Cityview Church has been feeding and creating community with its neighbours for decades.
Worship and community pastor Lalpi Guite – who began with the ministry the day he stepped off the plane from his home in northeast India in 2003 – tells some of the story.
The beginnings of Cityview Church’s OpenTable ministry to East Vancouver’s poor and marginalized date back almost 30 years when we launched a weekly outreach to the Riley Park-Little Mountain neighbourhood.
We offered the residents Backyard Bible Clubs and summer camps, supported by a church-run thrift store on Main Street called Mainstay. Folks could come in for a free coffee, connect with friends in a warm and dry place and access affordable clothing.
Twenty-five years ago, in April 1996, out of a desire to provide these folks with a hot meal, Mainstay began a weekly Thursday lunch program called Soup ‘n Friends in the church basement at Sophia and East 28th. Some years later, financial constraints forced Cityview to let go of the rented storefront and shut down Mainstay.
But the lunch program it birthed has been going non-stop ever since. Today it is called OpenTable. We describe it as “church over a meal.”
What we are today is the result of all the hours of prayer and sweat those who went before us had put in. Several of our regulars have grandparents who used to come for a meal.
When the Coronavirus hit in 2020, we knew we would have to tailor certain things about OpenTable to comply with the restrictions while still meeting the needs of our people.
Shutting it down was never an option. We were convinced that those we had set out to reach are worth a detour here and there. The building ended up closed but the church was never closed. Instead, we have been serving the lunches mostly outdoors.
OpenTable is much more than a feeding program. One of our values at OpenTable is to use our gatherings as an opportunity to connect, to socialize and to minister. We discouraged food ‘take-aways.’
However, with the onset of the pandemic, when we could no longer gather inside the building, we set up serving tables outside and handed out boxed meals. To our surprise, many folks grabbed their food and stayed. They just hung out, chatted and mingled on the grass and benches.
What we intended to be simple food distribution God instantly turned into a picnic! In spite of the changes and the challenges, we have been able to maintain quality relationships and engage in ministry opportunities through those relationships.
Beyond serving those who come to us we have also started to do drop-offs to the few individuals who are no longer able to come. One of those was Billy, a long-time friend of OpenTable. About five years ago I took Billy to VGH where his (now deceased) wife Barb was being treated for pneumonia. Billy was already suffering from respiratory issues himself and could not walk far or do anything that exerted stress on his breathing.
But the spark that erupted when Barb and Billy saw each other in that hospital room was electric. “Why are you crying, honey?” she asked him gently. He answered, “Because I am so happy to see you” as uncontrolled tears streamed down his face. I felt so honoured to be there. A sacred moment! A moment that will remain with me forever.
I last saw Billy on Thursday, December 31st, 2020. He seemed decently healthy.
We ran errands for him that day. But on the afternoon of January 3 a doctor had left a voice message at the church office to say that Billy was really ill in VGH and that we were his only relevant contact. Another doctor left a message early the next day to say that Billy had passed.
It’s a big world and there are billions of people in it. But for an individual to have us as his only contact, I take that as a great honour for the OpenTable team and Cityview as a whole. Obviously, we made an impact on Billy. And we are grateful we had that opportunity.
As part of giving back, the folk at OpenTable have collectively sponsored five children across the world through Compassion Canada. What started as one sponsorship in 2008 has now become five, the most recent being a two-year-old in Sri Lanka. Meanwhile, our first sign-up in Burkina Faso graduated from school.
We at OpenTable and Cityview have gone through a lot. But much has been accomplished. We are indebted to you and to the Lord Jesus for what He has done through a ragtag bunch of individuals like ourselves. He has blessed us – pressed down, shaken together and overflowing!
May the ‘Road Closed’ signs along the way not distract us. But may we continue to be intentional to connect, to relate and to direct folks to Christ. People are worth the detours.
Lalpi Guite has been ministering at Cityview Church since 2003, but his story began far from Vancouver. We published his testimony in BC Christian News in 2009. Here’s how it began:
I am a tribal boy who has seen the hand of God move in and through me.
I was born in a little town called Churachandpur – locally known as Lamka; it is in the state of Manipur, in northeast India.
I belong to a small hill tribe called Paite. We were known to be a nomadic head hunting tribe until the gospel of Jesus Christ came through missionaries about 100 years ago. There are less than 100,000 people who speak my dialect in this world.
Go here for Lalpi’s full testimony.