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Backyard Ministry

The Alliance in Canada reaches new Canadians

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It may be cliché, but the world really is becoming a “global village.” Across Canada, new immigrants from many nations are settling into their new land and their new lives. Often they come from cultural and religious backgrounds that are the focus of many of The Alliance’s ongoing missions work overseas. Therefore it made sense for the Canadian Ministries office and leader Dr. Stuart Lightbody to spearhead efforts to reach the same religious groups in Canada.

Two years ago at the General Assembly in Winnipeg, we received a mandate to identify Canada’s newcomers who had no viable Christian witness. As the in-depth study group probed, it identified several groups of “least reached peoples.” Some were already being reached by a variety of Christian ministries. So we asked what our role should be as workers with The Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada.

People from four major faiths clearly emerged who had little if any Christian witness: Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and Sikhs. Canadian Ministries developed a plan that will assist The Alliance in its ongoing outreach efforts to these groups.

“A remarkable thing is happening in Canada,” said Lightbody. “For over 100 years we have been training and sending missionaries overseas to reach what we called the unreached. Yet in God’s providence, these people are now coming to us.” Immigrants from Muslim and Buddhist countries, as well as from the Indian subcontinent, are settling in Canada. “What a fantastic opportunity we have to witness to them and show them the love of Jesus!”

Take the Initiative

Lightbody pointed out that within a few miles of the C&MA National Ministry Centre in Toronto, a large South Asian community composed largely of Hindu and Sikh followers has developed. And a major Sikh temple is across the street from the Ministry Centre. Thousands more Buddhists and Muslims are settling within the Greater Toronto area and within the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, encompassing Vancouver. From Mainland China, Southeast Asia, South Asia and the Middle East, people are seeking a new land and a new life in Canada.

“God loves them as surely as He loves us,” Lightbody said. “He has set in our hearts a new missions mandate to go along with the old one. It represents a new dynamic for The Alliance in Canada but it is really just a natural outgrowth of our desire to see lost people come to know Jesus Christ as their Saviour.

“Traditionally, ‘to reach’ means evangelize, witness to and share the gospel with various people,” he added. “Within The Alliance we take that specifically to mean planting churches among these groups. That, we believe, is the best way to ‘reach” or ‘disciple’ nations. I believe that concept embodies the way we intend to work within the Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu and Sikh newcomers.”

The ultimate goal, he noted, is to motivate pastors and congregations to develop and plant churches among these groups. “We want to see groups of seekers and believers from these faith groups develop from within the wombs of our churches.” Some of them, he said, might assimilate into the existing congregation while others might form indigenous churches—a process immediately visible within the Persian/Muslim Alliance congregations in Canada.

Floyd Grunau, an Ontario-based specialist in international ministries, stated, “Muslims are willing to engage with us. But we have to take the initiative.” He noted that many are overwhelmed by being in a new country and culture. “They don’t know what Canadians think about them, and they don’t know how they will be received. But as we reach out to them, we find that there is a friendly response, particularly when we provide them with practical help.” Included in the concept of “practical help” he said, is the simple notion of having English-language conversations with Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu or Sikh neighbors. “They appreciate the interaction and the opportunity to learn the language.”

From the Heart

At Sevenoaks Alliance in Abbotsford, British Columbia, a Punjabi ministry is building bridges to the Indo-Canadian community. Ministry leader Salvestina Felix said a congregation that wants to move into this kind of outreach must do so “from its heart.” She finds that simple tasks are the major relationship-building blocks. “I help with whatever they need: writing résumés, completing unemployment or citizenship forms or simply by interpreting.”

Hindu and Sikh individuals and families come from a religion that is wrapped up in their culture. Many pastors and workers ministering in the area of specialized people groups note that for these people to move away from their religion is the same as moving away from their culture and who they are. It is a major roadblock to be overcome if we are to reach them.

While the mandate was given for an intentional outreach to these specific people groups, numerous projects and church plants were already in progress. The pattern has long been laid, with growing and thriving ministries to Chinese, Vietnamese, Filipino, Korean and Spanish immigrants.

A particular development has been the growth of five congregations among Iranian immigrants to Canada. In Vancouver, Toronto and Calgary, there are three flourishing Persian congregations. Within the past two years, the Toronto church alone has seen more than 100 people accept Christ, and over 80 of them have been baptized.

Natural Outgrowth

Indigenous churches and ministries are also impacting Buddhist believers, largely in the major metropolitan areas. Under the auspices of the Association of Vietnamese Alliance Churches in Canada, friendship evangelism is having a major impact. Montreal pastor Binh Nguyen notes that it is harder to reach older generations of Buddhists than the younger Buddhists who are typically more open to the Canadian mosaic.

The Alliance in Canada’s intentional move to reach unreached peoples and faith groups is a reflection of The Alliance’s total concept of ministry. Within the Vision Prayer, the heart cry is that God would move in the hearts of Canadian Alliance people and that we would be transformed by Christ in such a way that Canada and the world in turn will be transformed. The directive to especially reach Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and Sikhs is, Lightbody believes, a natural outgrowth that will have eternal implications.

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