Wednesday, 31 July 2013

The Right Side of the Tracks

"Watch the curves, the fills and tunnels
Never falter, never quail
Keep your hand upon the throttle
And your eye upon the rail." ~Life's Railway to Heaven
Have you ever heard the expression “growing up on the wrong side of the tracks”? I never could make sense of that saying. To me, there is no such thing as the wrong side of the tracks; both sides are equally wonderful.
Tracks leading to White River
I grew up in northern Ontario; in a tiny, whistle-stop town called White River, where life was simple and everyone knew everyone else. We spent thirteen years in the “big gray house” on the corner of Winnipeg and Monck, which means the greater part of my childhood was spent living “on the tracks.” Our house was directly across the road from approximately 9 tracks and just up the street from the station. Trains were perhaps the most faithful things in my childhood; winter or summer, rain or shine, snow or fog, you could always count on those big engines roaring by.
As a child, I spent hours in my parents’ bedroom with its two big windows that overlooked the tracks. The steady routine of the railway does become part of you after a few years, and I soon learned to recognize the various trains, trucks, and signals like the back of my hand.
This photo was taken from my parents' bedroom window; you can see how close we were!
The train always blew its horn for the Road 500 crossing just behind the sawmill, about two miles from our house. Those lonely whistles were both my lullaby and my alarm clock, the first thing I heard in the morning and the last thing I heard at night. I remember one evening, though, when something went wrong with one of the train horns. When the engineer sounded the horn before the crossing, I believe the switch must have gotten stuck in the “on” position, because it kept sounding one long, continuous blast for the entire time it took for the train to travel the two miles from the sawmill until it passed our house, and up until the engine came to a stop at the far end of town. Needless to say, we were nearly deafened!
Check out this video of a great train horn!
As a child, the trains fascinated me. If I was out playing in the yard, I stopped everything to wave at the engineer when those engines rolled through town. Often, I was rewarded by a hand fluttering in greeting from the cab, and often a short blast of the horn. Then, I would lean on the fence and watch those railcars lazily rocking through town, heading west or east to all sorts of places. Apparently I also became a familiar sight to the men who made their living driving the big locomotives. I’ll never forget walking with my parents alongside the tracks one day when we stopped to wave to a VIA passenger train going by. To our astonishment, the two-car train slowed down and came to a halt right in front of us. The engineer poked his head out the doorway and hollered to me, “Are you the little girl who always waves to the trains?” When I replied in the affirmative, he shouted back, “Come on down to the station sometime when we’re there, and we’d be happy to take you for a ride!” Sadly, we never took him up on that offer. I’ve regretted that ever since.
Watching the trains was always an interesting pastime; you just never knew what would go by. Besides the ordinary mix of grain cars, tankers, flatbeds, boxcars, vehicle decks, and loads of hydro poles (like those above), some trains consisted entirely of loads of metal rails, stretching from car to car the entire length of the train. One day an old-fashioned steam engine passed through, on its way to a museum somewhere out west. Another day a circus train went by. I always liked to see the “army trains”; trains carrying army equipment. Flatbeds were filled with tanks, army jeeps, and lorries of all shapes and sizes.
Of course, the most fun part of daily rail life was watching the “machines” go by. All sorts of yellow equipment for doing everything one could imagine to the tracks; building, repairing, maintaining, and plenty more that I know nothing about. They came rolling quickly, heading from one worksite to another and making various hums, roars, and funny honks as they passed by. Sometimes a crew would set up in front of the house and stay there for a while; they could have a track practically taken apart and pieced back together in a matter of hours.
Some of the sights were pretty odd, like this smiling outhouse going for a ride! I guess he was a welcome sight wherever he went, hence the smiley face!
Sometimes when a snowstorm blew up, the machines had to be shoveled out before they could leave. It wasn’t unusual to see an army of workers wielding shovels walking along the tracks to free some piece of equipment or another.
I spent a lot of time at this station. I remember as a little girl, walking hand-in-hand with my father down that very platform to watch the trains come in. We could always hear the grumble of the engine long before we saw it. We would keep watching, and finally a cloud of black smoke would roll above the trees and the engine (or engines, sometimes as many as nine or more) would come huffing into view. The ground would shudder, and the noise of the train would increase to a deafening pitch. We’d have to scream to be heard as the airbrakes were applied with an ear-splitting shriek. Then the locomotive would glide by mere feet away, shaking the ground until I didn’t know what was vibrating more, the ground or my legs! Finally, the train would slow down and come to a rumbling, snorting stop.
