MaryAnne Connor: The Woman Behind the NightShift Story

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Thanks to a Vancouver snowstorm, this tenacious woman unlocked her doors and said yes to serving and loving Surrey’s homeless.

By Christi Walter

MaryAnne Connor, or “Mac” to pretty much everyone, is a blonde bombshell with a warm heart, a passion for people and a dogged sense of purpose for her life. She’s a former self-made business woman who gave it up all up to give homeless and struggling people in Whalley friendship and a solid meal every day. She’s never looked back.

It all started with one fated snowstorm. In January 2004, Mac was a Vancouver-based business-owner who came to Surrey once a week to attend church. At the time, she was volunteering at a Granville-based street ministry called Lifeline Outreach. “I was doing marketing (for them) because that was my gift, so I helped with fundraising initiatives, but I didn’t get my hands dirty,” she says. “To be honest with you, if I had to drive through this area, I’d make sure my doors were locked.”

Keys

But the news was reporting a terrible incoming snowstorm and, concerned about people on the streets, Mac asked the pastor of a Whalley-based church whether someone should keep the church open overnight as a shelter. “He proceeded to drop the keys into my hand and said he would agree to have the doors open, provided I was responsible.”

Mac felt more than a little overwhelmed. “I just thought it was a good idea–someone should do something–but not me,” she said. “So, all of a sudden I had his keys and I couldn’t say no. How could I?”

“I just started calling everyone I knew, ” she said, telling them: “I need blankets, I need food, I’m opening up the church tonight and I need help!” MaryAnne and a handful of others took the nightshift all week to keep people from sleeping in snow-drifts. She remembers: “About the second night the Lord really broke my heart, because I realized the people I was meeting, were people just like you and me.”

Caring for the One

A few of the other volunteers kicked a girl out for shooting heroin in the bathroom. Concerned the girl would freeze to death, Mac brought her back in and rubbed her hands and feet to warm them. The next day, that same girl gathered up cleaning supplies and cleaned the bathroom she had shot up in.

“She cleaned that place top to bottom and hung up a cheap little shower curtain,” Mac recalls. “Just girly’d it up.” The girl is in recovery today. “She’s like a daughter to me,” Mac adds.

Open Door

The following Monday, Mac was supposed to fly to Las Vegas and present at a business conference, but she found herself torn between her high-powered job and a deep calling she now felt to help her friends in Whalley. She says: “I felt God had kind of opened the door and said, ‘Now what do you think of this?”

Mac Connor chose to walk through that door, promptly cancelling her trip, quitting her job and founding Nightshift Ministries, named after her all-nighters with the homeless.

Nightshift now feeds 100 to 500 homeless and struggling people in downtown Whalley daily. Volunteers serve meals, hand out clothing and shoot the breeze with struggling community members, 365 days a year. Mac felt strongly led by God to keep the organization non-denominational, and, true to her vision, she now has teams from several different churches helping out on a weekly basis.

Dreams

But Nightshift wants to do more than simply meet basic needs and build relationships with hurting people. The organization currently offers referrals to rehab programs, and Mac plans to open a counselling centre and provide medical services. She also dreams of building supported-housing facilities to help re-integrate people into society. “People on the street right now, whether they’re just poor and have a roof over their head but don’t make enough money to exist or feed themselves, or whether they’re absolutely homeless, didn’t get there overnight,” she says.

In the beginning, not everyone in the community shared her passion for the down-and-out people of Surrey. Shop owners in the area have complained about the large numbers of homeless hurting their business. As a former business owner herself, Mac understands their concerns, but she believes: “We should be working together to do something.”

Two worlds

When Nightshift was just a small pack of volunteers serving food out of a church, Mac remembers seeing the Scotiabank tower across the street and a crack-shack close by. “I would stand there at night looking at the corporate world, and watching all these people going into the crack-shack,” she says. “I remember thinking ‘God, something needs to be done. Where is all the money, where are all the hands, where are the people who can fix this?’”

But change is happening. Mac says the business community has come alongside the organization in a powerful way. “They are now helping almost as much as the church community,” she says, “which is pretty amazing.”

I remember when I first heard Mac Connor speak at a local church service about investing her life in the kind of people who would make most of us uncomfortable … People like drug addicts and homeless men and women. I will never forget her words to describe her time spent with friends in Whalley. She said: “I’ve met Jesus there.”

To learn more about Nightshift Ministries and how you can help, go to www.nightshiftministries.org ( They also have a breathtaking blog!)

About Christi:
Christi has a Communications degree from Trinity Western University. She loves stories and feels privileged to have heard some truly incredible ones while interning at Childcare Canada. Christi hopes to figure out how she can best use her gifts to impact the world around her. Her greatest passions are writing and travel. She’s just come back from recent travels in Australia.

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Photo credits: Christi, by Cecilia Flaming

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Idelette McVicker
I like soggy cereal and I would like to go to every spot on the map of the earth to meet our world’s women. I dream of a world where no women or girls are for sale. I dream of a world where women and men are partners in doing the work that brings down a new Heaven on earth. My word last year was “roar” and I learned it’s not about my voice rising as much as it is about our collective voices rising in unison to bring down walls of injustice. This year, my own word is “soar.” I have three children and this place–right here, called shelovesmagazine.com–is my fourth baby. I am African, although my skin colour doesn’t tell you that story. I am also a little bit Chinese, because my heart lives there amongst the tall skyscrapers of Taipei and the mountains of Chiufen. Give me sweet chai and I think I’m in heaven. I live in Vancouver, Canada and I pledged my heart to Scott 11 years ago. I believe in kindness and calling out the song in each other’s hearts. I also believe that Love covers–my gaps, my mistakes and the distances between us. I blog at idelette.com and tweet @idelette.
Idelette McVicker

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