Sold-out conference helps churches reach Ottawa’s marginalized

Sold-out conference helps churches reach Ottawa’s marginalized

Matt Charbonneau

Special to Spur Ottawa

For two millennia, the Church has branded herself as a place that welcomes those marginalized by society. To help Ottawa churches more effectively welcome and incorporate disabled and marginalized people, several local ministries have partnered to host a new conference, called Belong 2018.

“People need a place to belong and a place where they’re loved,” says Keith Dow. “It’s not about a charity model, the Body of Christ is not complete until everyone is together.”

Dow is the manager of organizational and spiritual life for Christian Horizons, an organization that provides direct care to those with disabilities. Christian Horizons is hosting the event along with ministries like Ottawa Innercity Ministries, Connecting Streams, Jericho Road, and Restoring Hope, which work with people struggling with addiction, poverty, homelessness, and disability.

The inaugural event takes place at Arlington Woods Free Methodist Church, in Nepean, on April 7. Organizers were surprised by the dramatic response and had to close registration early because they reached capacity.

“All of us can do something better to include the marginalized.”

“We wish to raise awareness of [these] very special individuals and how they can impact our lives and we can impact theirs for good and for God’s Kingdom,” says Lynda Sinclair, associate pastor at Arlington Woods Church.

“All of us can do something better to include the marginalized,” says Hope Versluis, executive director of Jericho Road Ministries.

With the slogan “Strangers No More,” the conference features workshops aimed at promoting ways to highlight the value of those society often ignores.

“If someone is different from us, they’re considered ‘other’ and they’re often put on the outside, simply because we don’t know them,” Versluis states. “We’re trying to foster that openness that Jesus had. No one was a stranger in the presence of Jesus.”

Versluis says the workshops will offer churches and community groups specific strategies on how to better involve these people in their work.

“There’s so much potential in celebrating how these people live.”

“It’s when we take the time to listen to their vantage points that we can enter into a story of how we can develop a relational opportunity,” Dow says.

“There’s so much potential in celebrating how these people live,” Sinclair states. “These people have so much to offer, but some folks are blind to that because they only see the differences. If we, as Christians, can’t reach out to these folks, then who do we expect to do it?”

The conference features speaker Tim Huff, an author and speaker who advocates for the poor, oppressed, and misunderstood.

Dow says they invited him because “He is not just filled with knowledge, but has the relationships. He knows a lot of [marginalized] people and has formed trust with them. That’s not something we take lightly. The Church has faced a lot of hurdles in terms of welcoming these people through her doors.”