My heart breaks over and over

Elizabeth Áine Achimah at The Side Door Youth Drop-in Centre.
 on March 1, 2016
Michael Hudson

Elizabeth Áine Achimah is the Lay Neighbourhood Chaplain for the Church of the Resurrection, Toronto.

The main part of my job is overseeing The Side Door Youth Drop-In Centre. I mentor and support a fantastic team of volunteers who care for the youth. I provide leadership at our Friday night drop-ins and youth forum nights, which can range from movie nights to board games to themed parties. I meet regularly with the youth and their families outside of our scheduled events to provide pastoral care. We recently started a play group for moms, dads, caregivers and their children.

At The Side Door, we are working on a multimedia project that gives a voice to the youth to share what it is like to be youth in Toronto today. It is easy to talk about youth and read about youth culture, but we need to listen to youth. I work with an amazing group of youth who have a lot of rich insights and wisdom to share, and we are trying to capture these things through videography, photography, poetry, storytelling and art.

I have the amazing privilege of hearing the stories of youth and their families. I get to walk with them in times of uncertainty, darkness and pain. There are times in which I get to pray with them, speak God’s truth, and read scripture. I get to see the raw pain in youth as well as their courageous steps towards wholeness. I wouldn’t trade anything in the world for this privilege. That being said, this work is challenging and my heart breaks over and over as I hear their stories. I often sit and listen and feel like there are no words or actions to make things better. I have to sleep at night knowing that many of the youth who I have come to love deeply are in situations that no one should have to deal with, yet alone a youth. I take hope and encouragement that I serve a God who loves these youth and their families far more than I ever could.

I was born and raised in Ontario and am the eldest of eight children. I spent a lot of time dabbling in different areas, both in terms of education and work, bouncing back and forth from some form of medicine to philosophy and theology. Most of my jobs have been ministry-related. I remember, in one church, realizing that I am most fully who God made me to be as I serve within and from the church.

I grew up in a fairly broken home but church and living out the Christian life were always a central part of our lives. We attended a variety of denominations – primarily free evangelical churches – and were always heavily involved in each church. So in many ways, “being Christian” was just what we did. It wasn’t until my teenage years that I developed a relationship with Christ and the church that was separate from my family’s faith. We were attending an Anglican Church at the time and I fell in love with the liturgy and practices. In particular, I loved the daily offices and made a point to pray them as often as I could. I was confirmed in the Anglican Church, which was a very meaningful moment in my faith journey. I also went on a spiritual pilgrimage to Wales with the youth and young adults, which had an impact on my life.

When I was 17, I felt called to full-time ministry. I remember my response very well: “No thanks, God, I’m going to be a veterinarian.” I’ve since learned that God doesn’t take no for an answer! Fast-forward 10 years: I was studying at the University of Toronto to obtain a second bachelor’s degree in psychology, so I could go on to do further graduate work. I had tried on many other hats but nothing seemed to fit right. This time, everything was going well. However, in December of that year, God decided to shake things up a little bit. In the entire university, the only courses that I was able to enroll in were theology and Biblical studies. I smiled at God’s sense of humour and realized that he has always been preparing me for ministry. I applied to Wycliffe College and embraced ministry as a calling.

My specific interest in youth drop-in ministry to at-risk youth has been influenced by a number of things. One of them is the gang culture in Toronto. I hear of gang violence with youth or young adults and my heart aches because it doesn’t need to be that way. Gangs provide youth with a sense of belonging, meaning and family. I believe that the church and the Christian message ultimately does the same – and more! If the church can meet youth where they are and provide a place where they can be who they are and loved, it has the opportunity to literally save lives as well as speak God’s love into their lives.

What would I like to be doing in five years? I’m open to the Spirit’s leading, as I don’t have any specific plans. I imagine I will be involved in some form of ministry.

I love the Psalms for their honesty. One of my favourites is Psalm 25, in particular verse 21: “Let integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for You.” This verse has often reminded me that regardless of what is going on in my life and in the world around me, I am called to live with integrity and to wait for the Lord.


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