Bewdley, Ontario at Sunrise

Bewdley, Ontario at Sunrise
Mysterious Mist on Rice Lake

It is well worth cycling 25 km before going to work. Going from 2 weeks of just eat, cycle and sleep, being back at work is like trading a simple life for a complex and busy life..

Don’t get me wrong. What’s not to like about my job working with a great faculty and support staff and anticipating the return of eager students. That’s all great.
Two days ago I met Joey when I stopped briefly in Bewdley at the waterfront. Joey had been there with his bike since about 3:30 am because he was unable to sleep.
Joey’s life story is one of disappointment and hope. Due to a work accident he had been left a quadrapalegic. After more than 1 bout of cancer he was determined to get back on his feet. That is how I met him, once again being able to walk and cycle.
He can manage to bike 3 km a day or handle a weedwhacker for about an hour. He can’t lift objects. His life sure seems simpler than mine. He takes more time to enjoy the spectacular sunrise over the water. A simpler life at first glance but at the same time not without considerable challenges.
It was my 2 weeks of cycling that raised My awareness and compelled me to strike up a conversation with him and at the same time being encouraged by him.

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Poverty: A Tangle of Roots

I am back to work and quickly find myself in the demands and time crunch of guiding a small independent Christian school to once again be ready to receive the students for another year of learning. It seems like September 3 is just around the corner.

The need to work at breaking the cycle of poverty begins in working with students ages 4 to14. At this age already, one can observe situations and conditions that put students at risk of living a life of poverty.

If poverty is a loss of connection with others, an absence of community, then we need to recognize students who have challenges when it comes to connecting with their peers. These challenges are most prevalent for students that have learning, social or emotional challenges or physical disabilities.

Each child wants to be acknowledged, wants to be recognized as a valued part of their peer group. However, students who have non-verbal learning issues, students who are dealing with the effects of autism, students who experience fetal alcohol spectrum disorder often experience difficulty in connecting with other students. Students with these types of challenges need someone to advocate for them in order to learn how to connect with their peers. They also need the support of their peers by having peers who have been taught to show empathy.

Showing empathy does not happen often enough as a auto response. It must be part of the program planning at a school to help students understand the challenges students with disabilities are dealing with. One such lesson involved getting the whole class involved in a simulation of what it is like for a child with autism to deal with sensory overload. Following such a simulation, the students were then given an opportunity to debrief and analyse the experience.

Using simulations to develop empathy is but a small first step. This must then be followed up by reinforcing and encouraging supporting behaviour.

It’s often the people who are most in need of supporting behaviour that are sidelined by hurtful comments or actions that are done to them. Part of breaking the cycle of poverty is to learn to develop communities of support, communities the encourage peace, communities that value each member for their differences or their sameness.

As we begin a new school year, we have several students, new to the school, who have social challenges. Our challenge as faculty is to rally the students to reach out in empathy and support.

The Message of the Church and Poverty

On Sunday morning most of the 125 cyclists found their way to the Church of St. Andrew and St. Paul in the heart of Montreal. Here we were welcomed into a church that is taking it’s calling seriously about being the hands and feet of Christ in ministering to the poor.

The message was shared by the Rev. Dr. Glenn Smith who is the executive director of Christian Direction. It was his message more than is title that left a mark on me.

The key point of his message is that poverty is not an economic matter. Poverty is not a matter of lack of money. Poverty is a matter of relationship, it’s a matter of connection. That’s why poverty is inter-generational.

In speaking about Jeremiah’s letter to the Israelites who were taken into the Babylonian captivity, the message was, despite the shame of being taken out of the promised land, make Babylon your home – build in it, make it their own. Or as he put it more succinctly, work diligently for the peace of the foreign city, the city of your oppressors. He challenged them to intercede for the wellbeing and peace of Babylon.

