By Julie Cole
Joe and Kent Dueck share more than a passion for kids, they now share Briercrest College and Seminary’s Alumnus of the Year award.
On April 20 the award will be presented to the brothers, who each operate inner-city youth ministries.
Both have invested their lives to bring hope and help to young people who are often in desperate situations.
Kent is the executive director of Inner City Youth Alive, a faith-based non-profit organization located in the north end of Winnipeg, Man., one of the province’s most needy neighbourhoods. Joe is executive director of Joe’s Place, a youth centre in Moose Jaw, Sask., which is open to all youth between the ages of 14 and 19.
Briercrest president, Dwayne Uglem celebrates the lives of service these two have lived.
“Kent and Joe have offered us this remarkable picture of what can happen when people respond to the Lord’s call on their life and invite Him to use them.”
Even though their life’s work is similar, their paths getting there were very different.
Kent Dueck knew since he was a young man that he wanted to have an inner-city ministry. His background wouldn’t have made this a likely vocation.
“I grew up on the cold hard streets of Rosenort, Manitoba,” he joked. “(Rosenort is) a small Mennonite farming community. I don’t know how I ended up in the inner city, but I just know that ever since I was 15 I knew that God had called me to do this. To me it’s about calling. I don’t necessarily fit in this environment, but it helps that God called me.”
Kent says he realized his dream to work in the inner city by “taking faithful steps.”
“I would have never taken a lot of the steps I’ve taken if I knew how hard it was going to be,” he admitted. “Thank God I have a short memory for how difficult things are. I’ve had great encouragement en route — my wife is very, very encouraging. We’ve gone into so many of our ventures from the beginning until now where we’re making our decisions not based on what we know. They’re based on faith — one step at a time.”
Joe Dueck’s steps took him a different direction. When he was in his teens he started hanging around with “a bad crowd.”
“Even though I grew up in a Christian family, I was doing things that weren’t benefitting me,” he remembered. “There was a lot of darkness around me.”
At this time Kent, the older brother, was attending Briercrest and helped to get Joe to attend Youth Quake.
“I showed up and just loved it,” Joe said. “Every year I would go back and see that you can have fun without alcohol and drugs — with no violence. I’d know it was right, but then I’d go back to my old ways.”
In Grade 12, Joe decided to go to Briercrest even though he wasn’t a Christian.
“Two weeks in, I gave my life to Christ and became ‘Joe Christian’ as everyone knew me in the first few weeks of school,” he reflected. “I didn’t do that well in my classes because I hadn’t read my Bible in many, many years. I struggled with academics. I have a little bit of ADD issues.”
Joe took a break from school, at the insistence of Briercrest, to figure out if college was really for him. He joined the army and was shipped off to Bosnia for six months. He returned from Bosnia with the conviction to do something with his life. He got an apartment on Main Street in Moose Jaw and asked if he could come back to Briercrest.
“I had to sign a strict code of conduct to come back,” Dueck said. “I had to focus on my studies. I couldn’t be enrolled in extracurricular activities.”
Meanwhile, in Moose Jaw, Dueck kept meeting kids on the street who had nowhere to go.
“They were just getting drunk and partying on the weekends,” Joe said. “I started inviting them over to hang out.”
Joe was afraid this would break the agreement he had with Briercrest to focus solely on his studies, but the college blessed the outreach and supported him in his efforts which eventually became Joe’s Place.
“God used my troubled past to give me both the tools and the passion to help youth — especially those who are hurting,” Joe said.
Both brothers deeply appreciate the role their alma mater played in the development of their lives and ministries.
“All the staff and faculty at Briercrest were supportive of me personally in my journey of faith as a new Christian,” Joe said. “They were supportive of my academics—helping me work through my ADD issues, and they were 100 per cent supportive of my ministry.”
Joe remembers one particular relationship where this support was seen in a tangible way.
“Bill Latrace was involved in asking me to leave Briercrest to figure out what I was there for, but he was also the man who co-signed the lease for the apartment which became Joe’s Place.”
Kent credits Briercrest for helping him to mature in his gifts and calling.
“(Briercrest ) was a type of greenhouse experience for me,” he said. “Caronport felt like it was my place to grow and get my roots in so I could go out into the world. Even in my graduate studies it seems that Briercrest is a place that (doesn’t encourage) armchair theology. You get a feeling that staff expects us to do something with our degrees.”
The Duecks find the rewards for this type of work in the lives that are impacted.
“I just had lunch with a girl who became a Christian through Joe’s Place,” Joe said. “She graduated from Briercrest and she’s been an activities coordinator on a cruise ship for the last eight years.”
“If you were just here for five years, you could become overwhelmed after the fourth suicide,” Kent said. “You’d just be done and wash your hands of it and say ‘What’s the point?’ But being here 25 years, on a weekly basis, I have guys that come back and girls that come back and talk about things that were significant to them. It’s the people who come back and tell me their stories and say, ‘That’s the difference you made.’ For me, that’s all the encouragement I need.”