Servants Vancouver was founded five years ago when Craig and Nay Greenfield sensed a call to take the model of community and mission they had lived in Cambodian slums and translate it into a Western, inner city context; specifically, downtown eastside Vancouver, an area known to be the poorest in all of Canada, overwhelmed by rampant drug addiction and the highest rate of HIV in the Western world. Here is where they have chosen to plant roots and integrate into the neighborhood, not as mere service providers but as friends, offering a sense of family and welcome to those often deeply scarred by broken, exploitive relationships and suffocating isolation. Furthermore, it is in this place that Craig and Nay have chosen to raise their two young children, Micah and Jayden, a topic Craig and I spend some time talking about in the interview (I think you might be surprised by Craig’s resounding enthusiasm for the advantages of such a way of life for children and families!).
As part of the larger mission organization Servants to Asia’s Urban Poor, of which Craig is presently International Coordinator, Servants Vancouver models their life and ministries on the pattern of Jesus’ incarnational descent: “The Word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood,” shedding the privileges of divinity to take upon himself the human condition in all its implications. As the Father sent Jesus, so too does Jesus send his disciples into the world, to be the hands and feet and compassionate heart of God to those most in need. For Servants, this incarnational descent entails an immersion in the day-to-day life patterns, culture, and concerns of the poorest of the world’s urban poor. For Servants Vancouver specifically, this involves opening their home and their table to all manner of neighbors they call friends, offering them help, hope, and belonging though such ministries as “prehab”—providing a place for crack cocaine addicts to detox while they await eligibility for local rehab programs. This incarnational pattern also implies taking to task the political, economic, and social systems in which such people are enmeshed, working for justice through creative activism, as well as transforming two vacant lots into community gardens. While this may sound like a recipe for burnout, Servants Vancouver members are also intent on a regular rhythm of prayer and on valuing celebration, beauty, and rest.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to stay with the community but participated in an open dinner, toured some of the community’s ministry sites with Craig, and spent an evening with a group of interns. Despite the briefness of my exposure, I was deeply touched by their witness of neighborly friendship and welcome. Craig contrasts this incarnational approach to what he calls the patron-client model of the multitude of charitable organizations that pervade the area. This contrast struck home for me when, after enjoying a meal of grilled, donated hamburgers, salad, and veggies (according to Craig, approximately 75% of their food is donated, mostly overflow from charity organizations), I took out the compost to the alleyway behind the house. There, I saw an extraordinarily long line of mostly men in front a soup kitchen, shuffling in, shuffling out for a free meal but with no apparent, substantial relationship to those who feed them. In the meantime, I had just enjoyed a relaxed, family-style cookout with a highly diverse group of people and witnessed the real investment each takes in the others’ lives—a wonderful example of the healing power of neighborly care.
Special thanks as well to Michael, Lisi, Travis, Leslee, Sara, and Ben of the Beehive House for their gracious hospitality in hosting me and for making my time in Vancouver all the more enjoyable.
Into/Outro music “He Prabhu” by Fr. Cyprian Consiglio, OSB Cam., and John Pennington, from Compassionate and Wise.