Servant Partners staff see themselves as coaches and catalysts for change and take a listening posture in our neighbourhoods. With the help of some energetic summer staff, Saskatoon site staff were able to partner with neighbours to catalyze some summer projects to address the hopes of the community.
We created four focuses this past summer:
Youth engagement and leadership in the Karen community
Leadership development and pastoral care in the Discovery group bible study
Cultivating community building in the Drop-in Center
Cultivating kids community building in the Appleby apartment complex
Before we started to do anything, we first committed to listening to the community as a team.
To listen is to tap into a holy curiosity of what is stirring around us. It’s at the heart of our value for incarnation; listening is a willingness to be present in someone else’s space and story. In this way, we reflect the character of God. Especially in a nation wrecked with colonialism, we welcome the invitation to rely on the expertise of our neighbours rather than our assumptions. Listening is good for us because it reminds us that we are not alone—that our ideas are not the best ones, and we can find rest, creativity and community here. It’s how we enact values of servanthood and develop leaders.
How does it feel to be listened to?
A prevailing narrative in communities who have lived for generations on the margins is that: “Our voices don’t matter. Why bother hoping, nothing will change anyways?”
This debilitating futility and shame is disrupted with a question like, “What do you love? or What kind of change do you hope for?”
As we intentionally ask questions like this we often get responses like “Hm... I’ve never really thought about that…”, followed by precious stories of hope and longing. We care for and cultivate these stories as we listen.
By believing that our community residents are in the best position to find solutions to the issues they face, we flip the prevailing narrative. By asking and doing their ideas, not our own, trust, mutual respect, and solidarity begin to sprout. It is to quiet our voices to elevate others’. “Your voice matters. Change can happen. You can contribute to that!” Community transformation begins here, with a new and hopeful way of thinking.
Here is just one story of the shift that can happen from listening:
Abbie and Anna are two interns that bubble with energy and enthusiasm. This spring, they had the idea of providing some meaningful ways to engage the multitude of kids and families in the Appleby apartment complex where Anna lives. They knew they couldn't do it alone! With a grant, we were able to hire 5 short-term helpers including 2 youth from the community.
Before the team created any program, they knocked on every door in the apartment complex (which was a lot of doors). In each conversation, they asked the residents what their current experience with the kids of the community was like and what their hopes were for these kids In their commitment to listening to all the residents, the team had many conversations with families, but also with residents who didn’t have children. This information gained from the team’s efforts to listen was used to create a summer program for the kids of this apartment complex. The kids’ club ran every Wednesday and Friday afternoon in the courtyard of their apartment buildings up until school started in September.
The power of their dedicated listening created unlikely neighbourhood partners and advocates out of neighbours who were previously hostile to the kids. Many residents view the neighbourhood kids as troublemakers and will take any opportunity to holler out their windows at the kids playing noisily outside.
One such couple, James and Janine (their names have been changed) were approached during the listening project. This couple shared their hopes, concerns and some of their personal life challenges. The team listened empathetically and nothing magical happened. But the next time the kids were congregating noisily outside their window, James came outside to approach the group and kindly asked if they would move away from the window while his ill wife was resting. The group happily and apologetically complied.
Bridges began to be mended. When this group hosted a community BBQ, James was one of the first attendees. He was quick to do his rounds with his dog by his side, inviting other neighbours to join in the community event.
Listening creates a powerful movement from hostility to partnership. We believe that this neighbour's voice matters and his participation in transforming our community is invaluable. Please pray that the Appleby Apartments will continue to be a place where bridges between residents continue to be built that are strong enough for travel together in a good way.
Currently, 19 individuals across 4 countries are reaching out to neighbours in under-resourced communities, listening and responding with seed projects through our Community Transformation Certificate program. We will share stories from those efforts in the months ahead!