At Canada’s sesquicentennial anniversary, Statistics Canada projects that the nation which has come to pride itself on ethnic, linguistic and cultural diversity will be increasingly characterized by those qualities. If current levels of immigration continue, Immigration and Diversity: Population Projections for Canada and its Regions estimates that immigrants and second-generation immigrants will account for almost half of Canada’s population in 2036.
The leadership of the Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches has been calling us to develop “a heart for Canada.”
Following Jesus’s call to his disciples (“you will be my witnesses,” Acts 1:8) before he ascended, we translate the mission into our present context as impacting our neighbours (“Jerusalem”), our nation (“Judea and Samaria”) and the rest of the world (“the ends of the earth”).
Understanding what it means to live as witnesses to our neighbours – and to those in other countries – seems straightforward; however, living the principles of our faith in a manner consistent with our words in those contexts is more difficult.
What does it look like to be a witness in Canada, to be Christians Canadian-ly? What does it mean to follow Jesus not only as a neighbour, but as a citizen? And do we have a calling to do that together, not merely as individuals? What does it mean for our churches to be on this mission together across Canada?
As we develop a heart for “the lost,” we must remember to practise a full gospel: to truly love – and learn from – whole people with needs and gifts.
In this issue, our stories touch on three themes, three national issues where the church may be called to consider how justice differs from charity. The gospel, says pastor Lee Kosa of Cedar Park Church in Delta, B.C., “is big enough to liberate us from structures and patterns that exclude people from our communities.” Could the church together witness to our hope by engaging not only individuals “in need,” but also the systems or issues that create those needs?
Decades ago in St. Catharines, Ont., a Mennonite Brethren church plant ventured into new territory and grew into a multisite congregation called to specific ministries, including Southridge Shelter.
Recently, Southridge church members with skills, resources and creativity sparked a social initiative to bring together housed and homeless to learn to make jam in the fruit-growing mecca. (See “Spreading hope.”)
Developing job skills with friends is more than charity; it is justice.
Over the course of running a Vacation Bible School, Grace MB, a small church in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ont., expanded their collaboration with newcomers. The participation of their children in VBS drew several Tigrinya-speaking families into Grace’s worshipping community. The fathers’ gifts as prayer warriors quickly emerged, and God led the pair to an evangelist to lead their fellowship.
It became clear that it was not merely Grace serving the newcomers, but their new friends were leading the church to new opportunities. (See “Two baptisms and a new year”).
Working alongside newcomers as learners and co-labourers is more than service; it is partnership.
Our sister denomination Mennonite Church Canada is drawing on the experiences within its ranks with the publication of a second book confronting individual and church complicity in systemic injustice facing Indigenous peoples in Canada. (See Yours, Mine, Ours review.)
Listening to stories of pain – stories where we might play the role of oppressor, not oppressed – is a necessary part of our witness.
As we sit with others in humility and repentance, the gospel not only speaks through us, but also teaches us through others.
Justice for all
Our witness to Canada involves pursuing justice for all, not merely the health and happiness of our families and churches.
This isn’t about sacrificing evangelical witness for social action. The good news that God has reconciled himself to humanity out of love for each one of us is what compels us to act for the well being of all members of society.
In Smart Compassion, Evana Network pastor Wesley Furlong writes that his passion to work for justice to see his community flourish is rooted “in a spirit of worship and prayer.”
“Smart compassion holds together justice and evangelism, wisdom and revelation,” says Furlong. “It rejects the toxic ‘giver’ and ‘receiver’ postures of disempowering aid and starts from a strengths-based perspective.”
And it never loses sight of Jesus.
Whatever socioeconomic circumstances, cultural backgrounds or religious traditions we encounter in the Canadians of today and the future, will we recognize the face of God in them?