The Calgary Dream Center, A Place of Transformation

The Calgary Dream Center is one of Legacy Kitchens’ Charities of Choice because of its success in helping transform the lives of men and their families. Our signature event fundraiser for the Calgary Dream Center, Music for a Winter Evening, took place at the Jack Singer Concert Hall just before Christmas. This well attended event was enormously successful in raising over $150,000 for the transformation activities of the Dream Center.
One of the evening’s highlights was the very moving testimony in poetry by Luke Cole, a gifted 25 year old Calgary artist who is a recovering resident of the Center which guides men caught in cycles of poverty and addiction into lives of purpose. Luke’s amazing story is featured in this week’s posting. His poem that he presented that evening with his mother at his side is in the sidebar.

Luke Cole’s Story of Transformation – by Lee Hart

Luke Cole wants to continue growing up. He wants a career. He wants a place of his own, he wants to pay his own bills —hopefully drink less coffee in the process — but more importantly he wants to learn to live life on life’s terms.

The 25-year-old Calgary young man, who has been a resident at Calgary Dream Centre since October 2014 doesn’t want to go back to those dark places in his mind, and those dark days in his life, particularly over the past couple years, that had his life in a downward spiral of drug and alcohol addiction. At his young age, with a lifetime ahead, the grip of addiction was killing him.

“Being here has given me a new beginning,” says Luke,, as he talks about being part of the Dream Centre seven-week youth program, which was the first stage of his so-far five-month stay at the Dream Centre recovery centre. The day of this interview he had his first job interview, which he hoped might lead to a career in retail.  And from there he could look at other possibilities as well — getting more involved in his art, developing a healthy personal relationship, reconnecting with his family, just having a life.

“I need to focus on the positive, in a world where there is so much negative,” says Luke. “There is a lot of crap out there. And there will be things that come along in life I just have to learn to deal with. Our dog Levy, for example, is getting up in years and may not be around much longer. That may be a test from God to see how I deal with that. I don’t want to throw away all that I have learned over something that is just part of life.”

Luke’s battle with addiction had roots in his earlier life. Raised in a good home with his parents and sister, he recalls a long-struggle of not feeling good about himself. Although he didn’t admit it to his parents until later, he was bullied through much of his middle school and high school life. Later as he matured he had confusion in understanding and finding his place in the world as a young gay man, in a society built around the belief that “being straight” is the norm.

“I was really tormented in school — I didn’t understand,” he says. “I had no sense of value. I wasn’t sure who I was or which way to go.”

His first experiences with alcohol were good. He enjoyed the feeling. It made him feel comfortable. When he turned 18, he could drink freely. He drank more, but didn’t see it as a problem. His life was quite manageable. At age 20 he left home for a year to attend university in British Columbia and that’s really where “all hell broke lose,” he says.

“At first I enjoyed drinking,” says Luke. “It made me feel good. I enjoyed parties. I perhaps didn’t realize it at the time, but really it was just covering up what I was feeling inside. I was hurting. I had this void inside and drinking filled that void — took away my troubles.”

After a year at the performing arts school, Luke returned to Calgary. The drinking continued and got worse. He was a daily drinker, although occasionally would launch on a more extended binge.

He got involved in a relationship, which was good for a while. But when that relationship ended it put him into a depression and a downward spiral with more drinking. He didn’t know how else to cope.

He would work for a while but then either lose or leave a job. There was tension at home. His drinking and his behavior were causing upset in the family. He got into some scraps but with the help of his family avoided the possibility of going to jail. But the drinking continued and got worse.

The rubber hit the road in the late summer of 2014. Luke’s parents were away at their summer cottage. His on-again, off-again relationship with his partner was still causing anxiety.

“I was just out of control ,” Luke says. “I just went on this binge. I was alone, I had access to alcohol, I didn’t care about anything.” At the same time within him, he knew he wanted to stop — wanted to live.

Returning home to find their son was in a seriously bad state, the Coles looked for help.

“We had been very concerned for sometime, but really didn’t know how bad it was and we also didn’t know what to do about it,” says his mom Darcy. She began to investigate and came across the name of a facility called the Calgary Dream Centre which could offer some help.

