Written by Laura Puiras
April 23, 2018 began like any other Monday morning: rushing out the door to get to work on time. I made my way down to the Yonge and Sheppard area of Toronto, ready to start another busy workweek. Near the end of my shift, my boss told me that a van had gone off the road, driving along the sidewalk killing multiple people. Yonge Street was shut down and there was no subway service between Finch and Sheppard stations.
The messages began flooding in soon after. Multiple WhatsApp channels were lighting up with inquiries about safety from my housemates, Bible study group and high school friends. Within minutes I was sending my own check-in requests to friends living and working along the route the van took.
So far everyone was okay.
Haunted by the possibility of personal connections to what had happened, I found myself checking my phone even more incessantly than usual. The feeling of dread only grew as the day continued; no longer for myself and for the people I know, but for a neighbourhood I call my own.
Listening to radio announcers trying to piece together the events from the afternoon kept me in the loop until I was able to get to a computer. The tweets and images were simultaneously horrendous and informative. Alternating between Twitter and Facebook had me watching the unfolding story and tracking as friends marked themselves safe. The connection capabilities available to me that day, in the midst of a too-close-to-home crisis, made all the difference.
A small group of people representing the church in that neighbourhood known as Willowdale met together that night, united in our response to what had just happened. Introductions were made as we checked in about our loved ones, confirming their safety and whereabouts. I found myself hugging my friends a little tighter, beyond grateful to see them. We began to try processing the devastation and what it meant for our community. How could we possibly respond and reach out to the neighbourhood?
We passed ideas around the table and left that night with plans for a prayer walk, a music initiative to move forward with, and a Facebook page to share information through. We Love Willowdale was born. And as it usually is with the birth of something new, none of us could have imagined the impact it would have.
Our world is longing for and needing connection now more than ever. We see evidence of this when people are driven to carelessly take the lives of others who represent groups that have rejected them, when isolation and loneliness begin to rise in our society. Ironically, we are known as the “most connected” society in history.
It seems the more connected we become through our online worlds, the further away we move from face-to-face, physical interactions with one another. We are constantly hearing about the danger of social media pulling us inward and out-of-touch.
However, there is something truly magnificent that occurs when the opposite takes place. When the connections made online transfer to our physical worlds; when the virtual becomes reality.
Having experienced firsthand the way in which an online presence became a tangible presence in our community has been inspiring. We have had the privilege of joining together with hundreds of people who also love Willowdale and desire to be part of seeing healing come to our streets.
While deceptively usual in its offset, April 29th, 2018 was another day which would be marked by record-breaking events.
Yonge Street was closed off for a second time that week—this time filled with thousands of people and various grassroots organizations who had come together to walk in solidarity to reclaim Yonge Street. An idea that had originally begun with We Love Willowdale (which had since grown into a coalition of city leaders and local individuals) had taken root with many others. It was a powerful demonstration of broken-hearted people mourning, grieving, and healing as one.
Our journey towards wholeness is a multi-faceted one and will undoubtedly include aspects of social media. And that’s okay! The Lord has a funny way of speaking to us in the ways we understand best. Seeing His redemption shine through our online presence can be one of those ways. This will look different for each of us, and isn’t that the most beautiful part? Whether it’s an actual coffee date or the perfectly filtered Instagram post about it, be actively watching for how God is speaking to you and how He is speaking through you.
“Rejoice with those who rejoice! Mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15).
Be it online or in person, let’s put our love into action and join together as the Body of Christ.