Indian Life Newspaper -

Memories and hope

 

Last updated 10/12/2014 at 7:59pm

Randy and Cheryl Barnetson

Singer/songwriter Cheryl Barnetson remembers a young woman named Olivia who came from northern British Columbia. Since both Cheryl and Olivia were from the Carrier Nation, they had a special bond.

Bernice Sondrup, who has had contact with thousands of prostitutes over her years of ministry, says Crossfire volunteers would have talked to everyone of the 54. Scanning a sheet of their photographs, the 63-year-old grandmother and former missionary to the Shuswap people reminisces about the ones she knew personally: this one stayed at the Crossfire safe house; that one accepted the Lord; this one was consumed by drugs.

Many of the women had been struggling to make changes in their lives. Some had gone through recovery programs, only to relapse. Several of them had become part of church communities.

Singer/songwriter Cheryl Barnetson remembers a young woman named Olivia who came from northern British Columbia. Since both Cheryl and Olivia were from the Carrier Nation, they had a special bond. One night after the service, the two were digging through a box of donated clothes when they each found a pair of shoes to fit them. Olivia, who was seven or eight months pregnant, was so happy with her new black shoes, and danced around before disappearing into the night with a "see you tomorrow."

That was six [18] years ago and it was the last time Cheryl saw anything of her until her picture appeared among the missing.

Sereena Abotsway, a young part-aboriginal woman who had been raised in a foster home, became a regular attender at The Street Church and was baptized in the ocean in 1998. She took her faith seriously, says Randy Barnetson. "She was always up at the front praying."

The Barnetsons remember Sereena as someone who was always quick to pitch in and help, but one incident especially stands out. A man who had come into the church was so filthy, smelly and belligerent that no one would go near him. Besides that, he was coughing uncontrollably, likely from tuberculosis. While the others held back, Sereena grabbed a cloth and wiped the phlegm off his face, and when he wanted to put his shoes and socks on, she was the one who helped him. "She exhibited so many Christian characteristics," says Cheryl.

Sereena disappeared last August [2001]. In February, Pickton was charged with the first two of seven murders; Sereena's was one of them.

Women do leave the street and live productive lives. Bernice Sondrup can list many who, over the years, have gone through recovery, trained in a trade or profession and are now working at good jobs. Some have married and settled into stable family life.

Randy and Cheryl Barnetson

Singer/songwriter Cheryl Bear and her husband Randy Barnetson remember women from Vancouver's streets. Olivia and Sereena were two of them. Sereena disappeared in August 2001. She became one of Pickton's victims. This was very hard on both Cheryl and her husband.

It's those happy stories that downtown ministers have to remind themselves of, because when you work on the street, joy comes in small measures, spiked with sorrow.

"I haven't been out to the farm," says Cheryl. "I'm a little bit scared."

Bernice's words are like an echo. "I have to go down to the farm," she says. "I've been putting it off. I find it really painful."

Visiting the pig farm will bring grief and loss into sharp focus once again.

Meanwile, the memorial stands at the gate, a sentinel guarding a piece of land that some have come to view as sacred. Red and yellow, black and white. We are precious in His sight.

 
 

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