“We couldn’t go on the way we were,” she says. “It was tearing the family apart and it was killing Luke.”

Although it was all new territory to Luke and his mom, they met with Calgary Dream Centre staff who explained the program of recovery at their residential facility.  By early October 2014 they had a spot available for Luke in their youth program.

Since joining the program Luke has never looked back. The Calgary Dream Centre program, which is built around a 12-step recovery program, isn’t about teaching people how to manage alcohol. It is about learning to understand yourself as a person, learning to change yourself, learning to find a higher “spiritual” power in your life, learning to grow up and develop coping skills so you can learn to live life on life’s terms.

“The youth program is very similar to the adult program,” says Luke. “You attend many of the same meetings together where we hear the same message, but there are some differences as well.”

For Luke the main message was about learning about who he was as a person and to begin finding value in himself. He began journaling again which has great therapeutic value for expressing thoughts and feelings. The program teaches discipline and responsibility as each resident is responsible for a range of duties around the facility such as cleaning, and helping with meals.

In working through the 12 step recovery program, residents first must admit and accept they have an addiction they are powerless over. Then they need to develop a connection with a higher power — the God in their lives — and realize that no human power can relieve their alcoholism.

“We were raised in the Catholic church so I was always aware of God, understood faith and knew about prayer,” says Luke. “But I had to learn about connecting to God on a daily basis for help to lead me out of this dark place I was living.”

The 12-step program focused on showing Luke to accept responsibility for himself and his actions and learn tools for coping with all of life’s challenges. “It is about learning to grow up,” he says. “And learning to rely on God to handle all the issues in life that are beyond my control.”

Luke has just begun a lifelong journey of recovery, but he is positive about the future.

“I finally have my feet on the ground again,” he says. “I want a career, I want to pursue my art. I need to make amends to my family and others for the harm I have caused. I want to get married some day and have a stable relationship. I also want to give back and help others find their way out this darkness.  The Dream Centre program has given me a new starting point.”

For Darcy Cole, looking proudly at her son, as he begins a new journey in recovery it is a simple yet vital matter, “The Dream Centre saved his life,” she says.


A Story of Transformation; Frankie

When Pat Nixon and I recently met Jenny Shantz, the director of Inner Hope Youth Ministries at their undifferentiated residence in a quiet and pleasant East Vancouver neighbourhood, I was struck by the loving and safe atmosphere reflected in the faces of both the young people and staff members living together in this clean and comfortable home. It was evident from the face to face introductions of everyone that this was a place of caring and compassion.
Frankie is one of the young people with a troubled past but now with the loving help of Jenny and her staff over the last few years, faces a bright and unlimited future. Frankie’s story, in his own words in the video below, is particularly compelling for its transparent honesty and “no judgement”.

Jenny talks about Frankie and how Inner Hope reaches out to youth at risk;

Inner Hope Youth Ministries came into contact with Frankie four year ago. At the time, he was 15 years old, dealing drugs and attending an alternative high-school program due to attendance and behavior challenges at school. Inner Hope reaches out to at-risk youth in Vancouver by providing stable housing, practical support, life skills mentoring and discipleship opportunities. Our primary focus is serving youth ages 13-24 coming out of homes with high levels of instability including abusive home environments, parents struggling with addiction, broken family relationships and dependency on the welfare system. The spring we met Frankie, we were launching a new life skills program called Boundless and were recruiting youth to join and be matched one-on-one with a mentor. When Frankie joined the program, he openly stated that he would meet with his mentor and attend workshops, but he wasn’t interested in anything to do with God. Over the next 2 ½ years, Frankie’s heart softened and we were privileged to witness incredible transformation. Not only did he return to mainstream school, secure a “legal job” and graduate from high-school, he also began attending church and was baptized to declare his love for Jesus and desire to follow Jesus’ path. Over time Frankie has gained a new understanding of his identity, both as a young Native man and child of the King. It is truly an honour to walk alongside Frankie as he journeys into adulthood and a life full of “boundless” opportunity.