Since our house was just opposite the railway, we became accustomed to noise at all hours. It was especially difficult during the sweltering summer nights when all the windows were thrown open, and a freighter would snarl past at 4:00 a.m. Or sometimes, a train that was parked quietly would suddenly start off with a crash and a clang loud enough to wake the dead. I remember one time when a freighter, for some reason, got delayed and parked its engine directly in front of our house. I’m not sure why it was necessary for the motor to keep running the entire time it was parked, but needless, to say, after three days of hissing and clicking we were nearly insane!
On a typical day, upwards of twenty trains could go by. Sometimes there were more and sometimes less, depending on circumstances. If there happened to be a derailment somewhere along the line, we might have seven or eight trains parked on the sidings, only keeping the main line clear. I can only remember a few times when the trains stopped running; for instance, during the forest fire of ’99 when half the town was evacuated. The trains didn’t run for more than a week, but the town was miraculously saved by a wind that blew steadily from the south for a full week, keeping the flames away from the community. (A real miracle, considering that our winds almost always blew from the north!) I can also remember a few blizzards that stopped the lines for a couple of days. Other than that, they stayed on schedule.
During the summer, the air would be filled with the scent of melting tar and rust from the rails and ties baking in the heat. Shimmering heat waves would dance over the tracks, and you could see wildflowers poking up between the ties. Crows and ravens would hop along the lines, eating grain that was spilled from the grain cars. Occasionally, a grain car would develop a “leak” of sorts, and then you could see the tracks dotted with small golden heaps of wheat. I remember my father bringing home a bucketful of barley grains he had collected while walking home from work (A rail worker gave him permission, since the grain would have rotted anyway). I liked nothing better than to slip into my fathers’ dark shed and run my fingers through those icy-cold, dusty grains. We planted some that year, and my mother made dried-flower arrangements with the stalks that grew.
Check out this video of a rail grinder like the ones that passed in front of our house!
My favorite summer occurrence was the passing of the “grinder train” (Rail Grinder). I could always hear it approaching, not only because of its higher-pitched “nasal” horn, but also because of the buzz-saw-like sound of the grinders. I always loved to watch the smoke-enveloped rail grinder go back and forth in front of the house, with sparks shooting from below and a steady stream of water pouring over the rails to prevent fires. Even in the evening, when it was too dark to see, the grinder would continue to work with the orange sparks lighting up the night.
Canadian Pacific Holiday Train
In the winter, you could always count on the snowplows running through, flinging plumes of snow (and often rocks) in the air. We were always thankful that no rocks ever came through our windows; some of them came pretty close!
And then, of course there was the “Big Event”: the Canadian Pacific Railway Holiday Train. We just called it the “Christmas Train.” It came every year around Christmastime, raising money for the local food banks. The whole town would gather near the station, bundled up against the 30-below weather. The air would be filled with talking and laughing, then someone would shout, “Here it comes!” and the Holiday Train would come sweeping through the darkness, ablaze with over 100,000 lights. As a young child, it was usually too cold to stay for the entire outdoor concert performed from one of the boxcars, but the best was yet to come anyway… when the concert was over and the crowds had gone home, the train would slowly pull a little ways away from the station and park directly in front of our house for the night. Mom and I would scurry upstairs and poke our heads through the window into the breathlessly cold air and admire the train sitting silently on the tracks, with its lights twinkling and flashing and soft Christmas music coming from its speakers. If you squinted through the whirling snowflakes, you could sometimes see Santa Clause walking through one of the antique cars, on his way to bed.
Check out this video of the Christmas Train passing through Illinois!
There are lot of things I miss about my childhood; growing up in a time of innocence, in a safe little town where a kid could be kid, and where life was slow and as lazy as the freighters that rumbled by. I’m still young by most people’s standards, but sometimes I feel like the years are flying past like a passenger train on the run, and I miss the “old days.” Now that I live in Newfoundland, where there isn’t a train on the island, I find myself longing to be woken up by one of those loud diesel engines once again. Every so often I imagine that I hear that lonely, far-off whistle, and then I get a little lost in nostalgia and promise myself, “One day, I’ll be back.” And until then, I’ll say a prayer for the folks that ride the rails from coast to coast. Drive safely, rail warriors, and when you see a little child standing alongside the tracks, wave and blow your horn, because you might give wings (or wheels) to a dream.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Three Pairs of Shoes

"If you wanna sit, you can sit or you can stand...
It's the Open Door, come and find yourself a helping hand!" ~Jim Vaughan-Evans

If someone were to ask me to describe my church in a few words, I would probably reply, “Three pairs of shoes.”

