Inside the Convoy Tent
Experiencing Coventry Road as a follower of Jesus
*stories and names are used with permission*
When I showed up at Coventry, I expected to spend 10 or 15 minutes of my life collecting a quick juicy paragraph for a story. Instead I was bulldozed by God and the reality of human dignity.
My attempt to stroll by the entrance with the usual “walk like you know what you’re doing” panache, was intercepted immediately- one of two times in my life it has ever failed me. Apparently the giant camera hanging around my neck threw up a red flag or something…though I’ll bet the recording device on a tripod sticking out of my pocket didn’t help either.
I was directed over to the dude with the plaid jacket and well-trimmed beard standing guard (so…basically every dude there) and confidently told him I was looking for Miles.
A dubious conversation occurred in which said bearded dude insisted he had no idea who I was referring to, and in which I insisted that I was supposed to be here even though I also had no idea who I was referring to. He then pointed me in the general direction of white canvas tents, wishing me luck in a very unconvincing tone.
After turning a few circles, the welcoming draft of hot air coming from beneath one smaller tent told me I had come to the right place. Pausing, I looked around for a place to knock, whacked the metal pole, crinkled the tent and, deciding I looked pretty stupid, just let myself in.
“Hey! Sorry, I tried to knock but it’s kinda difficult on the tent!”
The lady at the desk laughed.
I repeated my enquiry for Miles Clark and was again met with a bewildered expression. This did not contribute to my self confidence whatsoever.
Repeating the name again, I heard a voice to my right chime in. I was relieved, as the conversation had definitely been rapidly heading south.
“It’s Mike Clark”
It seemed my relief wasn’t going to last very long after all.
“…You must be him, than?” I asked, forcing a smile through my glaringly obvious mistake.
“Depends on why you’re asking.”
As I launched into a brief spiel about wanting to blog about the story myself, I couldn’t help but wonder if this was such a good idea. He looked like he was carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.(I supposed in a way, he quite literally was. The Western world at least, and the Spiritual realm at best)
“What side are you on?” He interjected into my ever-running internal observations.
I shrugged. “I have to stay neutral if people are going to be honest.”
“Uh-huh. Everybody’s got an angle”
Handing him my phone so he could review what I was working on, he invited me to have a seat in the back of the tent. As I looked around, it struck me to think that this has become many people’s everyday life. The chairs leaning against the wall, heaters blasting from under the tent, and tables set up covered in maps, scribbled documents, personal affects, and snacks…they all were a mishmash of perfectly organized chaos. It seemed fitting.
My attention turned back to the man in front of me who had now seated himself and was leaning one arm against the table running his hand through his hair. I wondered if this was the first time he had sat down today, as he apologized for his terseness with a wave of his hand that said far more than his simple explanation.
“Everyone seems nice at first.”
I unlooped the camera from around my neck and stuck the microphone on the table, turning it off as I went.
It was in that moment where I heard His voice. The voice I had struggled to hear beneath the screaming of politics, constant media updates, and ever-growing gap of disunity amongst my fellow Canadians throwing their increasingly muddled opinions across the great divide. His voice was whispering to my heart,
“Listen to him, Gloriana. Forget about why you think you’re here”
I’ve never been much good at listening the first time around.
“Are you okay with me turning on my recorder or no?”
Before the change in his disposition even flickered by, I regretted asking. There was a brief consultation with a furry-hatted friend, and he turned back with a sigh I could feel more so than actually hear.
“Y’know what? Everyone’s tense, and I really don’t have time. I’m sorry”
He stood to leave, and I swallowed the pounding in my ears hoping the heart of Jesus would push past my social terror,
“Not what you want. What I want.”
“Hey wait! Uh…do you mind if I pray for you guys before I go?”
Already focused on the next problem to solve, he didn’t hear my hesitant question. The tall bundled-up woman beside him did though.
“Yes! Yes! Let’s do that… gather around guys!”
Suddenly I found myself stumbling before my Heavenly Father, pleading Him to speak through me, as I lay hands on the men who stood on either side: two of the five fellow human beings who were all strangers just moments ago.
A soft echo of “amens” followed, and I stepped back: a respectful sign (I hoped!) that I would make my leave without bothering anyone further. Instead I was stopped by a sideways glance, and saw a hint of a smile now glimmering through the eyes so clouded with concern.
“I’ve changed my mind. You can stay…talk to whoever. You may have a hard time though: people are really tense after last night.”
I didn’t find out until later that by “last night” he was referring to the police raid which had descended on their camp, and stolen all their gas cans, causing total chaos and an understandable fear of the future.
