Dear first year students, welcome!
Everything around you is probably quite different from what you have experienced your whole life so far – in addition to all else that's new, including living situations and whatnot, you are likely also in a new city. Chances are, the city in which Redeemer is located did not play any legit role in your decision to attend this school. So lucky you! Hamilton is one of the most exciting cities in Canada right now. It is changing quickly and developing fast. The downtown core is shaking off the last remaining reminders that it used to be the dirty, industrial armpit of Canada and is emerging as the fastest growing arts scene in Ontario. It has been the best place for businesses to invest in Ontario for three years in a row. Most exciting though are the many subtle, but at the same time obvious, ways that God is moving in this city. Exciting and unique Christian ministries are emerging and thriving, and some of the strongest Christian prayer warriors, businessmen and musicians (and more!) you will ever meet are living within the city, praying for you and waiting to meet you.
It is easy for you to interact with Hamilton as a Redeemer student. Hamilton hosts cultural events and entertainment that everyone likes to go to – things like going to the must-see Art Crawl, unique restaurants or a Tiger-Cats game. Please do those things (I dare say you can't call yourself Hamiltonian until you can chant the “Oskie Wee Wee!”)! You will learn a lot about Hamilton through them and will be better equipped to get the most out of your education if you do. But please do not limit your interaction with Hamilton to these kinds of things.
I say this because Hamilton will transform you if you engage it; it is very powerful, which means that you should be excited to be here! Many Redeemer students will tell you (I am one of them) that God has used the city of Hamilton to show them Himself and change them to be more like Jesus. But you should heed warning, too, because there are also powers at work which will change you in different ways. To paraphrase Romans 12:2, God will transform you by the renewing of your mind in Hamilton, but only towards His will if you do not conform to the patterns of the world.
If you want God to change you, He will do so if you follow him to the places where worldly wisdom tells you not to go. You must dig deeper than the Art Crawls, restaurants, concerts and sports games and meet people at the soup truck, walk or bike down Barton Street or stop to talk to a person who is panhandling. If you do interact only where worldly wisdom permits you to venture, you may be putting the city in a position to hurt your relationship with God. That sounds extreme, but the places that the world loves are the places where it speaks its lies. Jesus is often far too humble to reveal himself in front of thousands of people who are gathered to enjoy “a night on the town.” If the powers of this world are those that drown out the powers of God, you will find that the world's power comes more so from money and fame than from drugs, prostitution and homelessness.
I could try to tell you where in Hamilton to go and where to avoid. There are places in this city where you will be overwhelmed by the powers of God and others by the powers of the world but I can not, in a mere Crown article, list for you all of them and which is which etc. In fact there are some places where you may be overwhelmed by both. Instead I want to try something different. I encourage you to explore the city yourself. You will probably find that where you end up seeing God is not where you might have expected.
Be prayerful as you discern where and when God leads you while you are at this campus and when going into the city. If your engagement is not led by God's voice, but instead every voice that tells you where God is at work in the city or around campus, you will become distraught – Christian communities in downtown Hamilton are always doing something awesome and you could be engaged there 24/7. Of course, the same could be said for the Redeemer community, and there is only one of you....
You are here for a reason. God has brought you here (to your dorm, to Redeemer's campus and to Hamilton etc) most likely to draw you closer to Himself, so you can receive His love. Seek God and you will find Him - that's a promise! (Matt 7:7, Jer 29:13) So use your time in this city wisely. I'll remind you again, if you refuse to conform to the patterns of this world, God will transform you by the renewing of your mind. Happy exploring!