“According to one UN report, Canada resettled more refugees in 2018 than any other nation.”
“I want this assurance of salvation also …” These were the words that Ahmed, a Syrian newcomer, said to me during Eid al-Adha. It is during this holiday that he and his family visit friends, eat delicious foods, and wear new clothes. Eid is a time when an animal is slaughtered to commemorate Abraham’s sacrifice of a ram instead of his son. As I sat in a home with a group of Syrian men, I explained that Abraham’s sacrifice points to another Lamb that was slaughtered so we may have assurance of salvation.
I moved with my family to Edmonton, Alta., seven years ago with the intention of planting a church—an English-speaking Canadian church. However, after moving into our neighbourhood on the north side of the city, I could not ignore the increasing number of newcomers from other countries who were also moving in. Perhaps it was more the nudging of the Holy Spirit that convinced me I was to do something about serving them. Muslims are the largest immigrant religious community in Canada, as well as the fastest growing. A significant portion of this population growth can be attributed to refugees. As a nation, Canada has distinguished itself for its generosity in resettling refugees. According to one UN report, Canada resettled more refugees in 2018 than any other nation.
In his book Strangers Next Door, missiologist J. D. Payne explains that “The history of humanity is a history of migration,” and God uses migrations to advance kingdom purposes as a type of “Divine Maestro.” Many come from nations where restrictions have been placed on the open witness of the church. As we are intentional about developing friendships with these neighbours, doors open to assist them with practical needs. Hospitality plays a key spiritual and ethical role in these cultures, and as they share tea and refreshments, it is an invitation to friendship. The opportunities to represent Christ happen in the context of trusting relationships.
Consider ways you can engage those moving into your community:
- Adopt a newcomer family. The first time I attempted to engage with newcomers, I was shocked at the ease I felt despite challenges around language. The families were pleasantly surprised that I, as a North American, was spending time with them. Many have been traumatized as a result of war in their homeland. Uncertainty and fear about navigating life in a new country are more real than we sometimes realize. Government-sponsored refugees do receive help when they first arrive, such as clothing and furniture, which speaks of how this nation cares for newcomers. However, these new neighbours also seek a warm smile, a conversation, a cup of tea. Being alert and making time in our busy North American schedules is the first step. Something we facilitate in our city is the connection between Canadian families and newcomer families to practise English.
- Develop youth programs. Second-generation newcomer kids are asking questions and thinking critically. One 14-year-old named Adnan used to argue with me about the “incorrect” Christian belief that Jesus was crucified. As months have passed and I have had opportunity to share truth, this young man has begun telling his Syrian friends the story of the crucifixion. Tutoring opens all kinds of doors, and soccer camps are a welcome, fun-filled experience.
- Host events. There are holidays on our North American calendar that are special days of celebration for us. Consider learning about some of the special days for these newcomer cultures and host an event. Summer is a time that coincides with some of these special days, and cookouts and outings can lead to fun opportunities to learn about each other.
- Respectfully engage with the gospel: It is unnecessary to hide our identities as followers of Christ. In fact, others appreciate it when we are forthright. When conversation takes place within the context of relationship and mutual respect, we can fearlessly engage around the good news of who Jesus is and why He came. Reading the Gospels together is an authentic and beautiful journey toward uncovering truth.
Payne says, “It is not enough to know that least reached people are living in our communities; rather, we must be intentional about ministering to them.” Live each day walking through the open doors before you and trust God’s leading.
This article appeared in the July/August/September 2020 issue of testimony/Enrich, a quarterly publication of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. © 2020 The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. Photo © istockphoto.com.