After a quarter of a century in Edmonton, my Filipino-Canadian, Christian-worker parents were being reassigned “out east” to Toronto—Canada’s most multicultural city. We packed up their garage, placing in one corner an older television set, a bookshelf, rugs, picture frames, kitchen utensils, an office desk, winter clothes, and more. They were amazed by the amount of stuff they had accumulated over the years.
We thought of calling the Salvation Army to pick up the items. My father was dialing the number of the nearest Salvation Army outlet when a man walked past. He was obviously new to the neighbourhood, looking downcast and confused. As he walked passed the house, my father hung up the phone and asked the man to come inside the garage. “I have many things here,” my father said. “If you find anything you need, you can have it.” The man pointed to an old, dirty jacket, asking, “How much is that? I need it for the cold days coming soon.” Our spirits were stirred to help this humble stranger. My father told him again that he could have anything inside the garage, including an old car. The man replied, “I would like to have it, but I don’t drive.”
My father began asking more personal questions:
My Father (F): Where do you live?
Neighbour (N): Just four houses from here.
F: My name is Joy Tira. What about yours?
N: My name is Vik.
F: I was born in the Philippines. How about you?
N: I came from Mauritius (East Africa).
F: Really? My wife and I almost went to live in your country. In 1982, we applied to work with a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) that specialized in community development, and while living there we wanted to tell many people about our life experiences. I am glad to know that people from Mauritius, like you, have become our neighbours. How long have you been living in your house?
N: I have been here since May. So only six months!
F: Do you have a family?
N: No, just me and my friends. There are six of us who are renting the house for $2,500 a month.
F: That is quite a bit of money.
N: Yes, indeed. I don’t know where to get my share for the rent this coming month. Our employer is not paying us well so the Union made us strike. I am afraid to lose my job and go home empty-handed.
F: By the way, you have a very interesting name. Are you a Muslim, a Christian, a Hindu? You look like you came from India, but your accent is different from Indians.
N: No, I only speak English and French. But my grandfather came from India and immigrated to Mauritius. I am not a Muslim. I am a Christian. I am a follower of Jesus Christ. What about you?
F: Praise God. You are my brother in Christ!
N: Hallelujah! Really! You are a Christian from the Philippines?
F: Yes, I am. Let me hug you in the name of Christ!
They hugged each other in front of the open garage.
This time, their conversation shifted to a conversation of Christian brothers with kindred spirits. My father told him, “Please, please take anything you need.” Vik picked up many items. We had to call our good friend to bring his pick-up truck to haul everything to Vik’s house.
By the end of the morning, the garage was half empty. At Vik’s house, my mother gave the men lasagna for lunch. Later in the afternoon, we went back to their house to give them more food and clothes for the winter.
As we were leaving, Vik shared, “Only two of us here are Christians. The four other fellows are Hindus. Please pray for their salvation. Could you come again? I hope we can study the Bible together.” My father replied, “Of course we will come again!”
This was a providential meeting! Only God could orchestrate such a conversation. When I was younger my parents used to tell me, “Do not talk to strangers.” However, sometimes the Holy Spirit stirs our hearts to lead us to action. Obedience to God's leading overrides fears, doubts, and selfishness.
Please pray for Vik and his countrymen. Could this be yet another diaspora missions among these Eastern Africans who just arrived in Canada? A local congregation has committed to visiting them and plans to show them the Jesus film. It is unfortunate that only a week later my parents moved to Toronto and were not able to nurture their friendship with Vik and his friends.
Immigration and Canada
In the past, Canada has been characterized by its hospitable immigration policies. Even so, when our family relocated to Edmonton over twenty-five years ago, encounters with other visible minorities, particularly newly-arrived ones, were novel. Today, new immigrants seem to be everywhere in our city.
I purposely talk to strangers now. Just last week I struck up a conversation with a family who had just arrived from New Delhi. They had come to Edmonton as permanent immigrants and had no family in town. I admired their courage to brave the odds in a new land.
Yesterday, I met a Filipino worker who initially thought I was Chinese. When I said, “Thank you” in Filipino, she breathed a sigh of relief and exclaimed in our mother-tongue: “Oh, you are a kabayan—a fellow Filipino!”
Statistics from Canada Citizenship and Immigration indicate that in 2007 alone, Canada:
- welcomed 302,303 foreign workers as temporary immigrants,
- granted initial entry to 233,971 foreign students,
- welcomed 27,956 refugees, and
- granted 236,758 people permission to make Canada their home as permanent immigrants.
Today, despite the global recession of late 2008 to the present, Canada continues to welcome immigrants in the thousands. Many more people like Vik and his countrymen are arriving in Canadian communities. Canadian Christians are called to make friends with the “strangers” among us, and the Canadian Church, called to minister to them, is compelled to be strategic in mobilizing the followers of Christ in diaspora to advance the kingdom among them.
I imagine my parents are also talking to strangers in their new city, and turning them into friends.