On a cold autumn Friday evening, students filed out of College Heights Seventh-day Adventist Church and headed towards the dorm for warmth. However, a group of approximately 17 individuals gathered in front of the church with no intention of going home. They were dressed in lots of layers: sweaters, jackets, hats, and gloves. They were ready for the weather: they were ready for Tent City.
Tent City is an overnight event to raise awareness about homelessness. “Some may think it’s not a big issue because living in Lacombe, you don’t necessarily witness homelessness,” says Alexa Tanlu, Student Missions Coordinator. “But homelessness is a big issue.” Tent City is organized by the Student Missions Team of Burman University’s Campus Ministries. Students sleep in cardboard boxes outside in the cold for one night to replicate the experience of the homeless. Although just for one night, students are given a small glimpse of homelessness. “I hope that students see how lucky and blessed they are to have a roof over their head,” says Tanlu. “A roof that won’t collapse after rainfall hits. A roof that covers your entire body and gives you proper insulation to keep you warm during the cold winter days. A roof that provides you with so many opportunities to be better.”
In front of College Heights, boxes were set up with tarps placed on top of them. As the group did a final head count, they realized there were more people participating than boxes set up. To ensure everyone could participate, the group cut and organized more cardboard boxes. Participants chose a box and settled in for the night. They attempted to get comfortable in their boxes with their pillows and blankets. Everyone joined in singing one song, then drifted off to sleep. “That one night was an uncomfortable night by choice,” says Christina Lister, a staff member who joined students for the night. “We now have a tiny glimpse into what some people have to deal with on a daily basis, not just one night.”
Students stayed outside throughout the night: many were feeling the discomfort of sleeping on the ground in the cold weather. Members of the group woke up before the sun because of how uncomfortable they were. "In the midst of discomfort, I started meditating upon the blessing and comforts of my life and how often I forget to appreciate them," says Max Davila, one of the students that participated in Tent City. "There are some days where I just go straight to bed thinking that I had a tough day, but there Iwas in a small box, unable to sleep, and I asked myself the question, 'How am I going to be a pastor if I am not willing to go out of my comfort zone to tell others about a loving God?'"
Others woke up earlier than usual as well because of how cold the air was in their cardboard box. As they watched the sun rise, they warmed themselves up with some hot chocolate and tea. It was a short experience, but it made a lasting impact on each one of them. "I decided to participate in Tent City to raise awareness of homelessness to not only others, but mostly importantly to myself because that's where the change I want to see starts," says Faniry Ramorasata, Student Association Communications VP. "More than often, it is easy to not be appreciative or cognizant of how privileged I am to have the bare necessities of life, such as a roof over my head at night. Over time, we get desensitized of what we have because we are used to it. Trying to put myself in other's shoes has helped me become more aware of what I have and what others may not have."
As members of the church made their way to church that morning, they walked through the makeshift cardboard boxes. They were greeted by students who held cups out for change. The money would go towards the Urban Missions trip that the Student Missions team is planning to do in the spring. “Student Missions wants to get students excited to serve,” says Tanlu. “We want to encourage them to use their talents in whatever way to serve their local or global community.”