Leaders in Transformation: Cheryl Bear


Dr Cheryl Bear is an award winning First Nations recording artist and conference speaker.  She has three cd’s, the self titled Cheryl Bear album, The Good Road and just released A’ BA in January 2012.

Cheryl has a Bachelor of Arts from Pacific Life Bible College in Surrey, plus a Master’s degree (Mdiv) from Regent College, Vancouver, BC. In 2009, Cheryl Bear earned a Doctorate of Ministry from The King’s University in Los Angeles.

She is married to Randy Barnetson who serves as the Pastor at Vancouver Foursquare Church in the down-town eastside area of Vancouver and as an Evangelist telling the Good News about Jesus Christ.  Cheryl and Randy have six sons and five grandchildren.

Their goal is as significant as it is audacious, to visit every one of the 1000 First Nations communities, reservations, reserves and settlements in the USA and Canada. So far, they have been to over 600 with many accessible only by small aircraft.  They also take teams of First Nations Christian drummers and dancers to other countries around the world on short term missions trips sharing the Gospel through Native cultural songs and dances and have been to 35 nations so far. These teams are very effective, especially in Muslim nations.

Leaders in Transformation; Patrick Nixon

Patrick Nixon is a leader in delivering compassionate and transformative programs for the poor and the homeless. He has been well recognized and honored for his outstanding leadership in poverty alleviation across Canada. In 2001 he was named Calgary’s Citizen of the year, in 2005 he became a member of the Order of Canada, in 2007 he received the Alberta Order of Excellence and most recently, he was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal.  His dramatic life-path to this esteemed position could not have been more arduous.

Pat was born into a troubled Vancouver home in 1960 and after a painful childhood of abuse and abandonment, he moved to Calgary.  He was only 15 years old, and alone. Panhandling on the streets of Calgary, he was befriended by four compassionate men from First Baptist Church. Refusing to give him money and send him on his way, they instead bought Pat a meal. One of the men, Rod Derry, took Pat into his home to live for a year.  After, slipping back into his old ways, he ended up in a provincial jail for armed robbery.  Two years later he returned to Calgary and reconnected with Lise, a young girl he had fallen in love with during his year living with Rod, and they were married in 1979.  He was also compelled to reach out to First Baptist Church and the church not only welcomed him, but they recognized his leadership aptitude and compassion, and asked him to start a homeless ministry in the church. In 1984, this fledgling ministry officially became the Mustard Seed Street Ministry and with a staff of 12, they served emergency meals and provided shelter to 50 people a day.  The Mustard Seed grew steadily under Pat’s visionary leadership, eventually offering transformational emergency care, training, job search services and transitional and affordable housing. It also offered life-changing opportunities for volunteering.  By 2006 the mission was utilizing 11,000 volunteers to serve 365,000 people.

During that period of miraculous growth many individuals and companies passionately supported The Mustard Seed, including Legacy Kitchens, where I serve as CEO.  Pat and I became friends over the years and more recently, very close friends through a difficult transitional period.

In 2010 Pat left the Mustard Seed and in 2011 took on the CEO role of T.H.E. StreetLevel Network, an organization that he and a number of other Canadian leaders began some years ago. StreetLevel is a movement of compassionate doers driven to action by their belief that poverty and homelessness can, and must be solved. It is made up of dedicated leaders who, compelled by their Christian faith, and through the various Canadian organizations they represent, are working cooperatively to address the systemic, sociological, economic, cultural and spiritual deficits that contribute to poverty and homelessness across the country. This national network is open to anyone who is interested in these issues, regardless of faith or current involvement in matters of justice.

One of the most important tasks that StreetLevel is taking on is to tell the stories of people affected by poverty issues and transformed through the work of poverty alleviation organizations they connected with.  Over the next number of weeks this blog will present a number of these short inspiring videos. The first features Pat Nixon and Tim Huff co-founders of StreetLevel addressing the issue of poverty and homelessness in Canada.