Let me explain. On a typical Sunday morning, you’ll find me hanging out with an unusual group of people in an unusual spot, doing something (you guessed it) unusual. More specifically, you’ll find me playing an instrument called a Cajon in a rented building with a group of self-proclaimed misfits. We call ourselves, “Open Door.”

So, on most Sunday mornings, I find myself seated behind the rest of the band, banging on a box, and at the same time doing what I do best: people-watching. While part of my mind is totally engaged with playing, the other part might be thinking of just about anything. And most days, my eyes travel downwards (a result of the shyness that sometimes often overwhelms me) and I find myself focusing on three pairs of shoes.

Larry Baldwin
Directly to my left is a pair of always-pristine, white running shoes belonging to worship leader Larry Baldwin. I’ll interrupt myself here with a funny fact: when I first met Larry, I was actually very intimidated by him. I could never tell when he was joking or when he was serious, and I never knew quite how to respond. But I’ll tell you, behind the seemingly-stern exterior is a down-to-earth guy with a real sense of humor, an Elvis sound-alike voice, and a true worshipper’s heart. He’s a good boss and I’m proud to call him my buddy.

Jim Vaughan-Evans
Right in front of me is a pair of scuffed work boots belonging to Jim Vaughan-Evans. Tall, curly-headed Jim is probably our band’s quietest member, next to me. He’s our resident Bob Dylan fan, and brings out Driftwood Cross’s soulful side with songs like, “I Still Can’t Find What I’m Looking For” and Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” He’s also a gentle, sweet-spirited person.

Bob Tetford
To my immediate right is a pair of black dress shoes. That would be Bob Tetford. Bob, or Bobby as we sometimes call him, is our “rock ’n’ roll man.” He can make a guitar do anything except talk, and I believe he can even do that in his own way. Bob wears a look of intense concentration when he plays, and his fingers literally fly. I don’t know how in the world he manages to improvise these great solos when he may have only learned a song that same morning, but he does, somehow. Bob’s specialties are old classics like “When Love Came Down,” and “Long May You Run.”

Dave Hammond
Of course, I have to mention a fourth pair of shoes that sometimes joins us.  Dave Hammond lives in a different community but joins us as often as he can, which is when we add his motorcycle boots to the mix. Dave is a bearded, “gentle giant” type of fellow, who rides a tough-looking Harley and plays a sweet saxophone. He’s also a member of the Tribe of Judah, a motorcycle ministry that focuses on reaching outlaw bikers. He’s also the man who gave me my first motorcycle ride, which you can read about here .

For me, those three (and sometimes four) pairs of shoes represent the wide diversity of people that we minister to on a regular basis. The high-heel crowd. The flip-flop folks. The Ugg wearers. The sneakered and the sandaled, the booted and barefooted. No matter who you are, you’ll always fit in at Open Door.

But I can’t stop by just talking about a few people, can I? Because Open Door is full of amazing, real-life heroes whose stories deserve to be told.

Take these two, for instance. They couldn’t be more opposite! The one on the left is Jeff. He was an addict. The one on the right is Jesse. He was a black-robed clergy. But they have two big things in common: they’re best friends, and they’re both ministers of Jesus Christ and his love.

Jeff and his wife, Tammy, run the U-Turn Addiction Drop-in Center. They see ordinary miracles every day, helping people find freedom from addictions of all sorts. Jeff is a friend and “big brother” as he puts it, to everyone he meets. He’s a tough guy with a compassionate heart the size of Newfoundland, and he genuinely accepts people for who they are. He’s always going out of his way to help someone. You’re sure to be welcomed with a handshake or a hug when Jeff’s around.