The job of Christians is to pray for the leaders, for the elected officials and to help them bring about an order so that the poor, the orphan’s, the strangers and the widows are taken care of. That there is a place that meets the needs of all the people who make up the community.

What would happen if each and every Christian took this message seriously? What would be different?

I believe more of us would be focused on face to face relationship with those who experience poverty. We would be able to put a face to it and name it. We would be able to provide hope, one at a time to people who live in poverty.

I believe more of us would recognize how systemic change is needed so that the focus is less on GNP and more on quality of life, policies that are there to help those who need support, socially, educationally etc. One indicator of this would be a decreasing gap between the earnings of the rich and the poor. It’s not the money difference that counts, but rather, leaving time and resources for each person in the community to be able to access.

I believe more of us would have our eyes opened and see how our misuse of resources, usually motivated by greed or a desire to take care of ourselves very well, is denying opportunity and resources for others. How does our purchasing of goods we don’t really need contribute to sweat shop labour? How does our discarding of cheap things we buy contribute to the gradual devastation of the earth, creating pollution, defacing of creation and destruction of habitats that support life.

I believe more of us would recognize the idea of having enough. Having enough goods to look after our needs (as opposed to wants), having enough time to connect with others in our community, having enough time to see and reach out to those who are isolated, either through their own doing or being intentionally shunned by the community.

The big idea of the Sea to Sea ride to end the cycle of poverty is not the money it raised. The big idea is creating a personal awareness of what poverty really is and then making personal lifestyle changes to change the reality that grows out of that awareness. The money raised ($1.8 million to date) can be the catalyst to help fund systemic change or provide resources to empower those who experience poverty.

Break the cycle of poverty – in the name of Christ – that is the liberating message.

On the way to church on Sunday morning, I drove through the Mohawk village of Kahnawake and saw “no casino” stickers in many places. That surprised me because in my experience, because many casinos that I recognize are on Indian reservations. The “no casino” signs arised out of an understanding that casinos create systemic problems. The community of Kahnawake have citizens who understand that message.

The “no casino” stickers is one sign of hope. The challenge is to look around and recognize other signs of hope, signs that challenge the systems that make poverty an engrained reality.

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Saying Goodbye

Since today is Friday, part of our peleton meeting included saying goodbye to the riders who are leaving the tour this week. There were about 25 riders giving their goodbyes. Many riders had been with us for one week.

After sharing my comments I realized there were things I Had meant to share that did not come to me at the time. So let me repeat what I shared And what I had wanted to share.

This ride has heightened my awareness of the different faces of poverty. This struck me when I Was at the SAG stop at the Homer Watson carpool in Kitchener. As we pulled in on our expensive bikes a run down car pulled in to a parking Spot near our snack table. The driver stepped out of her car with a small bag of household Garbage.  The sign on the garbage bin read “no household garbage.” My initial response was one of minor indignation. Almost at the same time I realized I had no idea what this woman’s story was. Maybe she could not afford the tag to put her garbage At the curb. Or maybe she had no curb at which to place her garbage.

There were many people to thank in helping me meet my challenge of unicycling 200 km of the 1400 km that I Had the privilege of riding. To complete those 200 km I received the Gracious help of many a cyclist that happened to come upon me in a moment of need. Not having learned to free mount a 36″ uni prior to this ride I had to rely on a fellow rider with a sturdy shoulder to offer assistance.

I also want to thank the SAG volunteers for exchanging my bike for my unicycle so I Could pick the most suitable sections to ride. This was not always convenient. Yet I saw a Real willingness. It highlighted for me that poverty is also a real inconvenience.

I appreciated the riding time as an opportunity to catch up on people I Had not seen in awhile and meet new people and hear their story. The tour is an intentional community organized so people would look out for each other.

This has been my first experience with a multi-day cycling ride. I had done a reasonable amount of training but had no idea what to expect. The experience of the past two weeks would want me to do a full ride, the Lord Willing, the next time a Tour like this is planned.

