UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds

Spirit Story

Sign language

By Pam Brown

Shaking my head, I gripped the steering wheel tightly and whispered aloud, “What in the world did I get myself into?” Less than a week earlier, I had stood up in church and said, “I’ll do it.”

Rev. Kathy Dahmer was preaching about being the church in the world and connecting with people outside our four walls. During the late June sermon, she held up a cardboard sign — the kind typically associated with a beggar — that read, “I have a job. I have a home. I have a car. I have good health. Would YOU like $ for coffee?”

Kathy began to ponder aloud: “I wonder what it would be like if someone took this sign downtown. I wonder what would happen if someone got some toonies to give out.” I stood up, retrieved the sign and said, “I’ll do it.”

On the 20-minute drive into Sudbury, Ont., from our nearby community, I felt a pang of fear. I prayed God would help me find words to speak, the patience to remain silent and solid footing to stand. My grip loosened.

With the cardboard sign in hand and toonies in my pocket, I stepped onto the sidewalk of a downtown intersection. To my left, two men sat on a bench outside the Salvation Army. Other than the occasional murmur from their conversation, it was quiet. Some passing drivers craned to read my sign; many more avoided eye contact.

Before long, one of the men came over. His weather-beaten forehead wrinkled as he read the sign. His eyes met mine and with a sparsely toothed grin, he asked, “For real, you want to give me money for a coffee?” My smile matched his, and I nodded.

Then it happened: he and I, both exposed and vulnerable, risked entering into relationship. I put a toonie into his hand, and he thanked me. It was only about the money for an instant; the conversation was the rich reward.

He went back to his friend, and I was soon shaking another man’s hand and sharing an exchange. Soon, others came like ants to a picnic. With each encounter, the people shook their head with puzzlement that someone would offer them something. Before long, I was surrounded by people sharing stories of the tough circumstances that had brought them to the street.

The following Sunday, I shared my story with the congregation. Others were inspired to head downtown with toonies and the sign, and they too came back with stories about how it felt to be “the church in the world.” Downtown residents started to recognize us as the “coffee people.” A motorist pulled over and gave us $100 in toonies.

By early August, we recognized that this ministry was really about connecting with people. So we changed the sign to read, “I have time to spend if you have time to spare. Wanna coffee?” Now, every week or so, we set up an urn of coffee, cups, creamers and sugar. Close to 20 church members have volunteered for the coffee ministry, and many more have donated.

Matthew 10:42 says the greatest reward is in the smallest act of giving — even “a cup of cold water.” In my experience, a cup of hot coffee works just as well.

Pam Brown is a manager with the Ontario Ministry of Education. She lives in Lively, Ont., where she’s a member of Trinity United.

Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!


The biggest threat to women in South Africa is their partners

by Kristy Woudstra

An investigation of why one woman is murdered every eight hours by her husband or boyfriend in this African country — and how advocates are trying to stop it.

Promotional Image


Jocelyn Bell%

Observations: My last conversation with Nanny

by Jocelyn Bell

Editor Jocelyn Bell reflects on the power of our final words with loved ones.

Promotional Image


ObserverDocs: Playing by Heart

by Observer Staff

Kara Shaw was born prematurely, became almost totally blind and was later diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. The 28-year-old also has a unique musical ability, serving as a United Church music director, and performing piano on local and national stages.

Promotional Image


March 2018

Egerton Ryerson: The legacy of a tarnished hero

by Mike Milne

He founded public education in Ontario — and this very magazine — while also promoting residential schools. How should we judge Ryerson today? Some students want his name and image gone.


March 2018

Church organist has been leading worship for 86 years

by Wendy Lowden

And Louise Pelley is still going strong at 98 years old.


February 2018

Pro-choice advocates still at risk despite Ontario’s new abortion law

by Jackie Gillard

Threatening messages spray-painted on their doors and lawns won’t stop those advocating for reproductive rights. If anything, they feel even more determined to help protect those seeking an abortion.


March 2018

The biggest threat to women in South Africa is their partners

by Kristy Woudstra

An investigation of why one woman is murdered every eight hours by her husband or boyfriend in this African country — and how advocates are trying to stop it.


March 2016

The fighter

by Richard Wright

When he was 13 years old, Willie Blackwater stood up to his abuser at a B.C. Indian residential school. His defiance would eventually help change the course of Canadian history.


March 2018

14 writers share their moving final conversations with loved ones

by Various Writers

These stories will make you laugh, cry and rage. Maybe they’ll spark a fond memory. Or perhaps they’ll prompt you to consider the things you need to say now, before it’s too late.

Promotional Image