Building Community with Ex-Offenders
As program manager at The Bridge, John Schuurman ‘16 is helping to create community and foster reconciliation for men who have been provincially incarcerated.
4 min. read
July 28, 2017

Each day at The Bridge, a Hamilton transitional housing service and drop-in centre for men who have been provincially incarcerated, is an opportunity for alumnus John Schuurman ‘16 to learn someone’s story. “I continue to learn new depths of human brokenness,” John reflects, “when I hear stories from some of our clients who have grown into adulthood having only ever experienced pain and hatred from their families or having never had positive relationships before coming to The Bridge.”

The Bridge provides connections, support groups and resources to assist individuals as they seek to reintegrate into society. John’s role as program manager includes helping to facilitate an adults-only worship service called Ananias House Chapel. The chapel is a safe environment for people who have records to worship, and is the only place in Hamilton that individuals with sexual offence records can legally worship and participate in church functions without having to disclose the past that they are trying to leave behind or be supervised by a chaperone.

“In embracing God’s will for our relationships with evildoers, we find the beautiful possibility of restoration through restorative justice.”

The Bridge asks different questions about people involved in crime and the justice system. With a restorative justice approach, The Bridge asks not just what laws have been broken, but who has been hurt. Restorative justice, a new take on a very old approach, addresses “the hurts and needs of the victims and the hurts and needs of the offenders in such a way that they and the community are healed,” writes Corrections Canada chaplain Rev. Rod Carter. The approach, which calls on participation, truth-telling, mutual care, reconciliation and peacemaking, does not replace the justice system. However, it does work to provide healing to both the victim and offender.

How much of the love Jesus commanded of us do we show when our neighbour has a criminal offence record? What difference would it make if we did? “I know that without this place, I definitely would be doing some serious, hard time,” one client at The Bridge states. “The Bridge prevents crime. In my situation, it probably saved a life.”

John has heard the repeated call to show love to offenders and ex-offenders in passages like the Sermon on the Mount. “‘You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth. But I tell you, do not resist an evil person,’” Jesus says to the gathered crowd in Matthew 5. “‘If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”

When we disobey Jesus and resist evildoers, John reflects, we don’t create safer communities but deepen fear and increase isolation. “Most of our justice system and unfortunately many of our church institutional structures are arranged so as to resist evildoing persons,” John continues. “In embracing God’s will for our relationships with evildoers, we find the beautiful possibility of restoration through restorative justice.”

While at Redeemer, John took on community-geared leadership opportunities. “I learn best by doing,” he says. “So the parts of my time at Redeemer that most prepared me for this job were the extracurriculars that I was involved with.” At Deedz on Friday nights and during Hamilton Learning Service trips over reading week, John developed strong leadership skills and interacted with diverse groups of people, a skillset that unknowingly preparing him for his present role at The Bridge.

To read the growing list of stories and testimonials of individuals transformed by The Bridge’s community, or to learn more about how you can help those affected by crime through the ministry of The Bridge, visit hamilton-bridge.ca or email jschuurman.thebridge@gmail.com.

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