Foundations of Transformation: Easter

Foundations of Transformation

A Cosmic Easter

In December 2013 I posted a blog that the message of Christmas is a foundation for Transformation.  “Jesus’ humble beginnings illustrate how God has shared in poverty, and that the starting point for transformation lies in identifying with the poor and the disadvantaged. Indeed, God identifying with the poor and disadvantaged as a central message of Christmas, provides millions with the foundation of how they want to live their lives ……”

If that Christmas message of Jesus’ birth into poverty provides motivation for transformation, the resurrection of Jesus that millions of Christians celebrate at Easter and stake their very lives on, is worth examination as the very basis for transformation.  If true, the resurrection would indeed be one of the seminal events of history with the the resurrection being the very hinge point of Christianity.

This Easter my wife Evelyn and I are blessed to be visiting our daughter and her family in Cambridge .  On Easter Day we attended their church, St Edwards King and Martyr,  where  Malcolm Guite,  the notable English poet and singer/songwriter,  acts as chaplain. (see short bio in sidebar) He delivered a powerful Easter sermon which echoed elements of  his 2013  “A  Cosmic Easter ” sermon which is featured in this article.  What strikes me as singularly important in the sermon is the life choice I have in response to the “grand miracle”, transformation is a matter of choice.  I  present portions from that sermon along with his poem, Easter Dawn, which appears in the sidebar.

(To hear the entire 15 minute audio of the sermon, click on  this link or copy it into your browser:

Cosmic!  I’ve always just wanted to say that word from a pulpit.  Cosmic, but cosmic is a word to which I am going to return and my pleasure in saying that word loudly and joyfully to you on this Easter morning.  Cosmic, I’ll say it again.  It’s not simply that I am perhaps the last gasp of a generation that quite liked to say, “hey man, that’s cosmic” , it’s because since the days when I used to say “hey man that’s cosmic” I have discovered something that genuinely is “cosmic”; and that is the good news that we celebrate today, of the resurrection of Jesus, Jesus Christ. 

Even with the little bit of Greek that I staggered through when I was doing my New Testament studies, I was delighted to discover that that oft quoted verse, John 3:16, “…and God so loved the world that he gave his only son Jesus Christ” is actually not so much “the world” as “ton kosmon”, God actually loved “the whole cosmos”.  That’s what “the world” is… the whole of everything, the beautiful goodness that he created…

It was actually sitting in this church and hearing words from this pulpit that gave me a great thrill and a sense of that news again when Sir John Polkinghorne, the cosmologist and priest, said about the resurrection; he said that the only thing he felt in the whole  of the old order that the current order, the current making of the cosmos, to which you could begin to compare the unique dynamism and power of this event, the resurrection; he said you can only compare it to the big bang, to the singularity, the unknowable thing out of which everything else flowers. 

And just as we are trying in some way, brilliantly and beautifully in science, to look at light from a great distance and look back and beginning to try and reconstruct this almost unfathomable, unknowable event out of which we and everything else sprang, that’s the kind of approach we should be taking to the astonishing event of the resurrection.  It’s something out of which everything else in the new order, which is the kingdom of God, flowers.

I’d like to share with you, particularly some words from a favourite writer of mine who also comes to this very same conclusion, and this was not something written just recently.  It certainly wasn’t just some sixties cosmic piece of writing, although it has that word.  It was actually a sermon delivered in nineteen forty-five by C.S. Lewis called “The Grand Miracle”.  And of all the writings of Lewis, if I had to choose one passage that encapsulated my hope, I think it would probably be this one.

Let me share it with you as good news on Easter Morning, and tell you that I applaud it all to the rafters.  He says this:

“I believe that God really has dived down into the bottom of creation, and has come up bringing the whole redeemed nature on his shoulders.  The miracles that have already happened are of course, as scripture so often says, the first fruits of that cosmic summer which is presently coming.”  And then he goes on to say something which seems to me to be prescient of this particular spring.  He goes on to say:

“To be sure, it feels wintery enough still.  But often in the very early spring it feels like that.  Two thousand years are only a day or two in this scale.  A man really ought to say, ‘The resurrection happened two thousand years ago’ in the same spirit in which he says ‘I saw a crocus yesterday’ because we know what is coming behind the crocus.  The spring comes slowly down this way, but the great thing is that the corner has been turned.  There is of course this difference, that in the natural spring the crocus cannot choose whether it will respond or not.  We can. We have the power either of withstanding the spring and sinking back into the cosmic winter or of going on into those high midsummer pumps in which our leader the son of man already dwells and to which he is calling us.  It remains with us to follow or not; to die in this winter or to go on into that spring, and that summer.”

