FIMBY: strengthening Christian bonds around the Downtown Eastside

Stephen Rathjen is hoping to connect with more Christians who live, work and worship in the Downtown Eastside.

Stephen Rathjen has lived and worked in the Downtown Eastside for many years. He has many friends and connections in the area, but over time experienced how Christians can live in close proximity and still not really know one another.

To increase that sense of community he has created FIMBY (Family in My Backyard) 

Speaking at a recent conference he said: 

What I noticed over time is that there’s a lot of Christians in that neighbourhood [Downtown Eastside / Strathcona] doing a lot of good work – and they’re very disconnected. These are churches, community houses and Christian charities, all within the area that I’ve lived – and they haven’t really worked together.

The FIMBY project was catalyzed when one day, walking back from Stanley Park, he had “a bit of a vision”:

I saw the city sort of floating above the city, and I had this sense of this is what it would look like if the Christians could work in collaboration, to kind of come together.

Rathjen had a vision of a city floating above the city.

He wondered what he could offer to help this vision come to life. He works in IT, so he thought he would try to combine those skills with his values and “the heart of Jesus.”

He came up with FIMBY . . .

. . . an online platform that would allow my immediate neighbours – not everybody, like on Facebook, but my immediate neighbours – to be able to see each other, share their resources, their needs, and even have an online lending library, a way to share what we have.

Rathjen “took it for a test drive” this spring by “strong-arming” 25 or so of his neighourhood friends to try it out. “It was great,” he said. “We were sowing a lot of seeds.” Posts ranged from “urgent birthday soup overflow” to highlighting more serious needs.

A personal encouragement occurred when he asked for book recommendations. He was invited over by fellow local resident Aaron White; they had known each other for years, but never visited each others’ homes.

One practical result was the addition of the lending library. People suggested it was important to be very practical, allowing people to share and borrow specific things, rather than just posting needs and offerings.

FIMBY covers the Downtown Eastside / Strathcona neighbourhood.

He began to imagine that the concept would “snowball through my neighbourhood and through the city and through the country – problem solved, we’re all neighbouring.”

 But when he fully launched it this fall, “that was not the case.” Posts were infrequent, and he thought, “But I built the ark, where are the animals.” After initially blaming others for their lack of participation, he began to recognize that he himself needed a change of perspective:

To be a neighbour, you have to actually make room. . . . I had to go through this exercise of actually making space. It was really painful to actually take some of these things that I thought were my comfort to make room to neighbour.

But it’s been hugely transformational for me to feel like I actually have the capacity to be a neighbour, by actually making this space in my life and letting things go.

His enthusiasm for the FIMBY project has been rekindled:

It’s not just about having a magic tool that solves a problem. You have to have tools and plans and capacity, but you also have to have the heart. You really have to make that space in your life . . .

Rathjen would love to hear from anyone who lives, works or worships in the Downtown Eastside – and would be interested in “stitching the neighbourhood together, finding common threads.”

Go here to learn more about FIMBY.

I pieced this story together from a coffee shop conversation with Stephen (and my wife Margaret), but also from a presentation he made as part of a CityGate Vancouver gathering, Reimagining Home.

Among the several other speakers addressing a range of topics:

  • David Ley: Vancouver Housing Landscape: A Lay of the Land
  • Melissa Giles, Managing Director of BC Rent Bank: Rent Banks
  • Karen Giesbrecht: Co-Creating a Shared Home
  • Barry Jung: Neighbouring
  • Tim Dickau, Cara & Thomas Bergen: Sustaining Life in a Shared Home for the Long Run
  • Kate Miller: Sheltering the Daydreamer: Maintenance Art for a Reimagined Home
  • Jenny Shantz: Home as a Place for Healing
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