Last month, women from Afghanistan, Peru, Mexico, India, Pakistan, Cyprus, Brazil and many other countries squeezed into our church kitchen to season bread crumbs, peel potatoes, baste turkeys and set a table that just seemed to get longer and longer as the morning progressed and we realized just how many people we were going to be welcoming to our little turkey dinner.
The “Canadian-style” Thanksgiving-inspired feast was the finale to our 12-week international cooking club classes at Rockyview Alliance Church (RAC) which were made possible through our partnership with the New Canadian Friendship Centre (NCFC).
Each woman in the club would take a turn “hosting” as a teacher, instructing us on how to prepare an authentic meal from her country of origin.
We learned to prepare many amazing dishes from spicy samosas and masalas to a lovely Mexican meatball soup and a decadent Brazilian dessert.
We laughed at and with each other when we made silly mistakes, engaged in very interesting discussions about religious dietary restrictions and broke bread together bonding as we discussed our relationships with husbands and children, world events and of course, everyone’s homelands.
Rockyview is blessed to host a number of programs thanks to its partnership with Centre Street Church’s New Canadian Friendship Centre – ESL knitting, crochet and sewing, an ESL Bible study and special events.
The church itself has also committed to continuing its ESL conversation classes and launched a pre-beginner class primarily attended by Syrian refugees.
Every Tuesday for eight weeks, 10 refugee families would arrive at Rockyview and our volunteers, many of whom were Arabic-speaking Christians from Centre Street Church, would walk newcomers through the very basics of English – the alphabet, vowel sounds and such. As the parents studied, the children would fly kites, blow bubbles and learn all kinds of games like Duck, Duck, Goose.
During much of the week, there are just as many, if not more, Muslim people in Rockyview Alliance Church than there are Christians. For many newcomers from conservative, Muslim cultures, their visits to Rockyview were their first-ever glimpse inside a Christian church.
Just recently, one of the newcomers from Syrian told us, “In Syria, there are armed guards outside the mosques to keep Christians out, and there are armed guards outside churches to keep Muslims out.” Now he attends ESL classes in a Christian church twice a week and has many Christian friends.
Building bridges of mutual respect and dialogue between Muslim people and followers of Christ has been such a beautiful process. Trust makes so much possible.
Many people assume we avoid talking about our beliefs to prevent conflict, but that is actually not the case at all. Our Muslim newcomers and Christian volunteers love talking to one another about what they believe and why they believe it.
I am absolutely convinced that every time one of those conversations happens, Jesus is very much present and is pretty happy about it too.
This summer at Rockyview, we’re looking forward to expanding our ESL offerings to include a conversation circle on Friday mornings during out NCFC drop-in café time.
Since the cooking club is so sorely missed, we’ll also be hosting BBQ Classes with Pastor Shawn in July. Many newcomers have never operated a barbecue, and so they’re really excited about learning about how to host a barbecue and take yet another step venturing further into mainstream Canadian culture.
We’re so grateful for all the people who pray for us and for our volunteers and for the training many of our volunteers (myself included) have received through CESLM.
The equipping that happens through this ministry is absolutely priceless.