When it comes to learning to see others through the eyes of Jesus, we often need a little help. The distractions and busyness of work and life keep us focused on our comfort, and we don’t always remember God’s call to seek justice for the oppressed and to alleviate the suffering of others. That’s why Compassion Canada created the Eyes to See resource for individual study and small group use.
Now, Ambrose University and Compassion Canada are partnering to bring this resource to life in a new way for church and denominational leaders in Canada. We are hosting a two-day workshop, both virtually and in-person, taught and led by Shaun Groves (Compassion International), with Derek Cook (Canadian Poverty Institute, Ambrose University) and Gordon King (Canadian Poverty Institute, Ambrose University).
Eyes to See: A workshop for church leaders in Canada
Who? Church and denominational leaders in Canada
What? A two-day workshop on poverty, justice and compassion, with practical takeaways on how to mobilize communities toward meaningful understanding and action.
When? May 11 to 12, 2023
Where? In-person at Ambrose University in Calgary, satellite location in Ontario, or remotely online
Cost: $100 in-person; $75 satellite; $50 online
We love partnerships like this at Compassion! In the words of Compassion Canada’s Director of Partnership Development, Mike Penninga: “Compassion’s ministry model at our core is about partnership for Kingdom purposes. We partner with the local church all over the world, but we also love partnering with God’s people here in Canada. Opportunities like this to work alongside Ambrose University in helping advance our thinking when it comes to poverty alleviation is a great win for all sides.”
Derek Cook is the Director of the Canadian Poverty Institute at Ambrose University. To give you a peek at why Derek and his team are partnering with Compassion on this Eyes to See workshop, we asked him to answer a few questions for us. You’ll learn about Derek’s passion for addressing poverty in Canada, his work with the Canadian Poverty Institute and where he is finding hope these days.
CC: Welcome, Derek! We’d love for you to tell us a little bit about yourself.
DC: My name is Derek Cook, and I have the privilege of serving as the Director of the Canadian Poverty Institute at Ambrose University. My work at Ambrose follows a long career in government and the non-profit sector in research, policy and community development. In addition to my work with the Canadian Poverty Institute, I also serve on the Canadian Council of Churches Commission on Justice and Peace and the board of Mennonite Central Committee Alberta. Originally from southwestern Ontario, I moved to Calgary over 25 years ago with my wife. We are proud parents of a talented daughter completing a joint degree in Music and English here at Ambrose. We also recently adopted a puppy, Teddy, who is a very mischievous and energetic toy poodle.
CC: That sounds like a very full and beautiful life. Tell us about the Canadian Poverty Institute at Ambrose University. When and why did it start? What do you love most about your leadership role there?
DC: The Canadian Poverty Institute was founded in 2014 by an Ambrose alumnus, John Rook, who recognized the need for such an institute given his long career in poverty work nationally. There is no other academically based national institute in Canada with a focus on poverty eradication, although similar institutes exist in the United States and elsewhere. The vision of the Canadian Poverty Institute is a compassionate and just society where the material, social and spiritual wellbeing, rights and potential of all people are attained. We want to see the eradication of poverty in Canada through teaching, research and action that promotes systems change.
What I love most about this work is the opportunity to connect with people and have meaningful conversations about poverty that perhaps challenge our assumptions. We want to help people see poverty holistically, involving material, social and spiritual dimensions. By taking such a holistic perspective, we are able to bring a unique faith perspective to secular conversations about poverty. I am encouraged that through our work, we are making a difference by addressing the underlying causes of poverty, not just alleviating its symptoms. In this way, I believe we are heeding the biblical call to justice and compassion.
CC: You were one of the early reviewers of Compassion Canada’s Eyes to See resource. What was your first impression of the help, and why is it content you’re still excited about today?
DC: What excited me about Eyes to See was its holistic understanding of poverty which closely mirrored the perspective of myself and the Institute. The resource challenges us to think beyond simply charity and reflect instead on how we faithfully act in the world in response to God’s call for justice and compassion. For those who want to have deeper and more meaningful conversations about poverty in their community, Eyes to See provides a structured way of leading those discussions. I hope that people would be inspired and empowered to use the resource to engage their congregations and communities in this way.
CC: From your perspective, what are some of the most significant challenges facing the Church in Canada regarding meaningfully responding to poverty?
DC: I think there is a sense of powerlessness regarding poverty here in Canada. Poverty and the needs we see around us can seem quite overwhelming and [we can feel it is] beyond our capacity to do anything about it. While we are often generous with acts of charity, dealing with the underlying causes of poverty seems like it is beyond the capacity and role of the local church. Perhaps because of this, we focus on the spiritual well-being of people and leave the rest to governments or non-profit organizations that seem better equipped to address the deeper issues. Yet, this forgets that throughout history, the Church has had a powerful role in not only alleviating poverty, but working to end the conditions that cause it. We have forgotten that we can have a meaningful influence in the world beyond just tending to the spiritual needs of people.
Related to this is a second challenge that the Church faces, which is one of perception. Unfortunately, many view the Church with suspicion, particularly in its efforts to work in and with the community on issues such as poverty. There is a concern that the underlying motives of the Church in engaging in these issues are related more to proselytization and conversion than genuine care for those living in poverty. The Church is also associated with past actions and attitudes that have been discriminatory and exclusionary, causing harm to those who have suffered discrimination and exclusion in society generally. Part of the task of engaging with poverty, then, is critical self-reflection and an attitude of humility and service.
CC: We are living in quite complex times that sometimes feel overwhelming or despairing. In the midst of this, how are you cultivating hope these days?
DC: I have always taken great hope in the passage from Matthew 6:31-33, where Jesus assures us of two things. First, He reminds us that God has provided abundantly for creation. This provision is not one of mere subsistence but of abundance and flourishing. Secondly, He provides us with a clue as to how we can unlock this abundance: to seek God’s kingdom. But seeking God’s kingdom isn’t fundamentally about personal holiness. Rather, if we reflect on the nature of God’s kingdom, we see that it is one of justice, love, peace and service. If we pursue these things, then human flourishing is the result. It is said that what grows is what we water. Focusing on all that is wrong in the world and feeling the need to fix it can lead to despair. However, if we focus on growing spaces of justice, love, peace and service, we are instead watering all that is good and gives life. This is God’s path to abundance for humanity as well, so we know that it will bear fruit and that we are not alone in this work.
CC: Tell us a bit about why you’re excited about this partnership between Compassion Canada and Ambrose University to host a two-day Eyes to See workshop for church and denominational leaders.
DC: I’m excited at the prospect of equipping people to engage their congregations in meaningful conversations and actions to address poverty in their local communities. I know that there are people with a heart to lead but who may feel they lack the knowledge, skills and confidence to start. Throughout history, the Church has been a powerful force for change. If we can inspire leaders who can mobilize their congregations, I know that important change is possible.
CC: What do you hope this workshop will accomplish? Whom would you say should attend and what can they expect?
DC: My hope for this workshop is that it will inspire and equip leaders to be a force for change in their congregations and local communities. Anyone who has a heart for leading and encouraging their congregation to work for change in their community is welcome at this workshop. The workshop will provide a balance of learning about poverty, reflection on God’s call to the Church and practical skills in leading initiatives for change. Through this workshop, I hope people will feel better equipped to live out Micah’s invitation to seek justice, show mercy and walk humbly with God.
Today, we encourage you to seek the flourishing of God’s Kingdom right where you are and look for ways to spur others on toward addressing poverty in your own community. We are all able to learn something about loving others in the way of Jesus!