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The story behind Our Lives:

Voices of Westview Centre4Women

A wise friend of mine once said something I’ve never forgotten: “I wonder what God will do next.” I can still see the quizzical, yearning look on her face when she spoke. I recalled her comment as I pondered how God recently led me to a unique, surprising experience – writing a drama based on the lives of women at a St. Catharines, Ontario, inner city program begun by and lodged in Westview Christian Fellowship, and directing the women as they performed the drama for the public on November 18 and 19, 2016.

According to its website (westviewc4w.com), “Westview Centre4Women is a weekly drop-in providing women of all walks of life with a safe, welcoming and dignified environment where we are accepted and encouraged. While at WC4W, every woman is seen as an equal as everyone has something to offer to the community. We encourage every woman to be herself and strive to treat everyone with dignity and respect.”

The journey begins
My relationship with Westview Centre4Women (WC4W) – formerly named Women 4 Women – began years ago. In the Sept. 22, 2008 issue of Christian Courier (“The Persistent Call to Pray for Prostitutes”), I shared the story of how God led me to the women’s program. In 2004, I was shaken when I learned about the global sex trafficking trade, and I began to pray that God would begin a ministry in St. Catharines to reach out to sex trade workers. I didn’t know why God had led me to pray for something that was outside of my comfort zone. But the demand to pray persisted.

Occasionally, I prayed as I walked in the Queenston Street neighborhood, an area infamous for the sex trade. At times, a friend joined me on my prayer walks.

I didn’t know that the congregation of an acquaintance of mine had purchased a church building on Queenston Street. When she mentioned this, I told her what I had been praying for, and that I thought it was amazing that her church had bought a building right on Queenston Street. Imagine my surprise and joy when, in the fall of  2007, my acquaintance mentioned that her church was beginning a women’s program – open to all women, including sex trade workers! In March 2008, I was invited to share this story with her congregation, Westview Christian Fellowship. Afterward, I thought that  my journey with this church was completed. I couldn’t have been more mistaken!

Through the intervening years, our women’s Coffee Break Bible study supported WC4W with monetary gifts. I also attended occasional community events hosted by WC4W, but other than that I wasn’t connected to the program.

Then, in the fall of 2015, I attended an adult education class at my church, Covenant CRC, where we studied Live Justly by Jason Fileta, Ronald J. Sider and others. In my small group, I related how God had led me to WC4C many years ago. Our group prayed together and asked the Lord to lead us in seeking justice.

Allowing women to participate in a drama based on their own lives gives them a voice in the community and alleviates some of the frustration they feel from not being valued or heard.

Finding a voice
In December 2015, I once again felt the Holy Spirit prodding me to contact Erika Klassen, the director of WC4W. We were finally able to meet on February 4, 2016 during lunch at WC4C.  As Erika and I were catching up, the director of programming at WC4C, Jane LaVacca, joined us. Jane mentioned that she wanted the women to write a drama about their lives. Immediately, I felt joy! I offered my help if they needed me. They weren’t sure the project was going ahead. Jane was waiting to hear from the Niagara Prosperity Initiative from whom she had requested funding. She hoped that a drama based on the lives of the women would give them a voice in the community and alleviate some of the frustration that they feel when they aren’t being valued or heard.

When the funding was approved, Jane and Erika asked me to come on board as the playwright. Jane created a questionnaire for the women about their lives and invited them to fill it in. If a woman was illiterate, she recited her answers to a staff person. I received the completed questionnaires, the women’s poetry, examples of correspondence written on the women’s behalf to social service agencies and the names of songs the women would like to sing. With input from Jane, Erika and Jackie, a woman who uses the program, we decided on the metaphor of a safety net – which best describes the program – and used that metaphor to shape the drama. After five practices and many challenges, 13 women from WC4W took a monumental leap, walked on stage and did their part to give all the women at WC4W a voice in the community. Though most of their stories were traumatic and painful, the women weren’t looking for pity. A listening ear and a welcoming response from the audience were what they were after.

What will God do next?
As I directed the women during the practices, I told them that they would never be the same after they participated in the drama. Afterward, when I asked the women about their experience, one woman was silent for a moment, then said, “I have no words. No words.” A look of wonder and joy graced her face. Once again, I remembered the look on my wise friend’s face and the words she spoke many years ago.

I wonder – don’t you wonder? – what God will do next! 

 

Creative Living
(Used with permission. Scene 4, Our Lives: Voices of  Westview Centre4Women)
– Hey, how do you make ends meet on your disability cheque?
– Oh, I’m super creative. I dumpster dive for lots of stuff. You can get coupons, food (only eat it if it’s still wrapped!), even some good magazines.
– Wow, that’s cool, because some days I’m so BROKE I can’t even PAY attention!
– I rent a room uptown and they don’t allow us to have a hot plate so I make grilled cheese sandwiches with my iron and aluminum foil!
– That’s amazing! I’ve had to get really creative, too, especially with toiletries. They’re so expensive. Recently I had to resort to using coffee filters for feminine hygiene pads! Can you even imagine? Hey, necessity is the mother of invention!
– The whole province is all about recycling and reducing and reusing, like this is something new! Hello? This is our lives!

Laugh So You Don’t Cry
(Used with permission. Scene 7, Our Lives: Voices of  Westview Centre4Women) 
– Did you know I have Dissociative Identity Disorder? It makes for some pretty funny times. Recently I actually called my husband to pick me up from Westview Centre4Women and he was like, “Hey honey, you drove your scooter there!” [Laughing] I totally forgot how I arrived here!  My doctor is great, though, and he’s helping me, and keeps telling me to try to laugh about it all so I don’t cry.
 – Hey, you want to hear something funny? Have you seen that sign out in front of the new restaurant? They serve tapas. Do you know what tapas are? I found out that it’s just smaller portions! Can you imagine? As if we would like that! Our portions are small enough!
– Hey, you want to hear something else that’s funny? My monthly income was reduced, so I need to find a cheaper place, right? Well, I saw this place I can afford and there’s a No Outside Pets rule. So I wonder, do the bed bugs and cockroaches that come with this cheap place count as Inside Pets?

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