He wrote that a few years before he wrote The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but you can see the plot there already, can’t you?

“With the wonderful coming of spring”, it’s a wonderful challenge, something astonishing has been done.  But we have this response, this possible response, this way of participating. 

 So I want to finish by saying, what difference does this “singularity”, this “cosmic beginning of a new creation’, this wonderful image which somebody has described “the end and the beginning and the middle, bursting into the midst of history”, what difference does it make to us?

Well, I think the first thing, the first difference that it makes, is that we live in hope.  Something glorious has happened but more is coming.  Jesus says, “Not yet”, at one point he says, “I’ve not yet ascended.  When this happens, go.  When this happens, more is to come.”

We’ve seen a glimpse, we’ve seen the first fruits, and hope gives us a new perspective, and it gives us a new energy.  How many times the Christian Church itself has completely written off, how many times individual Christians have been written off, or have written themselves off and said, “That’s it, I’ve given up, I’ve had enough”.  And then something in us won’t die, something in us won’t lie down, something in us won’t let us let go and give in to the general gloom and pessimism.  There is something alive and awake and stirring.  That first spiritual crocus, as it were, is still somehow there.  And that gives an energy and a hope to us that nothing can take away in this world.  So we have hope. 

We also have a mandate; we have the novum mandatum, the new mandate from which we took the name of Maundy Thursday and which we received again last Thursday, the new commandment to love.  And I believe, because we are speaking of a cosmic spring, it’s not simply a mandate to love one another within our little groups or races or species, I think it is a mandate to love and delight in and share hope with the whole of creation…

To hear the entire 15 minute audio of the sermon, click on  this link or copy it into your browser:








“we become witnesses to transformed lives” ; A 3-part series

Part 3

…I understand what it means to have everything taken away, what it means to be displaced.  I haven’t had to live through a genocide, but our family did have a tragic turn of events.

August 27, 1966—-I was nine years old, my father moved us away from everything familiar to a small northern community where life was cold and harsh. Prior to the move my father sold everything we owned and squeezed what possessions he could into a small U-Haul trailer. Not only had we lost everything that had been part of our family –friends, pets and even our furniture. My mother, brothers and I literally moved from a comfortable life to the place of having nothing to eat. Upon arriving in this new community, my father announced that he would not be living with us, he had another house and person that he had chosen to live with. With that, he left us with a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken, with some tomato soup, a loaf of bread and some milk. So began a decade of poverty and hopelessness.

Without the kindness of a few people in this new place, including a landlord who helped us with food, and made sure that we had a place to live even though we couldn’t pay the rent, and who helped my mother find a retail job, we might not have survived. My mother had very little education; but she was able to afford to put food on the table and to care for her children. I grew up very fast – I had to. I had to help my mother raise my brothers.

My mother’s dreams were simple – that her children would finish school and that they would not end up in jail. She deeply wanted us to have chance, a better life than she had.

As a young girl, I was a dreamer. I believed if I wished or dreamed long enough or hard enough things would come true.  It seemed fitting that the first song that I danced to with my new husband was the Everley Brothers, “All I have to do is dream.”  But it wasn’t long before the wish and the dreams were shattered. The dream died.  The marriage crumbled.

From 1966 until 1978 life took many twists and turns, countless wishes and dreams were dashed.  In the fall of 1978 a friend introduced both my husband and I to Jesus. And for the first time, wishes and dreams were replaced with faith and hope.

Everything started to make sense.  A verse from the bible became our guidepost.

“Here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.”

The world was turned right-side up.

My life has turned out the way I had hoped it would. That young bride is still married to her “Dream.” We have raised our family and had not only survived some difficult seasons, we have matured and grown and our life has purpose.

For years we were caring for others through relief and development agencies and the local church. We knew that we had been blessed to be a blessing.

But that was greatly enlarged when we were introduced to Opportunity International.

This work that I do everyday alongside some of the most amazing supporters who make it possible, makes our entire families life make sense.

