Forward House- by Vicki Ross
There were so many positive learning experiences for me on the Winnipeg leg of the trip, but one of my favourites was our time spent at Forward House. Forward House was basically our last ‘stop’ on what had already been an incredibly busy and, at times, overwhelming week. From the time we arrived in Winnipeg on Saturday afternoon, God opened many doors for us to experience amazing things and hear from amazing people. My brain was having a hard time keeping up! Thursday was our last full day in Winnipeg. In the morning we heard from Ovide Mercredi, a prominent Aboriginal chief, and then went to the drop-in at the Winnipeg Centre Vineyard Church where we heard about their School of Justice. I knew that the plan for the afternoon was to head to Forward House, a ministry I knew very little about, and that our awareness concert was planned for that evening. To be perfectly honest, the last thing I wanted was to head to yet another organization. My brain just didn’t feel like it could handle any more information, no matter how great the ministry was. It was a bit of a rainy day, I was tired and verging on cranky. I honestly didn’t think there would be anything new or different that I would learn from this experience- I had seen enough already! I couldn’t have been more wrong.
I have never encountered a ministry quite like Forward House. I used to work at the Mustard Seed in Edmonton, so I had some knowledge of what residential programs are like, but had never visited any of them. As far as I know, one of the main purposes of residential programs is to give people who suffer from addictions or destructive lifestyles the opportunity to make change by first removing them from their environment. Recovering from an addiction requires a lot of work, effort, and motivation on the part of the individual. Usually the person needs to take part in some form of counselling and/or support group in order to look at the root of the addictive behaviour, and learn how to change his or her pattern of thinking. However, it is also recognized that one’s physical and emotional environment plays a huge role in addiction recovery. A person might have the best of intentions when it comes to their recovery, but that resolve can be chipped away when they are surrounded by friends who are still in that lifestyle. The website describes Forward House as a ‘home to men who want to start a new life’. Many of these men are enslaved by addictions, are dealing with legal issues, or struggle with mental illness. They have experienced things like broken homes, jail, detox centres, unhealthy or abusive relationships, lack of education and low self-esteem. They may feel as though they have hit rock bottom and have nowhere else to turn. Some men also choose Forward House as a place to complete their probationary sentences.
The first thing that struck me about Forward House was the peace I felt when I entered the building. Despite being disgruntled prior to going in, we were so warmly welcomed and instantly fed that I soon felt my demeanour changing, almost in spite of myself! It’s not something that I can explain, but I honestly felt God’s presence in that house, and it gave me comfort and even anticipation for what was to come. I couldn’t help but notice the various displays of Christian faith on the walls…whether quotes of Scripture or pictures or notices on the bulletin boards. The house itself was very simply furnished, which might be why these stuck out more- it was not at all hard to tell that Christ was fully welcomed into that place. It was also cool to see toys and other evidences of children that had lived there- Forward House has the ability to house men who have custody of their children.
When Peter spoke with us about the ministry at Forward House I could sense that God was with him, from his humble attitude, to the words that he spoke, and the answers that he gave. It was very cool to hear him share about the work that is being done- starting with his own testimony! He himself went through the program, was able to overcome addictions in his own life, and is now serving God by inviting others into the path of freedom. It always gives me shivers of hope and wonder to hear how God has worked in someone’s life. I was also very intrigued to learn about the approach that is used for recovery- Peter went through the house rules that they have in place. It was a long, long list that outlined the expectations for each person living at Forward House (there are actually 5 separate buildings but they are all run the same way). There are rules regarding behaviour (no violence, no inappropriate language, no movies unless they are approved, no pornography, maintaining curfew, coming to meals, expectations for cleaning), and the houses are carefully monitored with security cameras 24 hours a day. I was surprised to hear that they haven’t really had too many issues with people breaking rules!
The men are also encouraged to attend a Bible Study at least once a day and are given the opportunity to attend church on Sundays. Men who choose to live at Forward House are aware that it is a Christian program, so it should not come as a surprise to them that there is such a strong emphasis on the Christian faith. It is exciting for me to think of the work that Christ is able to do when the gospel is being preached as consistently as it is at Forward House. It reminds me of the parable of the seed- when it falls on ready soil, it will take root, and will flourish. Sometimes the most ready soil is the kind that has tried to live life according to the sinful nature, but has begun to feel the devastating effects of those choices. For those who feel like they have hit rock bottom the truth of the gospel can often become words of life, hope, meaning, and joy. Especially when it comes to addiction recovery- without Christ I think that road would be a lot more challenging, if not impossible. It was exciting to hear of some of the stories of these changed lives.
On the Forward House website are these verses: to loose the chains of injustice… set the oppressed free… share your food with the hungry… provide the poor wanderer with shelter. Isaiah 58:6&7. These are familiar verses for Harmony through Harmony as this is what is at the heart of what we seek to do. I was greatly blessed by the opportunity to learn about Forward House, as well as the ability to raise some funds to support their ministry through our concert later that evening. As usual, God knew what I really needed that afternoon- He lifted my spirits with stories of changed lives, and in witnessing the humble spirit of a man who wanted nothing more than to share with others the joy and freedom he had found in Christ.