The challenge, coming from this tour is how to continue to advocate for the poor, how to recognize the systemic changes that need to happen to address the issue, and how to make Personal lifestyle changes that leaves more room for The poor. This includes recognizing what purchases contribute to the issue of poverty.

Some of the tour people thanked me for using the unicycling to give the tour and the cause greater exposure in the press.

Today I decided to take it easy. Leaving historic Brockville I took the time to take pictures of the unique house designs, the historic sites,  the stone walls and the incredibly rich and varied vegetation.

Tomorrow we ride into Montreal. Very a fitting destination a We will be hosted at a First Nations school for the weekend. The appropriateness of this has not been lost on the riders.

The Power of Encouragement

Its been more than a week of cycling. There have been groups of people greeting us as we rode along. At times whole communities came out to show their support and encourage the cyclists in their endeavours.
When the support and encouragement is personalized it bumps things up to a higher level. As the tour entered Ontario I was getting into familiar territory. The first encounter of personalized support occurred in the Sarnia community. Meeting professional colleagues and former room mates wasthe first taste of this.
As I entered London my two daughters had gone all out to show their support for the cyclists and for myself. They had helped mark the route through London and helped organize refreshments. In addition to that they had written personal nots with sidewalk chalk to encourage their dad.
The day we rode from Ajax to Trenton bumped up the personal support to a higher level. The stop at Hope Fellowship in Courtice gave me an opportunity to hear words of encouragement from the large community where I have worked as vice principal and principal for the past 23 years.
Arriving 2 hous later at Grace Church in Cobourg brought cheers of support from my worshipping community and friend. Wow, what a boost.
This is also the community in which on friend had bumped up my commitment to ride 10 percent of the tour on unicycle by challenging me to do one day as a 50 km ride. I decide that the day I would ride through Cobourg would be the day I would attempt the 50 km unicycle challenge.
I left Grace Church at about 12:30. The weather was great, the next stretch of road was relatively level. So I set off. My youngest daughter agreed to ride with me. Great company and reliable support.
All went fine the first little while. No UPD’s, no major hills. But then at the 10 km mark a spoke broke. Since I did not have a spare spoke I had no choice but to take out my spare unicycle. The step down from a 36″ wheel to a 26″ wheel. It’s kinf like putting the “donut” on your car to get you to the nearest gas station when you blow at tire.
A smaller unicycle meant working much harder. Instead of covering 10 feet with eacg stroke of the pedal I was only able to cover about 6 feet. That means my top speed had dropped from 18 km / hr down to about 11 km / hr.
I arrived in Brighten after a volunteer had come looking for me. He reported back to the Brighton church. When I rolled in there still a handful of volunteers to greet me. They had put some refreshments aside. One of the volunteers, Doug was so thrilled at me arrival that he didn’t want to go home. After a big hug from him he figured out that a cycle shop in Bloomfield would be able to repair the 36″ unicycle. Since it was close to closing time Doug and my wife Jane made a dash for it.
Meanwhile I was contemplating whether to continue. What to do. Since I had about 35 km behind me I decided to push on. After a brief discussion about the condition of the route, my daughter and I pushed on.
At this point the pedalling wasn’t going any easier or faster. The rest stops were becoming more frequent, that did create opportunities to talk to people about the purpose of the tour and the reason for unicycling. (Read the purpose in a earlier blog) On one such rest stop in Colborne a fellow Christian made a $20 donation to the cause.
When we were about 8 km from our destination we found out that the bike shop in Bloomfield had managed to patch the broken spoke. After asking if they could bring us the unicycle Doug figured he knew where to find us. (Cell phone tech is sure great) In short order Doug and my wife Jane arrive.
With the larger wheel under me again we were able to pick up the pace. At 7:30 we rolled into the Trenton Christian School.
The kitchen crew had kindly set aside a plate of supper for us.
In reflecting on this experience it makes me realize that there are many people who do not experience the support of a community. Many who are caught in a cycle of poverty are working doubly hard with no end in sight. At some point all hope fades.
In our small group discussion we briefly touched on the quote, “The poor you will always have with you.” We can take that quote in a number of ways. One response that one member in the group received was, “Why do anything since the poor will always be with us.” Our small group agreed that our response needs to be just the opposite. Our challenge is to change our lifestyle so that continually considering the needs of the poor becomes the first step in how we live.
For each person that we can help, we have ended the cycle of poverty for that one person.
Thanks for the support, the encouragement and the prayers.

