We all model our lives on stories we’ve heard and the people who exist in those stories. There are, of course, the biblical accounts of God’s people and Jesus. But there are also stories closer to home. The stories of our parents, grandparents, or people we hear about often make a profound impact on who we are and what we work at becoming.
This series looks at some of those stories as told by people within our Canadian Mennonite Brethren church family.
Sonia Blanchette had her prayers answered – but in a manner much different from what she ever expected.
All pastors pray for people to come to the Lord and for their congregations to grow. Sonia was no exception. When her church not only grew, but literally exploded in size, she could only give the praise and glory to God, and hang on for the ride.
It all began when Sonia, pastor of L’Église Communautaire de la Rivière Rouge in Winnipeg, stopped at a gently used clothing store across the street from the church. While shopping, she heard an African woman singing en français with a Tina Turner voice. With her effervescent personality, Sonia engaged the woman in conversation. They became instant friends.
Sonia invited her to see the church sanctuary. She asked the woman to sing a worship song, so Charlotte began to sing to the Lord with passion and movement of body and soul. As she listened, Sonia prayed that God would send more people like this to their church who could sing in French. With such people, she was confident the Holy Spirit would move them.
One Sunday, a month later, a young woman from Togo walked into the sanctuary. She said she felt led to come to the church. She had been in Winnipeg six weeks and needed help to get established.
That afternoon, in fall 2007, she and Sonia went to an African grocery store, purchased some home basics from yard sales, and rented a small apartment. It was the beginning of a service the church would provide for French-speaking newcomers to Canada.
In less than a year, L’Église Communautaire de la Rivière Rouge has grown from its original small congregation of 40 – its size for three years – to more than 165. That’s more than 400 percent growth! Another 30 people would attend Sunday services if more transportation were available.
Who’s coming? Mostly, they’re French-speaking refugees and immigrants from countries such as Togo, Congo, and Ivory Coast. As with all newcomers, they look for people with whom they can identify, who share a common language and story. By now the church is more than 75 percent African, and the original Franco-Manitobans have shrunk to a white minority.
While this is all good, it’s straining the resources of the original congregation. Many newcomers have immediate needs such as food, clothing, and everyday household items.
Sonia’s husband, Mario Buscio, was co-pastor of the congregation for several years. He says he had prayed God would grant him an overseas ministry assignment on the continent of Africa – perhaps in a place like Kenya. He wanted to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. He had dreams of driving a white Land Rover and working in villages.
He believes his dreams have now been fulfilled. But he’s still in Winnipeg, not Kenya. He drives a big white GMC van, in which he transports more than 70 newcomers to church every Sunday. Instead of going to Africa, Africa has come to him and Sonia.
And it all began when Sonia responded to a woman singing.