Jesse is Open Door’s pastor. You can call him Rev. Jesse, Pastor Jesse, or just Jesse. Your first impression of Jesse will probably be a soft-spoken man who exudes a sort of quiet confidence. He enjoys having fun and joking with his congregation, but he’s a good listener who tends to be a bit contemplative. If you ask him a question, he’s liable to respond with another one; and in answering his question, you find that you’ve answered your own. Pastor Jesse is also an intelligent, well-learned man, which shows in his sermons, but he also possesses the ability to make complicated concepts easy to understand. He doesn’t mind sharing openly and honestly about his struggles, either.
Sunday morning set-up

There are so many others that I could talk about: Gentle, sensitive Vic, who runs the WOW program for people in need; shy and soft-spoken Trudy, Jesse’s wife with a servant’s heart, who faithfully works in the background; spunky Tammy, Jeff’s wife, who makes everyone feel welcome at U-Turn; good-natured David, friend to all and sundry and who’s always ready to lend a hand; bouncy Sherry, David’s wife, who flits from person to person like a butterfly making sure that no one is overlooked; upbeat Scott, who’s always ready with a grin and a “How’s ya, me darlin’?”; feisty Nan, also known as “Trouble,” who’s 92 years young and has more energy than the rest of us put together; jolly Wayne B., who serves as our announcer and brunt of many good-natured jokes; and many, many more.

I could go on for hours about the great group of people we have. You can bet that I’ll elaborate much more in later blog posts, keeping you up-to-date with the latest great stories from the Open door. Because they are great stories. And they are great people. From triathlons to barbecues to concerts to sleeping out-of-doors, there’s always something going on. So if you’re looking for a church home that’s a perfect fit…
“Welcome, everybody… to the Open Door!” ~ song written by Jim Vaughan-Evans.

*NOTE: All photographs belong to the respective photographers. I have no intent of claiming them!

Monday, 15 July 2013

Isimbi's Beloved (Updated)

Today I'm linking up with Michelle W. from Blogging from the Boonies for Mail Call Monday!

I’m so glad that my precious Isimbi is on the every-two-month writing schedule. Through the Compassion Canada office, we get word that our letters are on the way as soon as they reach Canada, so we always have an exciting wait before the letters arrive!

Here is the translator’s version of what Isimbi has to say:
Isimbi and brother Dilani
Dear Hannah,

Beloved! I first greet you in the name of Jesus Christ. Praise King Jesus. How are you doing?School is going on well, I am in my Primary grade 4 and I recently got the 14th performance position with an average mark of 58. (I think. The translation was a little hard to read here.)
I love playing tennis. What is your best sport?May the peace of the Lord and his blessings be with you and your family. Thank you for the letter that you sent me previously. With my family, we were happy to hear from you. May the Lord bless you and increase you in whatever you are doing.
Isimbi Aurore Divine

I’ve since found out, however, that the translation of Isimbi’s letter has a lot of discrepancies. The translator may have been new or inexperienced, but whatever the case, I’ve let Compassion know about the errors. Anyway, a friend of mine offered to have her husband look at the letter, since he speaks fluent Kinyarwanda. So here is the real translation of Isimbi’s letter!

My dear beloved, first of all I greet you in the name of Jesus Christ... (There is a sentence here that was hard to translate, it was something about happiness, family and children; the sentence is not well written). Now I am in primary school fourth grade, I was 14 out of 58. I like to play soccer, how about you, how are you doing? Us we are well, I like to help my parents by fetching water, sweeping and so and so. I finish by wishing you a good day, thank you.

I am thankful for the letter and the photos you sent to me it was happiness for me and my whole family. Did it also please you? Thank you.

I’m so glad that I was able to get Isimbi’s letter correctly translated! I thought something was odd with the translation, since I read just enough Kinyarwanda to know that something was off. I was happy, however, that she calls me "beloved" in both versions! Now to start writing a reply letter!

Monday, 8 July 2013

Always Room for Another - Shakira

“And now, my Compassion Family is finally complete… until God says otherwise!”

I wrote these words on my blog a little over a month ago. I had just introduced handsome Mbula to my correspondence family, and I figured that three was enough. However, there’s one thing that I have learned over the years. Actually two things. The first is, when God says yes, don’t say no. And the second is something that Heidi Baker has proven many times… There is always enough. Always room for one more.

