Partnering for Change

Ministering to the Streets of Montreal through Chaplaincy

Winter 2015 - street person sketch; chaplaincyThe subject of homelessness is surrounded by controversy. There are many opinions as to the reasons for homelessness, the treatment of those affected by it, and the strategies for reducing the number of people affected. According to The National Shelter Study 2005-2009, an estimated 147,000 people stayed in emergency homeless shelters in Canada in 2009. This group of outcast and “unseen” people often go unnoticed and uncared for.

Duane and Miriam Mansveld have been working with the homeless and marginalized in Montreal’s downtown for nearly 20 years. Their street ministry has touched the lives of countless youth and adults.

Ministering to this community presents certain challenges. Trust isn’t easily handed out by those living on the street — it has to be earned. In order to build relationships with the poor and homeless, Duane and Miriam have to do more than just provide for physical needs; they have to provide for people’s spiritual and emotional needs as well. They have to come alongside people and partner with them in their journey. Duane and Miriam explain their approach in this way:

“We enter into community with the homeless and marginalized in order to respond to their physical, spiritual and emotional needs and to see them grow as individuals. By entering into community, we mean going to where the people on the street live, where they hang out, the back alleys where they relax, and the sidewalks, subways, and doorways where they make their money. We have been creating relationships with the different people who live on the streets of Montreal, entering their lives, and getting to know them for who they are.”

Duane and Miriam have learned time and time again that working together in partnership is the most effective way to achieve lasting Kingdom impact. Partnership affects their ministry in a few key ways, including helping to alleviate their workload. Because they partner with organizations that provide for immediate needs such as shelter, food, clothing, and healthcare, Duane and Miriam are able to refer the people they work with to these organizations. This frees them up to focus on forming relationships and meeting spiritual and emotional needs. “Partnership has always been a key part of our street work. There is a lot of good work that is already being done, and that means we don’t need to double up on services already being provided.”

 This also means they can refer people to “friends” instead of to a nameless organization. As Miriam explains:  “It is always more effective to refer someone to a nurse or social worker that we know, rather than calling a service where we’re unknown. The individual feels more confident and secure … because they are not just meeting a nurse, they’re meeting Duane’s friend, Nancy.”

In July 2014, after many years of service with the AÉBÉQ region, Duane and Miriam entered into a new partnership by becoming Fellowship Chaplains. Given the nature of their ministry, the Mansvelds made a perfect match for our Chaplaincy ministry, whose goal is to “demonstrate the love of Christ where people live and work.” Duane and Miriam are doing just that by forming relationships with the homeless and marginalized and, ultimately, introducing them to the transformative love of Christ. One of the blessings of this new partnership is the ability for Duane and Miriam to pass off administrative tasks. Duane explains that Fellowship Chaplaincy “… relieves Miriam and me from the huge burden of administration. We are street workers and like most street workers, what makes us good at our job makes us horrible at administration—so we are so very grateful towards Fellowship Chaplaincy for this blessing.”

Throughout the years, one of their key partnerships has been with each other. Duane writes, “I truly don’t think that our ministry would be as effective without our partnership. Miriam and I complement each other on the streets. I believe that the reason that our ministry has lasted over 20 years is that we are able to encourage one another, hold up one another, and persevere together.” The book of Ecclesiastes 4:9-11 tells us “two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” Having someone beside you to share the joys, frustrations, and challenges that ministry brings to the table has been crucial for this experienced couple. “To have a partner that understands the realities of street life is a blessing. We understand each other and are there for each other during the good times and bad.”

Partners encourage each other; they build each other up. This is the goal of the Street Level Network, which reaches out to those Christians who work among the homeless. Duane and Miriam helped plan a regional Street Level conference in Quebec, where Duane hosted a workshop focusing on how to enter into fellowship with the poor and homeless around our church communities. Another one of our Fellowship Chaplains, Claude Vachon—who also ministers to the street community—also hosted a workshop at the conference. The Street Level Network helps the Mansvelds, “feel less alone in our street outreach, and gives us the opportunity to fellowship with other Christians who share our Father’s heart for the disenfranchised.”

Duane had the opportunity to discuss the issue of homelessness in Montreal with the Mayor’s office. This has the potential to be an influential partnership that could affect the direction of governmental initiatives to alleviate homelessness in the future. Duane comments: “We are able to share an insider’s point of view on the street community with the Mayor’s office. To date we have just had one meeting with the Mayor’s office; we pray and hope this meeting and any future meetings will influence the city when it comes time to develop policies that touch the street community. We were also able to share with the Mayor’s office the heart that the local churches have for the city and their desire to, ‘seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away, and pray to the Lord for it; for in its peace you will have peace.’ Jer. 29:7”. 

With the support of their partners in ministry—including Fellowship Chaplaincy—Duane and Miriam will continue to reach out to those who live in the street community. As their ministry grows, they will need continued prayer and financial support. Our Fellowship of churches has already played a pivotal role in helping further this fruitful ministry. Duane and Miriam express their appreciation to our churches, saying: “Without the prayers, financial support, wisdom and encouragement from our church community within the Fellowship, our ministry would not be what it is today.” If you would like to become a partner in Duane and Miriam’s ministry, contact Fellowship Chaplaincy at or call the Fellowship National Office (519-821-4830 x 227). As Helen Keller said, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

 —Valerie Heaton provides administrative support to the Communications department at the Fellowship National office.