Helping families build a better future through the Gospel

Kamloops, in the heart of Interior BC’s ranching country, is surrounded by mountains and desert landscape. Shaped like a “Y” and sitting at the junction of the North and South Thompson Rivers, its economy is based on logging, mining, cattle ranching and a large university. Tucked into one of its lower income neighbourhoods is St. George’s Anglican Church, one of the Anglican Parishes of the Central Interior.

Ranch House kids enjoy a day of horseback riding
Ranch House kids enjoy a day of horseback riding

The Rev. Captain Isabel Healy-Morrow, St. George’s priest, says Kamloops is “a beautiful place but there are not as many jobs as there could be.   And some people, because of their health or mental illness, will always be struggling.” She describes her neighbourhood: “It’s little old houses that were built after the Second World War—we have many seniors, First Nations people as well as new Canadians.” Healy-Morrow says many families in her community struggle with poverty—the stress of dealing with landlords, mould, and not having enough money for things like good winter boots. And come summer, many have no extra money—and no car—for things like trips to the beach and camping.

So for one summer week, the parish decided to offer a program called Ranch House Kids. Healy-Morrow says, “It’s basically a VBS format: there’s a talking horse puppet and all kinds of arts, crafts, Bible stories—everything on a ranch theme. And Kamloops is in the heart of ranching country so we thought, ‘This is perfect.’”

When the week of VBS came to an end, the kids asked, “Does this have to stop?” For Healy-Morrow and her United Church partners this was a sign that a more longterm ministry was needed. Unlike their schoolmates, many children in St. George’s neighbourhood aren’t enrolled in hockey, ballet and piano lessons—and so extending the VBS throughout the year was a clear ministry opportunity.

The parish applied to APCI and received a $4000 ministry grant, which they used to hire a part-time youth worker and to buy food. And so began the twice-monthly meetings of Ranch House Kids. “So we start with a hot sit-down meal, in sort of a ranch house style–a long table with a red gingham tablecloth—and we say grace. And it’s hearty food—we’ll have meatballs and spaghetti or pizza or lasagna and always a veggie platter and milk and juice.” Following dessert there’s a puppet show with a Bible theme, a craft, and then music—perhaps dancing to praise songs, and a closing prayer.

But for Healy-Morrow and the other volunteers, the main thing is that the children “get to know who Jesus and God are.” Ranch House Kids’ vision is to “give them some understanding of the Gospel, and make the Gospel real for their lives, and make them feel loved and cared for, and to help their self-esteem, social skills and impulse management.”

Each Friday, the program serves about a dozen children, 7 of whom also attend Sunday School. Healy-Morrow tries to have some carryover from Fridays to Sundays: “During children’s time at Sunday worship, the kids will talk about what they made or what they learned. Or I’ll have a little refresher—‘We talked about the 10 Commandments, can you name one or two of the 10 Commandments that we learned at Ranch House Kids?’”

So the ministry goes beyond Friday nights, but it also goes beyond the church building—Healy-Morrow wants these children to “see what the world has to offer and that life isn’t just a struggle.” Field trips include farm visits, horseback riding, and most recently, the symphony. “Some of those kids didn’t know what a symphony was. After in the parking lot, they said ‘That was amazing!’….They’re just blown away by it—the music and the instruments.”

Healy-Morrow, who’s been a Captain with the Canadian Forces for 13 years and serves as Padre for the Rocky Mountain Rangers, is passionate about helping families that are “struggling to find a brighter light and a better future.” She says, “It’s one thing to talk about the Gospel, but this is where the rubber hits the road—in a really good way.”

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