As most of you know, I do a lot of advocating for Shelter Them, a ministry in Rwanda that cares for orphaned and abandoned children, among other things. I recently had a brainwave that turned into the first of what will be a series of posts entitled “Sponsorship Sunday.” Each week, I’ll feature one of our kids who needs a sponsor. But as I was getting yesterdays post ready, I ran into a snag while choosing my “featured child.”

You see, I had a post all planned out, with pictures and everything, all ready to go. Sweet, smiling fifteen-year-old Shakira would be the first child. The only problem was… I fell in love with this beautiful girl’s smile and wanted to sponsor her myself!

Can you blame me?! Unfortunately, I knew it wasn’t going to happen. I’ve been pinching pennies a lot lately, and I certainly didn’t want to take a child on for a few months and then have to drop her. It wouldn’t be fair. But, there was that pull… I couldn’t help gushing to my parents about this wonderful girl. My Dad looked at me and said with blunt honesty, “Why don’t you sponsor her?” For a second, my hopes rose, but I tamped down my rising excitement and answered, “Dad, I don’t know… I’m not sure if I can afford it.” And my wonderful father, (who faithfully puts up with my rants about the three correspondent kiddos I already have), pulled out his wallet, handed me some bills, and said two words.

“Sponsor her.”

And so, a partnership began. Imagine my shock when I realized what Shakira’s full name is… Uwimana Shakira! The same as mine (Uwimana Hannah)! It had to be a God-thing… I think His smile was even bigger than Shakira’s when He pulled THIS together!

And Shakira is always smiling. Jules, who works in the Rwanda office and knows Shakira quite well, told me this morning, "This child is so special. Her mother died when Shakira was very young (five). Her father, according to the stories she had from her mom when she tries to recall her past, is in Kigali prison for his role in the genocide. But what amazed me this child has always a shining face, always smiling and her smile is real, it comes from the bottom of her heart."

Of course, I have to show you some more pictures of my precious Uwimana Shakira! You'll notice in every picture, how that sweet smile of hers just lights up her face!

Shakira, age 13. I cropped this picture to focus on her beautiful face.
Shakira is in the black-and-white blouse, second from the back. She lives in a home with the other three girls shown here.

Shakira and David, a good friend of mine. It was face-painting day. Isn't Shakira a beautiful (smiley) butterfly?
Shakira is holding the green gift bag. From left to right: Kevine Uwumuhoza, Kevine Uwimbabazi, Sherry, Shakira, Kevine Ikirezi, and David. The four girls live in a home together, and Sherry and David run the Newfoundland branch of the Shelter Them office. (Yes, there are three Kevine's and Shakira!)

Shakira was provided with a new mattress through Shelter Them, along with the other girls.
I love this picture of the kids in traditional clothing. Shakira is holding little Joshua in her arms. From the looks of things, I'd say that Shakira is a well-loved member of the Shelter Them family!
So, Shakira ended up not being my featured child (I chose Kevine Ikirezi, pictured above in a couple of photos) but God had it planned all along! I’m not even going to say that my family is complete this time… who knows what tomorrow holds! But one thing is for sure…

There will ALWAYS be enough!

Above video is of Shakira and my featured child, Kevine Ikirezi, doing a traditional Rwandan dance. Aren't they both beautiful?

Thursday, 4 July 2013


You are mine. Why? Not because you grew inside me, joined to me physically. I have never felt your feet kicking just below my heart, nor thrilled to the knowledge that you were growing inside me. Nor have I given you your eyes, your hair, your laugh, or your skin. But you are mine.

Because when I close my eyes and think of you, and when you close your eyes and think of me; when our hands stretch across an ocean and beyond, our lives somehow inexplicably collide in a way that makes you not flesh of my flesh, nor bone of my bone, but heart of my heart.

Because when God moved Heaven and earth to bring us together, nothing can change the fact that you are mine. And you are also HIS. And He gave you to me. And He gave me to you. Because we needed each other. Because somehow, through the eons of eternity, we were destined to be here. And “here” isn’t Canada. It isn’t Africa. It’s somewhere in our hearts; where every language is the same. And where we never have to say goodbye, because you are mine. I can’t lose you… not when I’ve already found you.

You are mine. And that means I would run through fire to find you. It means I would give every last breath to make sure you are okay. To make sure you know you are loved. It means that words like “me” and “you” don’t exist anymore. There is only “we” and “us.”

You are mine. And you are His. And I am His.

And we are ONE.