About a month ago I was having coffee with my dad. In the course of our conversation, he said “You know what, 60 years ago today I stepped foot on Canadian soil for the first time.”
I was reminded of the stories he had told me before: what it was like in 1951 for an 11 year old Dutch kid, with no ability to speak the English language, after an arduous boat ride across the Atlantic Ocean, to stand on the shores of his new country.
About the bustling pier in Quebec City, about the swaying train ride to Toronto. About finally getting to their new home in the village of Inglewood, outside of Brampton, and thinking how weirdly different it was from the cozy house back in the village of Boerakker, Groningen.
And about the Immanuel Christian Reformed Church in Brampton, how it was to become an anchor and a refuge, and helped them find their place and their bearings in this exotic new land.
The Christian Reformed Home Missionary, Rev. G. Andre came to the house shortly after their arrival, and over time helped the family begin to understand the English language with Bibles and Psalter Hymnals which featured side-by-side columns of Dutch and English, and while Sunday morning worship was in Dutch, preaching the evening sermons in the language of the new land. Every Sunday vehicles would arrive at the house to take the car-less 10 member family to church, which was 15 miles distant.
You can’t really know me if you don’t know that I am the son of immigrants, and that I am part of the faith community that welcomed these people 60 years ago. You can’t really know the Christian Reformed Church as it exists in Canada if you don’t know the story of its immigrant beginnings, its sacrifices in the early years of its formation and establishment, its amazing accomplishments and its sometimes regrettable stumbles.
Sometimes it seems that we in the CRC in Canada want to downplay our immigrant past, or obscure our Dutch roots. That is a terrible mistake. By the grace of God we have been brought through times of peril, and have come to this time and place with faith, opportunities and tremendous resources. The CRC in Canada is poised to move forward in exciting new directions, empowered by our formative experiences and spurred on by our certainty in the sovereignty and faithfulness of God.
How should we proceed? There are many ways to answer this, but in one particular dimension of ministry, let me identify some “dots” and then look at how they connect.
Dot Number 1: Canada continues to receive a large number of immigrants. While the numbers of people new to Canada fluctuates year to year, the annual average is around 250,000 people. Of the 10 largest countries of origin, six are in Asia.
Interestingly, Wikipedia says that Statistics Canada projects that, by 2031, almost one-half of the population over the age of 15 will be foreign-born or have at least one foreign-born parent. It forecasts that the number of visible minorities will double and make up the majority of the population of Canadian cities.
Dot Number 2: A large percentage of the membership of the CRC in Canada are either themselves immigrants to Canada, or have parents or grandparents who came to Canada as immigrants. This varies from one congregation to another, and precise statistics are hard to come by. But from observation and experience, I am confident in saying that it would be an unusual congregation that would not say that the majority of their members are accurately described in this way.
Dot Number 3: The CRC wants to be a fellowship of churches that grows to reflect the composition of the communities around them, united in service to Christ. While we haven’t always been as successful as we said we wanted to be in enfolding people from outside the walls of the congregational fellowship into the life of Christ’s worshipping and witnessing family, the desire remains. Sermons are preached about it. Evangelism committees strategize for it. Workshops and seminars abound.
Dot Number 4: The CRC wishes to show within its membership the diverse palette of God’s beautiful design of race and ethnicity. The “whiteness” of the CRC – whether seen in the pews, in the seats at Classis or Synod, or in denominational leadership positions – is a reality that is recognized and lamented at almost every level within the denomination. The more diverse we become, the better we reflect the great gathering to come, when people from every tribe and nation, language and colour, assemble before the throne of the Risen Lamb.
Dots 1, 2 ,3, 4 – our immigrant heritage, the many new immigrants coming to our country, our desire for membership growth and our wish for greater ethnic diversity – line up and point straight to an important ministry strategy. We in the CRC in Canada are wonderfully positioned to welcome and enfold new immigrants. We understand what they are going through. We have the community of faith which could be their new spiritual home. We have the vision which sees them as part of us, not separated from us.
In the Canadian Ministries office we are looking into what congregations need to see the new Canadians among them, what resources or training would be helpful for them to respond effectively to the needs of our new neighbours, how they can be the kinds of communities where immigrants find their place and their peace, and how we as the CRC’s servants can serve as a catalyst for this movement of blessing.
In a way, I feel like I’m paying back the kindness my dad and his family received so long ago. Thank you, CRC, for helping us. Now, CRC, let’s do it again, with a new group of strangers who can become our brothers and sisters in fellowship, and who will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with us in ministry in the time to come.
Does this resonate with you? I welcome your contributions to the discussion and to the dreaming about how God will use and shape us.