Briercrest student lives among the homeless for a semester

Posted: February 16, 2012

Allysha Beaulieu has a new-found respect for homeless people. She spent four months last year living with them.

Beaulieu participated in a unique opportunity with The Mustard Seed, a Christian not-for-profit organization which operates several homeless shelters in Calgary, as well as other areas in Alberta. The Mustard Seed offered apartment space in one of its housing projects to college age students who were willing to live among the poor of the community. Beaulieu accepted that challenge.

“This is the first year they have done this program,” Beaulieu explained. “It’s called missional housing. It’s geared to be intentional with the homeless. It’s kind of doing life with them.”

The Briercrest global studies major says the experience was transformational.

“It changed my life for sure,” she said. “It gave me a whole new appreciation for what homelessness is and the causes and effects of it.”

There were some awkward encounters with some of the shelter’s residents at first.

“When I first got there I wasn’t sure how to act around them,” Beaulieu admitted. “I didn’t want to say something that would offend them. So like when you ask somebody ‘How was your day?’ or ‘Where do you work?’ I was scared to ask them that because . . . they probably don’t have work which is why they’re here.”

Beaulieu found she had some incorrect stereotypes of homeless people.

“I thought they’d be mean,” she said “I grouped them all in this one category, but by the end of the semester I was like, ‘Wow! These guys have a lot to offer the world.’”

One of the most surprising things Beaulieu witnessed was the level of community the homeless people had.

“It’s a completely different culture than regular society,” she exclaimed. “They take care of each other. They are always sharing, always looking out for each other. I was at supper one day and one of the guys said, ‘You know Allysha, you’re probably in the safest place in town. If anything happens to you, if somebody tries something, we’ve got your back. We’ll watch over you.’ And it’s true! I felt really, really safe in downtown Calgary with homeless people walking around.”

During the time Beaulieu was living at The Mustard Seed, she was taking a semester of courses with Crosstraining Global, a missionary apprenticeship program which has a partnership with Briercrest.  The program is designed to prepare students to serve overseas in cross-cultural settings. One of the requirements Beaulieu had for the semester was to be involved at an ethnic church. Her assignment was to help in the children’s ministry of an Arabic church.

“It was a multi-denominational church,” she explained. “So there was Greek Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant. We did (the children’s portion) in English, but the service was in Arabic.”

Beaulieu says her passion is to work with impoverished children.

“I’m geared toward children who are at risk who really don’t have opportunities,” she said. “I want to open orphanages.”

This desire goes back to her teenage years.

“You know when you’re 15 you’re like, ‘I want to be a doctor, I want to be a lawyer.’ I was like, ‘I want to open orphanages.’ But I didn’t actually think I could do it.”

Beaulieu felt her desire was confirmed through a dream she recently had.

“I felt (God) say . . . this is what you are going to do later on. I really felt that I was going to travel the world too.”

The global studies major is in her third year at Briercrest.  Next year her studies will include an overseas internship.

“I’m not sure where,” she said. “I want to find a really well-run orphanage so I can take that model and replicate it.”

Although Beaulieu has a special interest in Africa and the Middle East, she leaves a piece of heart in each country she visits.

“I was in Haiti last February and I just loved it there,” she said. “The more mission trips I go on I’m like, ‘I can live anywhere.’”