As he left, the woman who had encouraged us to pray stayed to talk. We shared about how we had been affected by the pandemic, how churches were struggling, how so many people were sharing the message of Jesus, and how much we needed prayer and one another to fight.
“I don’t usually have time to stop and talk for an hour” she said to me. “But this? This is a God thing. We need people here praying.”
So I did. I wandered into this tent of people from all over the nation, and sat down to call them my friends. We shared our stories and our tears. We prayed together for hearts to be changed, and for God to be our strength in exhaustion, fear, anxiety, and loneliness.
The camera and recording device stayed on a corner of the table in the other tent.
An hour later I sat in my car taking in my surroundings- frozen, unable to just leave, and totally grounded in the awareness of Ephesians 6:12
“God, what are you doing? Where do you want me to be? These people have given up everything to serve others.”
Twenty minutes later, after calling an employer to say I wouldn't be back, I drove towards the residential streets of Ottawa to hear the humans who’d give the “other side” of the story. Somehow though, I knew I would probably return to this place.
Later that night, I’m standing in the mess tent.
I have now met families from nearly every province, a man who lives in the land of Canada’s most breath-taking sunsets, a man who showed me photos of his three beautiful daughters, a father and son who drove trucks for a pharmaceutical company, and countless other beautiful souls.
But this time there is a commotion. One of the cooks is letting his anger fly in French so rapid I can’t catch a word he’s saying. And while he speaks in anger, there is a familiar feeling- as though at a funeral when the living begins to weep openly for the deceased: No one condemns, or steps in, or tries to silence him. We all just wait.
Wait for the fire to simmer down, and the days of pent up frustration to quiet. Wait for the storm to be eased in the calm of a shared grief.
Wait for the fear to be washed in the reminder that we are stronger together.
In the raging storm, I see a little girl huddled against her mother. She is afraid, and there are tears glistening in her mother’s eyes.
I touched her arm gently.
“Hey, I have some markers in my car! Would you like to color together?”
Her fearful expression is replaced with an eager nod and a one word answer.
When I return, the calm has come again. I wonder again what I’m doing here with these people who have sacrificed so much for the lives of the very people who call them racists, misogynists', nazis, and anarchists, as I sit at a table drawing animals with this lively little girl in the pigtails.
“Look!” she exclaims for the 12th time, proudly presenting her completed guinea pig.
Wisps of blonde hair frame the imploring face of our future generation as her eyes search innocently for affirmation. I wonder if she knows why she is here living through the pages of a history textbook.
“Oh God, May she and all who enter here be not only free but free indeed.”
When I first read the above story to my husband, he looked at me when I finished and asked “is that it?”
I knew he was right, and I have edited it since…to make it flow more smoothly, yes. But more because I felt incapable to sufficiently express how God moved my heart those couple days. I was afraid to tell the truth. Afraid to write the story with the amount of love I feel for people I barely know. I fear those reading will think I’m flat out crazy and too emotionally invested.
But I guess that’s the point with the love of Jesus. We can never wrap our head around it, and it drives us to do things or pray for things we don’t understand sometimes for people we barely know.
Probably nearly anyone at Coventry could tell you that far better than I ever could.
Some fellow Christians joined me in praying specifically for a number of things since I left Ottawa on Tuesday, a few of which are as follows:
- that God would provide someone to pray, counsel and pastor the hurting individuals in the camp, as I felt helpless to be in two places at once.
- that God would be undeniably present to Mike and show him that He was brought here for His purposes
- that God would keep all those there safe from the authorities seeking to imprison and harm them
Tonight I received a call informing me that Mike stepped down from his position as Lot Manager to allow space for a more team-based leadership to form. More importantly, he wanted to better meet the individual needs of the people there and care for them with the heart of Jesus.
And despite threats of another raid, incarceration, and swat teams…each one of these beautiful people with stories, families, and lives of their own are still safe.
Our God hears and answers when we cry out to him, and I am peaceful for the first time this week as this midnight phone call reminds me that he is indeed listening to his children.
If you aren’t a Christian: the only true freedom can be found in knowing Jesus Christ. If you want to understand what this means, please feel free to contact me. I would love to tell you about Him!
If you are a Christian (especially anywhere remotely close to Ottawa): please understand that this is not just a political battle, or a war against the media. In fact, neither of our opinions even matters in the face our role as Christians: we are called to go to the nations, and today every corner of the nation is standing on our doorstep demanding the very things Jesus has to offer.
What are you going to do about it???