Ask anyone who has been there, or even seen pictures of Vancouver, and they will tell you it is beautiful. It is called the City of Glass and is perfectally framed by a backdrop of mountains to the north. Obviously, I would not be one to disagree with that claim; however, there are other parts of Vancouver that are not quite as beautiful. On Sunday, September 28th, we headed to the downtown eastside (DTES) to discover a part of the city that has become both famous and notorious.
We began the day with a great lunch in Chinatown. It is not everyday that I get to eat steamed dumplings! Then we proceeded to Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Park for instructions on that day’s activities. The park was quiet retreat that honored both one of China’s great 20th century leaders and the significant Chinese heritage in Vancouver. While we were there we gathered together and Amy Hunter (a Nieucommunities staffer) split us into groups of three and gave each of us a map. For the next few hours we were to follow the map around the city to experience its diversity and culture through sights, sounds, tastes, and even smells (and there were many!). Colletta was grouped with Amber and I and our journey began going back into Chinatown. If you want to follow our exact route you can follow it on Google maps. We went up Pender St., turned left on Gore Ave., left on E. Hastings, right on Abbott St., left on Water St. all the way to Canada Place.
Building in front of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Park
Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Park with the City of Glass rising above.
The three of us probably spent 45 min. to an hour going up Pender St. We had a blast! It was so much fun going into the little Chinese bakeries and finding interesting and delicious things to eat. I found steamed buns in one (actually in many), something that I would eat for breakfast every morning when I went to China. Amber bought a puff pastry that she got everywhere because it was huge, flaky, and covered in powdered sugar! I do wish I had a picture of that! Colletta got one of the best Chinese deserts I had ever tasted. It was sort of like a canoli, only it had a lot of almond in it and it was dipped in chocolate on one side. The areas was very busy and full of locals and tourists alike. One thing that I did notice that stood out to me was that it seemed the local Chinese population was quite elderly. It didn’t seem like there were many younger people in the area. Perhaps they have moved to different areas of the city. In any case, it was just a curious observation.
Nothing could have prepared me for what came next after we turned from Pender onto Gore and then onto Hastings St. I have been to several poverty areas or areas of higher homeless rates in the U.S. The one that comes to mind the most is New Orleans. Now in pre-Katrina New Orleans the homeless population mixed in pretty well with the popular business areas. For instance it was well known that there were many homeless people who hung out around Jackson Square, but it was still an area that was vibrant with tourists and businesses. There was very little seperation between the two. In other cities there is usually a transition to the poorer areas of town before you get to them. Nothing like the stark contrasts that we experienced that day in Vancouver. As soon as we left vibrant Chinatown we entered East Hastings, an area that is quite the opposite. Where there were many Canadian Chinese, there was now, only one block over, very little. Instead the streets were filled with hundreds of men or women living a very different kind of lifestyle. Either homeless or addicts or mentally ill, and unfortunately some combination of the three. The air reeked of marijuana being smoked openly, we were even offered it twice that day. There were no businesses open (granted it was Sunday, but I contrast that with Chinatown which was still very busy regardless of the day) and the buildings were obviously not in good condition. That morning we had talked about what it meant for us to submerge into a culture the way that Jesus did in the particular culture of his time. I will always remember Amber’s question as we walked out of that area: “How do we submerge into that?” I still ask myself that, how do we live incarnationally among such a culture? I don’t quite know, but thankfully there is an organization there trying to do just that. Jacob’s Well is a ministry that Nieucommunities partners with quite a bit that brings the Kingdom to an area that is in desperate need of forgiveness, love, and acceptance.
Bringing the Kingdom to the DTES
Once we reached Abbott St. we turned left and after only a block we were back into lively Vancouver. Not even a block outside of the poverty that we had just walked a Ferrari passed us by. We had entered Gastown, a historic and touristy area of Vancouver. The place was amazing with its historic buildings and brick roads. So we finished out our map at Canada Place beyond Gastown where all of the cruise ships take off. So what began in an area of lively business finished in an area of lively business.
But I just couldn’t believe the stark contrasts in between. I have just never been to a place like that before, where only one block separates poverty and wealth in such black and white terms. We were given a time
Discussing God's presence in the DTES
when we were suppose to meet back together at Victoria Park. Talk about coming back in a different mood.
A couple of the girls were still crying because of what they had witnessed that day. It was incredible, but we had to keep asking ourselves what is God doing here? And realizing that God loves these people, he loves them more than we ever could! The whole time in the back of my mind I kept hearing the song God of This City. “And greater things are still to come in this city.” And we made that our prayer.