An inner-city missionary is looking forward to having a little more time for rest while looking back with a grateful heart for God's provisions after 41 years of ministry.
Beth Wilton officially retired on June 30 from Youth For Christ Winnipeg. She started in ministry at YFC Winnipeg in 1980 after responding to what she says was a call on her life to share the Good News of Jesus with at-risk youth.
Listen to the full conversation:
"I always enjoyed working with the kids that were the troubled ones in the group, the rowdy ones, you know, rebellious ones. So I looked for an organization that worked with that kind of youth and Youth For Christ came up. I hadn't really heard much about them, but I applied and they accepted me and the rest is history."
The ministry itself was very different in those days, with just six people on staff, compared to the now 60 or 70 that minister to youth throughout the City of Winnipeg and the surrounding region.
While she's seen the overall ministry grow, it's the growth in young people over those 41 years that most excite her.
"I had no clue what I was doing"
Wilton will be the first to admit that she didn't know much about the reality of the world the kids she ministered to lived in. Not only were there cultural differences to navigate but economic ones as well.
"I came from a middle class stable loving home, fairly sheltered, I'm white, you know. And the first thing I did was work in a housing development, a big large housing development in the city here, so I was encountering indigenous kids, which I hadn't really before. There was poverty and lifestyles that I'd never encountered in my life and I had no clue what I was doing."
Some relationships got off to rocky starts, but Wilton always continued to pursue those kids with the love of Jesus. That includes a young 12-year-old girl who slapped Wilton. "We got off to a bit of a rocky start," Wilton says, downplaying the incident.
"So my coworker and I were trying to figure out what kind of punishment do we give her, if that's the right word, because if we banned her for a week or a day or whatever, she wouldn't come back. We just learned that kids don't come back once you ban them. So we decided her punishment would be to meet with me for lunch once a week for about two months. And of course, she got a free lunch out of the deal, so she didn't mind doing that. Not that there was any bribery involved in that at all, so. But you know what? We talked about everything and anything. And today we are the best of friends because of that time together."
Trauma and the peace and love of Jesus
There have also been plenty of young people that Wilton has ministered to who have faced severe trauma in their lives. One of those girls, Fiona, had a powerful encounter with Jesus.
"We had many, many discussions about Jesus and one day I was visiting her in the hospital and she told me that a light had just gone on and she finally realized and knew that, Jesus was the way. So just on her own, nobody else was present, she invited him into her life and she was so convicted.
"I will never forget that visit. She just so convicted that Jesus was the way and I could say with full assurance that she fell in love with Jesus that day."
While battling the trauma in her life it was hard for the young woman to leave everything behind, Wilton says. "Unfortunately her life did not reflect it. She still continued to struggle with addiction, but at times she'd end up in the hospital and then I'd go visit her and we'd do a Bible study together and we'd pray together. I remember her saying, 'How come I feel so much peace when we talk about Jesus?' You know she was just so hungry (for Jesus)."
Unfortunately, she passed away in December 2020 due to COVID-19, but Wilton takes comfort in the fact that she is finally at peace in the presence of Jesus.
Never felt like giving up
There is no doubt that ministry is filled with challenges and struggles, but Wilton says over the course of her 41 years of ministry there wasn't a time that she felt like calling it quits.
"You know, after my first year with YFC, I went off to camp Cedar Wood and said OK, do I like this job? Am I gonna keep going? And I decided I'll give it five years and then I'll reassess it after that. Well, I never did, so I must like the job," Wilton says with a chuckle.
"I don't know. I know that there were times when it was deeply agonizing, and it was very frustrating with kids at times. But I don't think I ever thought about giving up I. I think I've learned that Jesus is always at work in youths' lives. So I didn't have to be afraid to talk about Jesus or open the door a little bit because I knew He was at work in their lives. So I just learned to open the door crack and just see what happened."
Advice for others in ministry
After 41 years in ministry, Wilton says she has one very important piece of advice for others in ministry: establish and keep a sabbath day.
"I didn't start keeping that till just about 14 years ago, which I know sounds like a lot, but in 41 years it's not really that much and I'm very glad that I do it. It's just a different rhythm. It's something to look forward to because it is a different rhythm and I do special things to make that day special.
"It's renewing and that's the whole point of the Sabbath day. I think it's it's supposed to be renewing to you and in your relationship with God and that's what I find it is. So I think if you're not keeping the Sabbath that day, that will certainly help you to in the long haul, you know."
As she moves into a new chapter in life, Wilton says she'll miss working with young people and staff at the YFC Winnipeg office. However, she'll continue to live in the North End when she's not enjoying quiet time at her cottage.