My life story connects me in some strange way to Beata’s story and every Opportunity International client. And at the same time I am very connected to the story of our supporters because of the generosity of others extended to our family in difficult times. My husband is my biggest cheerleader and supporter because he has met our clients and is witness to the wonder of it all. My mother…well she is a prayer warrior for our clients and colleagues and somehow this work blesses her life beyond measure.

I know that my calling is to be a matchmaker and to live life generously. My husband and I are connectors. We are called to be change agent for others.

I know that my experiences of being displaced, abandoned, living in poverty were not in vain. I understand deeply what it means to be given a chance.

I also know that my life has exceeded anything I could have wished or dreamed for…a wonderful marriage,  real family, amazing friends, a great education and more than enough material needs and wants.

“I have learned to give not because I have much, but because I know exactly how it feels to have nothing.”

Blessed to be a blessing.

This is the stuff of transformation.


I am so thankful to Doris for sharing her encouraging and inspiring story. Working with Doris and her organisation reminds me of CS Lewis’ words from Mere Christianity: “Now the whole offer which Christianity makes is this: that we can, if we let God have His way, come to share in the life of Christ. Christ is the Son of God. ….He came to this world and became a man in order to spread to other men the kind of life He has — by what I call “good infection.” Every Christian is to become a little Christ. The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else.”  A Christian then, being a transformed person through the love of Christ, lives a life full of loving relationships.

“we become witnesses to transformed lives” ; A 3-part series

imagePart 2

…..And together we become witnesses to transformed lives

Real life transformation in the lives of women like Beata.

Beata is a genocide survivor from Rwanda. Her husband and three of her children were killed in the 1994 genocide, and Beata and three other children were left for dead. But they didn’t die. They survived.  For a long time, Beata was confined to bed with her injuries. For seven years she lived in a fog. She calls it the years of the living dead.  She was depressed and her life seemed meaningless. Everything except for the fact that she still had children that needed her to live.  In 2001 a friend introduced her to Opportunity International Rwanda. Beata makes the comment, “It wasn’t just the fact that Opportunity gave me a loan because they saw my talent as a craftswoman. Opportunity became my family. They helped me start over. They gave me hope. They didn’t deny me a loan even though I was confined to my bed. It’s a miracle.”

Her first loan was $35 just enough for her to build a business making colorful beads out of paper and other crafts.  Since receiving that first loan in 2001, Beata has remained a faithful client and has grown her business significantly. In 2012 she received a loan for $4000!

Beata is committed to helping others in her community and is finding the path to hope and prosperity. When I met Beata in 2012, two of her children had finished college and the third had one more year to go.

While she still suffers with post-traumatic stress syndrome, Beata is full of hope.

Her response to the horrors of the Rwandan genocide makes her one of my Opportunity heroes. Beata’s life is a shining example of so many of the women and men that I have met over the years in Latin America and Africa.

And together they all make my life make sense.

When I was a young child, I prayed what I thought was a prayer…

“I wish I may, I wish I might, Have the wish I wish tonight.” The wish: a secure happy family; enough food to eat; a home we can call our own; a reason to keep on living. ”

I understand what it means to have everything taken away, what it means to be displaced.  I haven’t had to live through a genocide, but our family did have a tragic turn of events….

part 3 next week

“we become witnesses to transformed lives” ; A 3-part series

Over the next three posts, I will introduce Doris Olafsen through her personal story of transformation.

Doris is Vice President of Opportunity International (OI) Canada, a microfinance organization dedicated to transforming the lives of the poor.

We have known Doris since 2006 when we traveled with her to Peru as part of a due diligence trip of her organization, Opportunity International Canada, and where we wholeheartedly committed our company to their microfinance work with the poor.

As Vice President of OI, she is our liaison to the work of Opportunity and has accompanied us a number of times to Colombia where she not only managed our desire as a company to directly fund various pilot projects with Opportunity into fruition, but was essential to their growth and development through her remarkable working relationships with implementing individuals in Colombia and Canada. Her relationships extend much beyond that what one would normally expect from a person working in development with a relatively large organization, as she is well known in our Calgary offices with not only executive ans ownership but with regular staff members as she makes it a priority to visit and foster relationships. A significant number of staff have become personal supporters of OI over the years. Fostering relationships and making friends is how Doris works, within her organization and with donors across Canada.