A City of Contrasts

Today we rode through the most congested part of Canada – Toronto. This is the first time I have ever ridden across Toronto and viewed it from the seat of a bicycle *not a uni cycle today till I arrived in Ajax)

The slower speed when approaching the city along the waterfront gives one a winderful perspective of Toronto.

We approached Toronto following the Lakeshore Road. As we rode through Burlington, and Port Credit we Experienced the quiet neighbourhoods with many affluent houses. Thise living there have a quick commute into Toronto while having a splendid view of one of the Great Lakes.

As we travelled into Oakville and Mississauga we passed through a noisy industrial area. Shortly after that we experience rows of small shops with the occasional streetcar rumbling by. We were soon greeted by the first glimpse of the downtown as we turned onto the Water Front Trail. Here we passed several more marinas, suggesting a great way to enjoy the expanse of water.

In short order we were right along the Queens Quay (key). Had to teach the American riders the proper pronunciation. This area was a buzz with both tourists and locals. A great place to enjoy sun and a view of the lake with concession stands galore. Right along side of this we meandered our way through the street construction as the city is busily trying to upgrade the infrastructure to service the many condo towers that have and are still being built here.

Once we escaped the construction area we found ourselves in the industrial area along the Gardiner as we approached the Leslie St. Spit area. Just as suddenly we were in the Beach area (Remember it is no longer called the ‘Beaches’.) It a long stretch of beach in abundant use even on a partially cloudy Monday afternoon.

After a short ride we crossed the Rouge Valley (Soon to be Canada’s first urban national park.) After riding through another residential area, we soon found our selves along Bayly Ave with its commercial and light industry type of traffic and activities.

It was great to receive a warm welcome from the Cross Roads CRC Church as we arrived at the Ajax Community Centre. Here is a church that is engaged in effective ministry among many people who are living in poverty and are finding hope with this church. What a blessing.

A Sabbath Rest

After a week of biking this was a welcome day of rest. After breakfast I cycled down to the General hospital where my mother had been admitted on Monday. Thankfully she seems to be doing well with the tests coming back with encouraging results. She hopes to learn more from her doctor on Monday. My father has been making the 45 minute ride each day, getting there by noon and visiting till 6:00.

It was an exhilerating ride into the downtown coming down the escarpment, or ‘the mountain’ as the locals call it. The ride back of course presented a challenging climb. I took the advice of a street person with an old bike and made my way up West 5th St. Having to drop into a very low gear I wondered if the person advising me had actually ridden p that hill. Arriving back at Redeemer I was surprisedto see I had cycled 35km. So much for a day of rest.

I got Back in time for the celebration service. As the cyclists entered en mass into thr Redeemer auditorium  we were welcome by a packed house. The energy and enthusiasm of the crowds singing and worshipping together was truly encouraging and supportive.

The keynote speaker shared his story 20 years of working with the poor in downtown Hamilton. He shared how poverty has a face and helping begins by building a relationship and begining to love the people you help and get to know their story.

It was great to see my two brothers, Rick and George with his wife Yolanda. It was also heart warming to receive words of encouragement from colleagues and other friends.

Looking forward to this second week. We will leave early Monday morning and conquer Toronto with the goal of arriving at the Ajax Community Centre by mid afternoon. Just got to keep the lake on our right, we were advised, if we hope to find Ajax.