Imagine being new to a community, or even to a country. You have no family here and have yet to connect with any new friends or neighbours. You long to be part of something, to find a sense of belonging.
Now imagine that one of your neighbours invites you to join her one afternoon at Oakhill Women-to-Women ministry. You are greeted warmly, offered a cup of tea, and introduced to other women who immediately put you at ease. This afternoon there are groups learning to sew aprons and the gentle hum of sewing machines upstairs provides background music for your conversations. You are invited to an upcoming Bible study and while at first you are unsure (you’ve never even opened a Bible!) some little nudge inside tells you that you want to be there.
This is a familiar story to Irene Edwards, who leads Oakhill Women-to-Women outreach. She regularly sees women of different ethnic and faith backgrounds connect in the condo. Since 2005, she has provided a place where women in the community can come and learn a skill, such as sewing, knitting, or crochet. They can also take ESL classes or Bible studies. Volunteers teach these classes and all of the supplies are donated. Many volunteers are women from Centre Street Church who are able to lead a class, or just be there to greet the women with a hug and genuine care. Whatever the initial draw, ultimately, the ministry is about building relationship. The joy of it, according to Irene is that “through our lives and through our words, we represent Jesus to our community. It’s our mission field right at home!”
What Irene has found is that this ministry is not only encouraging women, but it’s changing the community. Strangers are becoming more neighbourly, and neighbours are becoming friends. And if moms get along, kids get along! “It really is about building relationships,” says Irene. “and these relationships extend beyond the program. We’ve been there for births, citizenship ceremonies, heartaches, trials, losses and joys. It gives us an opportunity to share our faith.” They’ve had women of different faiths (or no faith at all) ask for prayer. By building trust and providing a space to ask questions, they’ve seen women commit their lives to Christ through the ministry.
Another integral piece of the ministry is quilt-making. Each quilt is lovingly made, prayed over and then given to a person going through chemotherapy. These quilts come with a book and a personalized card so that the person who receives it knows they are not alone. Irene has story after story of how each unique quilt design holds something significant for the recipient. They’ve made over 117 quilts so far!
When dreaming about the future of Oakhill, a few things come up: Firstly, Irene wants to give her job away to emerging leaders who have the gift of love, hospitality and administration to run Oakhill and care for the women. Secondly, the company that owns the condos wants this outreach replicated across Canada because they see the positive effect it has had on the neighbourhood and its residents. Thirdly, you could be involved! You can volunteer to teach a class or donate supplies to the ministry. Above all, please be praying for Irene, her team and the women they serve.
What is God saying to you? What are you going to do about it?