Every Friday night, a group of Redeemer students, who call themselves “Deeds,” gathers in one way or another. In spite of weather advisories, exam seasons, and global pandemics, there have been few Friday nights where some collection from this persistent group of students hasn’t assembled in one way or another.
On a typical night, students haul styrofoam cups and three orange Gatorade jugs filled with hot chocolate onto city buses and head down the mountain. Their purpose is to build relationships and a sense of community, handing out hot chocolate as an ice breaker and getting to know individuals who are homeless, marginalized, or simply walking by on their way somewhere.
In the current context of tightened restrictions and new variants, the group has begun meeting virtually for evenings of prayer in lieu of the traditional Deeds nights. In keeping with its history, Deeds is refusing to die out.
Deeds has existed for almost twenty years. It didn’t start at Redeemer; it started when two students at York University in Toronto challenged each other to run from their campus all the way to Union Station. The two locations were on the northern and southern edges of Toronto, making their jog nearly thirty kilometers. If they were going to run this far, they wanted to have a purpose. The cause that first came to mind was an on-campus group that distributed food to the homeless in Toronto. They collected pledges and raised nearly $2,000. After they finished their run, the students joined the club on the streets once a month. They were inspired by these months and realized just how easy it was for them to be more involved in the community they were growing to be a part of. With that, the idea of Deeds was born.
Deeds made its way from Toronto to Redeemer in 2007. It was carried over after a group of Redeemer students visited during what used to be an annual mission trip to Toronto. One student had become friends with the York student who had started Deeds, and asked him to lead the Redeemer students on their first experience with it.
The feelings that were stirred up in those York students that spurred them on to begin Deeds seem to be ones that most students who have been on Deeds before have felt.
Over the last two years, it’s become hard to predict which activities and clubs will stick around for long. It’s more than a question of interest. Leaders of clubs have had to take into account health and safety, restrictions, and what resources will be available at any given time. The turn out on Friday nights has ebbed and flowed, but it looks like Deeds is here to stay.
Redeemer alumnus John Schuurman was an avid Deeds participant throughout his time here. He was a leader for two years and now works for Indwell, once again finding something special in justice work and spending time with the marginalized. “Where Deeds [is] meeting people with love, so [is] Indwell, to the point where people’s experience with homelessness [is] ending,” Schuurman shared.
What is it about this type of work that pulls people in? Schuurman has a few thoughts on this. “It addresses different kinds of hunger people feel in their spiritual life that they don’t find in a lot of other places. It’s a really accessible way to build relationships and friendships with people who are otherwise excluded from friendship by almost every other person in their world.”
Not only are the friendships with the people that students meet on Deeds important for them, they are significant to the community. “It’s really easy to find volunteer opportunities to provide service to people who are marginalized or homeless, but there aren’t a lot of places that people who are living on the streets can go to build friendships. There isn’t a “listening ear” centre in Hamilton. That’s something that has made it really unique and valuable to people in Hamilton.”
Fourth-year student James Scott has been leading Deeds for much of his time at Redeemer. He’s watched Deeds evolve over the last few years. When he first started going, there were usually six to eight students every Friday night. “It was really tightly knit, but if anyone was busy then it was even smaller.” This past semester, attendance has been anywhere between five and thirty-five students.
Looking at the past two years and how much improvisation has been required of every club and activity at Redeemer, students’ enthusiasm for Deeds after several lockdowns is encouraging, to say the least. Yet at the same time, Scott has a humble perspective on the club.
“I never thought that it would die out, but I definitely saw that it could happen and had to come to terms with that,” Scott shared. “I kind of came to the conclusion that you know what, this is great for the students and for some people downtown, but God doesn’t need Deeds. I’m going to try to keep this club going because it has the potential to be a blessing to both students and the people downtown, but if it dies out, so be it. God will accomplish his mission some other way.”
Avigail Venema, a first-year student who has found a love for Deeds like Scott, Schuurman, and so many other Redeemer students, shared her experience. Venema is inspired by her parents’ example: “They’ve been reaching out to the people that others ignore for years, and it was something I wanted to do, too.”
Looking back on her encounters so far, she realizes just how much she has learned. “I’ve learned to appreciate the little things that I have. [I see] some of their despair, and I can better see the joy I have in Christ. In those who still have joy or hope, I am encouraged to have greater joy and hope.”
Even as the city of Hamilton, Redeemer University, and the student body all continue to change, you can expect to still find Deeds meeting every Friday at 6 p.m. at the Rec Centre.