On Sunday 29 June I preached a sermon at Hope Mennonite, Winnipeg. I struggled with this sermon. I wanted to tell stories from Iraqi Kurdistan and I wanted to teach a lesson from Jesus. But it was not coming together. I kept feeling like something was missing. I found a scripture text that I wanted to talk about- Matthew 10: 40-42. The main words were:" This is a large work I’ve called you into, but don’t be overwhelmed by it. It’s best to start small. Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice. You won’t lose out on a thing.”
I included stories of cold cups of water given to me by Kurdish people, of meeting a woman asking for bus money on the streets of Winnipeg, and a Syrian Kurdish woman at the gate to the bazaar in Sulaimani.
Then I thought of Althea Guiboche aka The Bannock Lady here in Winnipeg. She does not have much financial resources to feed the people around her but she sure does have the energy to encourage others to give. And then she has made it happen every week for the last 18 months. So I decided to ask my church family to bring food to help her for that Sunday- the Got Bannock Burger Day. And they came through like I knew they would. I carried two laundry baskets full as well as bags of flour to Althea's house after church.
As I entered her back door I heard the laughter and voices of quite a few people. They were her friends and neighbours who had come to help make the bannock buns, and fry the burgers and cut the vegetables. I was invited to come in to help too. As we worked we looked outside the windows to see the rain begin to fall. "It's OK, there are still two hours left. It may slow down or stop". But it continued and even came down harder with gusts of wind.
The group of people in Althea's kitchen (Althea Guiboche)
[Click on the photo to see all the pictures in larger size]
Great bannock burgers (Todd Matthew Dechateauvert)
The amazing thing is that this did did not discourage anyone. When 3 pm came and it was time to load up the coolers and boxes of fruit and burgers everyone was ready to ride (or walk) the two blocks to Dufferin and Main Street. As Althea's black van pulled onto Dufferin Ave. there were already people waiting. They knew that good food was coming.
Then other people began to show up- even more volunteers. One woman brought two large cartons full of hot Tim Horton's coffee with cups and cream and sugar to go into it. Another carried two large packages of cheese to go onto the burgers. A man brought his small daughter and an umbrella. He held the umbrella over people who needed protection from the rain as they gave out food or stood in line. And we discovered a cooler full of egg salad sandwiches from a woman who is celebrating Ramadan. People from all walks of life provided and served the food.
There was really no way to avoid getting wet. The water was coming down in buckets. So we kept the coolers closed except to reach for a wrapped burger and gave access to things to put on the burgers under the cover of the end gate of Athea's van.
Later that day Althea reflected on the day. "If there is one thing I learned to have, it's a healthy respect for the weather, my mantra is "hot or cold, rain or shine, if they're out there, then so is the bannock lady" any element they're in, then that's how I serve lunch, until I have a space to shelter them, then this is how it is, sometimes it gets messy or really cold, but the food is packaged and stored and given fresh, it's made with love and contains no judgements.
I serve in the pouring rain or the coldest cold, I even make the media suffer with us lol just so they realize the extreme elements We face, I do it to let them know I stand with them, count myself with them, and will fight for change for them .
We really did not need to give out cups of cold water on 29 June: all we had to do was point our mouths up to the sky! But the giving went beyond that. People from different religions, cultures, ideas,and lives came together to give and receive. Althea writes, " I welcome all cultures, all faiths, all religions, to come together and feed our city's poorest, we need to become a village that sees no differences, that comes from one race, the human race!!"