This time last year, we here at Act Five were preparing for Term Two with our twelve students: anticipating a winter camping trip with Coldwater Canada (which turned into a mild-weather cabin retreat!); solidifying our rhythms at the Blake house of weekly time to rest, work, play, prayer and study; and confirming last-minute plans for our students’ placements. There was lots for which to be hopeful.
Like the rest of the world, we had no idea what 2020 would bring! By March, just shortly after our trip to Pittsburgh for the Jubilee Conference, we sent our twelve students home and headed into the first lockdown. We finished our semester with our students over Zoom, closing off with a very meaningful online graduation.
The summer was spent reflecting, reading, writing and looking ahead to Year Two. There were many thought-out contingency plans and a few moments of wondering if running our program in the midst of restrictions was even possible at all. Jon and I (Nina) spent week after week meeting on porches, in backyards and masked-up on coffee shop patios, making plans and developing curriculum.
First semester of Year Two with our 16 students this past fall was full of joy, despite the anxiety of a pandemic surrounding us. Our home, which was tenderly named “Blake Haven” by our first crew of students, truly lived up to its name, providing a shelter in a storm.
Just a week after our 16 students left for Christmas this December, Ontario announced its second lockdown, yet another reminder that 2020 has been a tough year, and the challenges aren’t over.
One of the books Jon and I (Nina) read this summer was Faith for Exiles by Hawkins, Kinnaman, and Matlock. This book uses the language of resilient disciples to refer to their hope for young adults in the church. This became language we have adopted here at Act Five, something we long for in our students and aim to have inform our pedagogy. And if there is one gift 2020 has offered us at Act Five (and no doubt many of us all over the world!), it’s resilience: the capacity to endure – and even find joy in the midst of – suffering. This is a marker of what it means to be discipled by the One who “humbled himself by becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8): we are invited to become people who follow Christ even, and perhaps especially, in the midst of suffering.
That is why we are, like at the start of 2020, now looking ahead at the start of 2021 with anticipation and radical hope. We are eager to welcome our 16 students back, following all safety protocol and public health guidelines, later this month. Set on the hope of inviting our students to “rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Rom. 5:3-4), we are yielding to Jesus as we aim, students and staff alike, to be a community of faithful disciples in an time that calls for radical resilience. And we trust that our home on Blake will continue to be a haven, and more than that, a place where students and staff can, like Jesus, face their suffering with courage and faithful trust.
This has not been a year without challenge, but our hope looking back at 2020 and ahead to 2021 is that through it all, we are being made into new creations through the refining fire of hardship paired with Christ’s redeeming work in our hearts.
Spiritual Life Facilitator