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Reaching Out to New Canadians
Immigrants need people to come alongside them and help them learn about our country and our culture. Invite them over!

Since 2001, immigration has accounted for 60 percent of Canada's population growth. Approximately 260,000 immigrants arrive in Canada each year. Church-planter Shawn is connected to the Vision Ministries Canada (VMC) network and gives us some insight on how to welcome new Canadians with the love of God.

Churches need to prepare to interact with new Canadians. "You need to take it into your budget, the advertising you use, and the language you use," says Shawn. Rather than being afraid of these new immigrants, we need to be proactive and join God where He is already working.

"The people who are just arriving in Canada are the kind of people that Jesus sought out and wanted to be around," he says. It takes two to five years for a new immigrant to get settled. During this time, they need people to come alongside them and help them learn about the country and our culture. Immigrants face many barriers as they try to find housing, jobs, education for themselves and their children, and as they form new social networks. This time frame presents a real opportunity for Christians.

Shawn and his wife and kids moved into a needy Toronto neighbourhood two years ago to "do life" with 30,000 new Canadians living in 35 apartment buildings. Along with nine other families that follow Jesus, they do church 24/7 as they build friendships with their neighbours, share meals, pray with each other, and respond to God's Spirit.

Canadian culture can be a real shock to immigrants coming from countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan where the culture is highly relational. "They are used to being in each others' houses constantly," says Shawn. Canadians are polite and friendly but they don't often invite "strangers" into their homes – especially not ones from countries they don't understand and may be suspicious of.

Last December, Shawn and his family had a Christmas party and invited their neighbours over. For some, it was the first time they had been in a Canadian home.

According to Shawn, there are many, many opportunities to reach out to new Canadians. "They need help with so many basic things." He is hopeful that across the country, churches will start stepping up and helping immigrants get settled. As a result, new Canadians will see churches as a safe place to get assistance.

But he is concerned that many Christians are more comfortable inviting immigrants onto their turf through programs and Sunday services, than meeting them in their homes or in the community. He says some immigrants will never come to our churches because they are committed to other religions. But they would be pleased to be invited into our homes for a meal.

Shawn finds that people from non-Western cultures often have a more spiritual worldview which means spiritual discussions come up frequently. He and other group members are always ready to pray for their neighbours and to talk to them about Jesus as they discuss spiritual topics.

Interacting with newcomers has given Shawn and his family an appreciation for what we have in Canada. "We have running water, we have electricity, we have police that aren't corrupt. Things that are so a part of our normal life we don't realize how special these are until we hear about people who have had to run for their lives."

As Canadians we are privileged to live in a free country where it's possible to meet our physical, social, and emotional needs. As Christians, we have the added privilege of spiritual freedom in Christ. It looks like we have a lot to share with new Canadians.

Originally published in Thinking Ahead, Vision Ministries Canada, Spring 2009.




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