John Vaudry | Gananoque Reporter
When the topic of immigration comes up, we are usually reminded that we are all immigrants, and this is true. The founders of Pembroke, were born in Scotland and Ireland; others came here later from Germany and other parts of Europe. Even the Aboriginal people are descended from migrants, if you go back far enough.
Our lives have been enriched by the inflow of knowledge and skills brought to this country by scientists, medical professionals and others, not to mention the fascinating cultural elements they have shared.
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Certainly, the church in Canada has profited immensely from immigration. As the former minister of a mostly African congregation in Montreal, I saw this first-hand. It was my privilege to work with people who had come here from some 25 different nations. Filipinos, Jamaicans, Syrians, Germans, Cameroonians and Ghanaians — it was an exciting mix of languages and traditions. Of course, putting that many different backgrounds together is not always problem-free; at times there were disagreements and tensions (just as in any church or organization), yet we got along remarkably well most of the time.
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One thing I observed in Montreal (and I believe this is true of most larger centres) is that immigrants were the mainstay of the city’s congregations. This is true across the denominational spectrum. Old stock, all-white churches are in decline (or should I say ‘free fall’?). The only churches I knew that were doing well in terms of numbers of people were either entirely ‘ethnic’ (for example, Chinese Pentecostals or Ghanaian Presbyterians) or were a mix, like mine. The little church I served was once on the way to folding but the welcome given to immigrants was a game-changer. It continues to be full every Sunday and will outlast many of the congregations that did not welcome new Canadians.
Apparently, this is true everywhere in the Western world. In London, the famous Wesley’s Chapel, the ‘cathedral of Methodism,’ seemed to be on its last legs a generation ago. With 55 people coming out on a Sunday, it looked doomed to close its doors. Today, it is thriving with over 400 members — all because of people from all over the world who have moved to England.
We can thank the missionary movement for this injection of new life into dying churches. In the 19th century, missionaries went to Africa, India, China, Korea and South America to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. God blessed their efforts and before long active churches began to spring up in these places. Christian schools and colleges were also established. As we in the West began to turn away from our Christian heritage, these countries were able to retain much of their lively faith and dedication to the Lord. Now we’ve come full circle and the great grandchildren of the converts are coming here to strengthen our needy churches.
There is a lot ‘the rest of us’ can learn from immigrant Christians. Frequently, believers from the Two-Thirds World are an example to us of devoted discipleship. Koreans, for example, meet every day very early in the morning for a prayer gathering before going to work. Africans are in no rush to get through Sunday worship in order to do something else. They love to sing and listen attentively to the sermons.
Time is looked at in a way that takes a bit of adjusting for us North Americans. Pastors are held in high esteem by immigrants. Most importantly, the authority of the Bible is accepted without question in all areas of faith and morals since the corrosive acids of secularism haven’t hit them yet.
A century or so ago, we sent missionaries to the rest of the world; now missionaries are coming here to re-evangelize us. Let’s pray they succeed!
John Vaudry preaches at Bristol Memorial and St Andrew’s Fort Coulonge in Quebec.
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