reserves in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, from Steinbach, from Germany, from the United States, and a director originally from India.
Through the program, which intentionally includes students who have experienced injustice, they found plenty of time to develop relationships through eating together and debriefing.
Learning together was not about easy answers or tidy solutions. The process was often messy. But the responses of discomfort, anger, tears, and compassion were all viewed as gifts from God and important for breaking down the natural responses of apathy and cynicism.
With such difficult subject matter, it would be natural to despair. What can be done?
For the answer, the students studied the Bible: namely, the character of God (absolutely just and merciful) and the life of Jesus (devoid of the hunger for power, money or status and full of compassion for the hungry, the sick, and the outcast). Since Christians and the church have (ironically) not always been the best followers of Jesus’ ways and teachings, this was an important realization for students who experienced residential school trauma themselves.
Students were encouraged to"Follow Jesus. Be in the margins".
They also learned skills in prayer, counselling, conflict resolution, and nonviolent peacemaking.
During April, the director and several students are in Nepal, serving the poor with Vineyard churches in Kathmandu and surrounding areas. One student will stay longer. Another student is returning to Germany to help her family.
Other students are helping with drop-ins and next year’s School of Justice.
For more information or to apply, see www.vineyardschoolofjustice.org and www.facebook.com/VineyardSchoolofJustice.
Sonya Braun is a community correspondent for the North End. You can contact her at email@example.com