Ministering in the field
St. Catharines, Ont.
Every year, the Niagara region floods with Caribbean migrant workers typically employed on eight-month contracts. Churches in the Niagara region are responding to the needs of these workers and are reaching out to them with the love of Christ. Partnering with other agencies and local MB churches, Mennonite Central Committee Ontario (MCCO) offers aid, resources, and direction to these temporary residents.
The heart behind the gift
Tim Arnold, outreach director for Southridge Community Church (multisite), says the Caribbean offshore workers primarily “need to be welcomed in friendship and welcomed as neighbours.”
The neighbourhood audit Southridge conducts before launching a new campus identified Caribbean migrant workers as those left out of outreach opportunities in rural Niagara. Members of the Vineland campus, located in tender-fruit and grape farming country, packed kits to welcome the workers and ease their first few weeks in Ontario.
This was the first time in nine years of coming to work in the Niagara region that he was welcomed in such a manner, one worker told Arnold after receiving Vineland’s kit of toiletries, gloves, and hats. But “It doesn’t really matter what’s in the kit,” he says. “What matters is the heart behind the gift.”
More than 150 people from Southridge are involved in ongoing ministry to 200 Caribbean workers. Church volunteers and care groups (also known as Life Groups) are linked with specific farms where they do friendly visitation. There are 17 active groups currently ministering in this fashion.
Southridge also arranges large monthly events to connect all the groups. “The heart of this ministry is building friendships through small group connections,” says Arnold.
Welcome for workers
Jane Andres, a Southridge member in St. Catharines, Ont., volunteers with Caribbean Workers Outreach Program (CWOP) where people come together to minister to the workers in the Niagara region. Jane organizes the Workers Welcome Concert, and is passionate about raising the profile of the Caribbean worker to eliminate stereotypes surrounding the unfamiliar. Every year, she organizes the concert, sometimes taking on the financial expense herself to ensure the event is a success.
Carol Miller, a member of Orchard Park Bible Church (OPBC), in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., also volunteers with CWOP. Through her connection to the program, OPBC learned of some specific CWOP needs. “OPBC donates the use of their space for the Workers Welcome Concert,” says Jane Andres. “Various churches contribute to the event, creating a purpose-filled community-minded event.”
OPBC pastor Jim Evans takes part in a rotation to provide Sunday services for the workers. When he became aware that the workers desired a Bible study and needed a host location, “We offered them OPBC.” Next, he learned the workers desired English Bibles, specifically large-print. “I got in touch with the Gideon’s and obtained enough large-print New Testaments and regular Bibles to provide God’s Word for those who desired it.”
Along with offering a concert and study location, OPBC provided Christianity Explored resources to begin a study through the Gospel of Mark around the theme of “Who is Jesus, why did he come, what does it mean to be his disciple?”
Social and spiritual needs
In Virgil, Ont., Cornerstone Community Church’s pastor, Kevin Bayne, is one of several men on call to offer pastoral care to the offshore workers. “The on-call pastoral care provides counsel, help, guidance, prayer, and encouragement from the Scriptures to migrant workers who are experiencing difficulties.”
With the help of MCCO, Cornerstone decided to open an internet café Thursday and Friday nights from Aug. 1 until the demand dries up. MCCO supplied six laptops for the internet café; Cornerstone supplies six volunteers to run the café.
“Rachel [Pellett Gillette] from MCCO is amazing,” says Bayne. The migrant workers engagement intern for MCCO who organizes Niagara churches to support workers “is a real go-getter and has been a God-send to the men.”
Cornerstone men are also visiting the local farms (with the farmer’s permission) and leading Bible studies once a week after work in the evenings.
As this mission field appears on their doorstep, these Niagara area MB churches are responding to their new – albeit temporary – neighbours, through the love of Christ.
—Stacey Weeks, Ontario correspondent