By EMILY COOK
Timothy Meisenheimer said he got to know Paulina over the course of the eight years she frequented the Capital City Mission.
An Aboriginal woman whose life carried the scars of residential schooling, Meisenheimer described Paulina as intelligent – but unable to understand she was loved.
One day, Meisenheimer, a stocky man who’s silvering hair revealed the strain of age, remembered receiving from Paulina a beaver carved in stone as a gift. Three days later, Paulina, under the influence, tried to walk across the Ottawa River and died.
This story is one of many Meisenheimer said he could retell about the people who he has come to know as friends at the Drop-In. That’s the name he gave for the ministry he founded in 2000 at 521 Rideau St. where people come to build relationships and get help.
“I felt this was a calling, not a job. I’m not a CEO, I’m a missionary,” said Meisenheimer, leaning back in his black hoodie that sports the Drop-In logo.
Fully dependent on donations, the Drop-In gives out sandwiches every day, as well as coffee and tea, and big dinners or barbeques on special occasions.
Meisenheimer said the journey towards building this ministry began when he was 27, a married student with three children, studying at Eastern Pentecostal Bible College, in Peterborough, Ont.
For 13 years after college, Meisenheimer says he worked as a pastor in different churches, but soon realized his passions were more focused on helping the poor and marginalized in his community.
“We’re good at building bible colleges in Africa and whatnot, but what about serving the poor?” Meisenheimer said his thoughts were at the time.
Once he decided to minister outside of a church – in hopes of better serving the poor – Meisenheimer chose to move to Ottawa, where he had previously worked. Within six months he said he’d built enough financial support to rent a location in Downtown Ottawa.
Meisenheimer says the first year establishing the project was hectic. Looking back, he could see the strain it had on his marriage of 24 years. In 2002 Meisenheimer’s wife left him, leaving him to parent their then three-year-old boy, as well as their other three children.
“I thought my life was over,” said Meisenheimer.
Despite the pain of losing his partner in ministry, Meisenheimer said he found the strength to go on through his faith in God.
He believed he was meant to work with the poor in Ottawa, and Meisenheimer says his experience strengthened him.
“I think my divorce, my wife leaving me, and all that crisis, actually brought me closer together with people who had things that they didn’t understand happen to them,” said Meisenheimer.
Meisenheimer went on to explain that because of this, no matter what their circumstances, he and the guests of the Drop-In became connected through the word “loss”.
Turning his focus to ministry, Meisenheimer said he continued what he and his wife had started, speaking at churches, challenging them to help the poor in their communities.
Today the Drop-In sends newsletters to over two hundred churches; something Meisenheimer considers an accomplishment. When he started the ministry there were no churches involved in that area of Rideau Street.
With a smile, Meisenheimer said they are now hoping to have enough supporters to buy the location they currently rent. Meisenheimer added that this would build security for them, as it would remove worries about having to move location.
“I don’t think it’s going to become easier for the industry, or the ministry to do what we do,” said Meisenheimer. He says that it’s important there are people dedicated to helping the marginalized in their communities.
Meisenheimer said the memory of Paulina, and all those like her will always be a part of his life and how he builds relationships with everyone who comes through the Drop-In’s doors.
Learning to “understand that inside they were just an incredible human being,” Meisenheimer said, “[who] just could not get to the place where they would treat themselves with respect.”