II. Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
After a few months of meeting at Moe’s and auxiliary spaces at The Summit Church, Aaron met me, Lisa ‘Lefteye’, and Yesh at the airport close to midnight in his trusty blue Jeep. Yesh was a seminary student with a deep, southern drawl mingled with the remnants of a South African accent, and Lisa was a fellow Tarheel who was disappointed to discover that I wasn’t as into rap (and 90s R&B jams) as she was. Ha. In the second half of the summer, we were joined by a third intern – Stephanie.
Lisa, Yesh, and I were employed as summer interns through the North American Mission Board. This allowed for the cost of our flights and a stipend to be covered. We were also encouraged to raise support to supplement living and ministry costs. I distinctly remember calling the travel agent from my aunt’s house in Wendell, NC while listening to Silver Wings by Garrett Hedlund from the Country Strong soundtrack. It was the most exciting thing I had done since having gone on a Bahamian Cruise with my mom and two younger siblings earlier that year. It felt pretty glamorous to be able to just call in and book a flight to Canada nonchalantly. The three of us were on the same flights to Winnipeg, so most of that first day was spent traveling and becoming better acquainted. I think that’s probably when we discovered fun facts about each other like Lisa’s not-so-secret hoodrat side and Yesh’s former employment as an Abercrombie (I think) model.
Once we arrived in Winnipeg, we were actually held up at customs by an overzealous Canadian official with Moose adornments and terrible 90’s ‘butt cut’ hair. We were supposed to have been prepared with written statements about the fact that we would be interns with the North American Mission Board, and not planning to make a profit during our short term stay. One us – Yesh, who shall remain nameless, forgot his which set off the suspicions of the customs officials, and landed us in one of the infamous back rooms for longer than we wanted to be there. We had, at least, the appearance and disposition of this stereotypical Canadian character to amuse ourselves. As if it weren’t self-evident, he made it perfectly clear to us in a high-pitch trill that Yesh being unprepared for customs was a “MIS-TAAAKKE.” Eventually, we were released and enthusiastically greeted by Aboz who, in the height of Bieber-Fever, drove us to our respective locations belting out J-Biebes lyrics.
Lisa and I stayed at a church closer to downtown Winnipeg which we shared with visiting youth groups over the course of the summer and Aboz and Yesh stayed in Aboz’s adorable rental across the bridge in St. Boniface. He’d rented from someone on Kijiji – essentially, Canadian Craigslist – who would be leaving town for a while. He was able to just move in and use everything down to the kitchen utensils. I was absolutely in love with the square little craftsmen slash bungalow and it’s big picture windows, straight edges, and sun-drenched back deck. At the time, I was completely sketched out by city life. Even on days when we had no reason to be there, I’d traipse over to St. Boniface on the bus to hang out at the boy’s house, or do some writing and bible study in the cafeteria of St. Boniface Hospital near by.
St. Boniface is the French-speaking suburb across the bridge from the city of Winnipeg. It was populated by modest little homes similar in style to certain parts of the Bay Area. I spent as much time there as possible, soaking up the aesthetic, not understanding french, and glorying in the lack of humidity. Over the course of the summer, we got to know one of Aboz’s elderly neighbors, and would spend time with her fairly regularly.
Soccer was also a big part of that summer. Aaron was associated with a community organization that coordinated soccer camps and would take me with him on Tuesdays to help set up goals and mingle with the parents. Because I didn’t speak French, I actually had plenty of time to introvert and process my thoughts and desires from that wide, flat, patch of North America. My Senior year of college was fast approaching and I didn’t have a clue what I actually wanted to do with myself when I graduated… other than get married and have babies. I remember being somewhat surprised that all the same inside stuff came with me to Manitoba, though I’m not sure where I expected it to go… Watching the youth soccer camps emphasized my desire to be a stay at home mom and live in a quiet and laid back and safe-feeling suburb like St. Boniface.
Before we left the States, I had had all these plans for how to be effective and essentially, extroverted. Plans to meet people and meet up with people and all those kinds of things. What ended up happening is that I became more aware of my propensity to stick to safety and familiarity, to do what had been arranged and planned ahead. The four of us did become friends with a girl Yesh affectionately nicknamed Chestnut, and Lisa and I ended up having a sleep over with her at her parent’s house which was fun. She was really into karaoke and open-mic nights, and I think she came to do open Mic night once or twice with me and Aaron.
Aaron had apparently been frequenting an Open-Mic Night in St. Boniface as a means to meet people and build relationships, so once we arrived, he invited me to sing with him. We kind of have different vocal styles, but were able to do pretty well harmonizing on When Your Mind’s Made Up by Glen Hansard. Those were fun nights. We’d have poutine and get to know the locals. It was nice to have something non-specific to the church plant built into the regularity of our group dynamics in a strategic and intentional way.
I really enjoyed just being in St. Boniface, and all the days we spent walking neighborhoods praying, handing out flyers for things, and working with the Nebraskan teenagers who had come up for a week to serve with us. We also served along side a couple of existing churches on either side of the bridge, went camping, and took a mini road-trip to Gimli for a day. The very first people that started coming to our house-church bible studies happened to be engaged and planning their wedding. As we got to know them over the summer, they invited us to their ceremony and the reception which was a blessing to be a part of, and provided another fun excuse to traipse to the mall which became our haven on the three days of the summer when the heat was inescapable. Like the Bay Area, a lot of residential spaces didn’t have air conditioning because the climate doesn’t really call for it, so we found creative ways to cool off some days, and sat still with fans blowing on others.
That was all six years ago, and I feel the distance. But it’s evident to me that God was not only gifting me with respite and a season of good, healthy friendships and adventure, but also awakening lights in me that had been snuffed out by fears. As a high-school student, family dynamics didn’t lend themselves to me having much of a ‘life’ outside of AP coursework and begrudgingly going to church several times a week. My freshman year at Carolina was a glorious contrast to my high school experience, but being part of such a small, close-knit team of church planters was one of the most relationally and personality transforming experiences I have lived through. The end of that summer was bittersweet, and the months that followed were difficult, but June and July of 2011 stand out in my heart and memory as some of the most savory days God has thus far graced me with. The sweetest days, I think, were the ones in California.
(Winnipeg) Manitoba, Canada · Summer 2011
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