Here is Part 1 of Doris’ transformation journey, in her own words.


How does one live the best version of themselves?

For me it has been helping others find their way out of difficult places and spaces. In May 2005 the chance to do this for countless families around the world became my reality. I joined the team of Opportunity International.

On an Opportunity International Insight Trip to Colombia in 2005 my husband made a comment that continues to inspire me about this work we do.   He said, “This is what Jesus would do. He would see the woman baking bread over an open fire and would say, Let’s buy her an oven so she can bake more bread. And then he would come alongside her and bake bread with her.”

This is transformation. Helping people live up to and live out their God-given potential.

Everything that our family has been through from the time we were children prepared us to be agents for change for others.

This is transformation.

In the name of Jesus, this is that cold cup of water. This is what Opportunity International is all about.

Over the last nine years our family has walked alongside and prayed for many families in a number of countries. We have  witnessed firsthand what happens when ‘dreams’ become reality.

Opportunity International is a banker to the poor. The work we do is called microfinance but in reality we are the hands and feet of Jesus. We come alongside some of the most creative, tenacious survivors on the planet. People who are figuring out how to provide for their families in some of the most precarious places. Their entrepreneurial ability and God given skill and talent is their collateral. This is what Opportunity International invests that first small loan in.  We believe in them. And then we mentor and equip them to become the best version of themselves.

And together we become witnesses to transformed lives.


Part 2 will be posted next week.

13 Transformations for Christmas

My second Christmas blog is written by my friend and neighbor Lee Hart. In his moving article, he describes transformation for 13 men as being a difficult process with setbacks along the way, a process that requires the loving assistance of community and most important of all, hitting a bottom to where placing their lives in God’s hands offers the one hope that brings about transformation. Will it last? Cynics can dispute the chances of lasting change but as Philip Yancey says, “Yet as I read the birth stories about Jesus I cannot help but conclude that though the world may be tilted toward the rich and powerful, God is tilted toward the underdog.” Personally, I like their chances. Their faith in that God who favors them along with personal commitment will make the difference. John Buller

Lee Hart is a long-time Calgary resident who began his own journey of transformation about six years ago. In that time he has worked “to give back, what was freely given to him” and has become a sponsor (or mentor) to a number of men struggling with the disease of alcoholism — carrying a message of hope. It is never hopeless, but we are helpless, until we find a sincere willingness to change, and ask for God’s help. Along with “working with others”, Hart has been a writer for more than 40 years. He worked for newspapers as a writer and editor for many years, and for the past 25 years has been an agricultural writer and field editor for Canadian farm magazines Country Guide and more recently Grainews.

 13 Transformations for Christmas

I experienced a very moving moment of transformation recently  as I attended the “graduation” of 13 men from a 12-week drug and alcohol rehabilitation program here in Calgary. The fact the event was just one week before Christmas made it even more special. What an amazing gift for  their friends and families!

It was not the first “grad” of this nature I have been to in recent years., but it was particularly important to me as one of my best friends took his few minutes at the mike to express his heartfelt gratitude to the staff of the Fresh Start Recovery Center, his fellow recovering addicts and alcoholics, and of course God for giving him another chance at life.

Each spoke in turn about where they were in life 12 weeks ago before being accepted into this program. Most of these guys were between the ages of 25 and 40 although there was one old sufferer (55 years) who hadn’t been out of Yellowknife in more than 25 years largely because for much of that time he had been in and out of prison for one offence or another.

Their stories were as varied as their personalities, but all had a common message — their alcoholism or drug addiction had brought them to a point of complete hopelessness. Most had lost everything – jobs, homes, family and friends, and perhaps worst of all they had lost any hope of ever being released from the death-grip of their addiction.

One young man, Jeff, said he had pleaded with his family just to leave him alone. He said he was a wasted, useless human being and he just wanted to die. They didn’t give up on him, and helped him to get into Fresh Start.  At the grad ceremony, among the audience of about 125 friends and family were his sister and his mom who had driven all the way from the North West Territories to be there for his graduation. There were a lot of tears.

