Winnipeg, Manitoba is a large Canadian city with a small-town feel. It is known as “Friendly Manitoba” and yet the province hosts some not-so-very friendly statistics. Manitoba has one of the highest rates of children in foster care in the world with over 10,000 children and youth recorded in the foster care system at any given point in time. By the age of seven, 7.5% of Manitoba children have been placed in care at some point in their lives. With such a large number of children in the care of Child & Family Services agencies, the system is struggling to keep up with the needs. For the last eight years, the Winnipeg Church of Christ and the corresponding HOPE worldwide Canada chapter has been dedicating volunteers, time, and resources to helping youth placed in care find joy and growth amidst the trauma. Summer 2018 was a monumental step forward in the Winnipeg church’s focus of making an impact with children in care. Our church of 65 committed disciples stepped forward in faith to host our very first HOPE Youth Corps with the goal of helping these children in need. At a free summer day camp created and run entirely by our HOPE worldwide Canada volunteers, HYC participants were the camp counselors making direct impact on the youth.

The HYC participants who sacrificed their own money and vacation time to serve in Winnipeg left an indelible mark on the kids they were serving. At the beginning of camp many of the campers were withdrawn, uncommunicative and fearful. Yet by the end of camp they beamed with pride over their accomplishments, shared vulnerably their life stories with their counselors, and radiated joy while in the company of all their new friends. One young girl expressed to a volunteer while painting together, “This is the best thing ever. I want to come here all the time. It makes me happy.” On the last day, as the bus full of campers prepared to leave, we hopped aboard for a final farewell to find every single camper in tears that their experience was over. The compliments and expressions of gratitude were plentiful from families and social workers alike …with each person completing their thanks with the request that it occur again the following year! The young men and women who made such an impact as counselors were pushed in every way to deny themselves as they had never served in a camp before. They persevered and served with heart and a great attitude. Eleanor Frost, Global Service Intern for Winnipeg HYC, reflected that for the participants “gratitude increased as they mentored youth only a few years younger than them and were pushed to serve beyond their limits to work harder and have more compassion.” David Jung, evangelist for the Winnipeg church, was pleasantly surprised to see how the spirit of the HYC participants changed from the misery of tiredness to the joy of sacrifice for a godly cause. As the participants left to return to their own cities, they left changed and fulfilled with having changed others.

Serving the HYC participants as an entire church helped the participants see God’s church as a worldwide family while also greatly impacting the faith of every disciple in Winnipeg. David Jung said, “It was incredible for our parents in the church to witness young people living out their faith and convictions. The entire congregation was inspired to see what impact we can make on the lives of these volunteers. I was personally challenged to expect more from the young people in our own congregation. God made them to serve him as well, and I need to better inspire and equip them to seek him and serve others.” At the end of HYC, as we reflected on the past two weeks and the year leading up to it, it was obvious to everyone that God had been guiding each step. Substantial donations to run the camp seemed to appear out of nowhere but really were directed to us from God. Church and community volunteers with the much-needed skills donated their time. An incredible camp location was made available at no cost. People associated with the camp came to church and became friends. Essentially, every hurdle along the way was overcome. HYC Winnipeg was God’s plan, impacting the lives and faith of so many. This incredible experience compelled us to only one response: Do it again! So this upcoming summer 2019, we’re hosting HOPE Volunteer Corps Winnipeg and we look forward to seeing the power of God’s love, in even greater measure, bring hope and change lives. For more information or to apply for HOPE Volunteer Corps Winnipeg (July 27 to Aug 10, 2019) visit our site here or contact Kimberlee Potter, HVC Site Coordinator for Winnipeg.