My friend Tim has been struggling with his alcoholism for more than 15 years. He’s been in and out of jail, in and out of treatment centers. Although there had been brief periods of recovery, those were followed by relapse. Late last August as he disappeared into another binge of drinking and drugs he texted me that he just wanted to die. He felt it was hopeless. I was prepared for a call saying he had overdosed, or met some other untimely end.

But by the grace of God he hit his bottom, and made it to the Renfrew Recovery Detox Center in Calgary, where over the next few days they got him clean and sober. He didn’t have many treatment options left, but through the caring persistence of the Renfrew staff they finally on September 9 got him a bed at the Fresh Start Recovery Center.

I have known Tim for a few years. We meet or at least talk just about every day. When he is clean and sober he is probably one of the finest young men a person could ever know. Clean cut, polite, courteous, unassuming. He’s been in the welding trade for number of years – he could make good money there, and that helped to support his spiraling drug and alcohol addiction.

But his great passion in life, and by all accounts, his great talent in life is golf. He wants to be a professional golfer, he wants a career in the golf industry. He was an amazing golfer as a 15 and 16 year old, but soon got derailed by the booze. There was a long period of self-destruction. When he finally picked up his clubs again about a year and a half ago, he was still an amazing golfer. After just a few weeks of rigorous practice he could play a challenging course and come in with a 68 or 69 score on a par 72 course. It sure bugged me— I dream of someday breaking 100.

In good stretches he has worked with professional golfers here in Calgary, who all agree “here is a kid who has something.”  He had a dream, but he also suffers from a serious, life-threatening disease — alcoholism.

As they completed the 12 week recovery program,  these men and their friends and families celebrated the fact they had all been clean and sober for 90 days. That 90 days of counseling in a safe and supportive environment had brought each one from the depths of despair to the threshold of hope — an amazing transformation.  They’ve all been given another chance.

The reality of drug and alcohol addiction is that there is no cure. It is a chronic, progressive and fatal disease. But there is a solution. Part or most of their rehabilitation program is built around a 75-year-old program called Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). It is a 12-step program. It is a program each sufferer must practice for the rest of their lives, one day at a time, if they hope to remain sober.

The AA program itself has nothing to do with alcohol….alcohol is only mentioned once in the 12 Steps. The AA program is about learning to change who you are as a person. It’s about teaching men and women how to live life on life’s terms, dealing with the joys, difficulties and stresses of everyday life without resorting to that great “fixer” – alcohol.

And a vital component of that 12 step program is learning to connect with your spirituality — finding God or that higher power, it is essential. The book of AA clearly states “no human power can relieve us of alcoholism” and “there is no cure, we are granted a daily reprieve contingent on our spiritual condition.”

Will these 13 men make it? I don’t know. I certainly hope so. They completed a 12-week recovery program, but they are really just at the beginning of their journey. If they leave that center and a week or month or two down the road say “I think I am okay now. I think I can go back to my old life, I can go back to my old job, my old friends, and my old thinking and damn I am sure I can manage a drink now and then, I know how to handle it…” if they allow that kind of thinking to creep into their minds, it will only be a matter of time before they are right back at their absolute bottom and they may have another chance at recovery or they may just die. That happens far too often.

They need to leave that center with a rock solid commitment to keep in touch of their recovery, with that 12-step program, every day of their lives. The willingness to change who they are needs to be burned into their souls. And every day of their lives they need to be asking for God’s help and guidance. It has often been said in the AA program that alcoholism is the only disease that tells you don’t have a disease. That’s often followed with a comment, “while I’m in this room at my AA meeting, my disease is out in the parking lot doing push ups.”  There is no break. There is no room to let your guard down…alcoholism “is a cunning, powerful and baffling” disease.

I hope they all make it. Some do, but many don’t. Changing who and what you have been for probably more than half your life is no easy task. But if they ask for God’s help they will make it.

It was moving and inspiring for me to bear witness to the first and dramatic phase of transformation these men have made. My prayers are with them as they continue the journey.

Lee Hart