Arriving as immigrants from Hong Kong almost 30 years ago, Arnold and Teresa Wong know a thing or two about navigating a new and foreign culture. Their place of worship, North Toronto Chinese Baptist Church, has proven to be a cornerstone for community cohesion and shared purpose, and it was Arnold and Teresa’s pastor, Kwan Chan, who informed them (and two fellow congregants) about the recent opening of the Willowdale Welcome Centre – Homes First’s new shelter serving over 200 refugees while they search for a permanent home in Canada.
“We just want to connect,” says Arnold. “Ourselves being migrants, we understand the frustration, the loss of direction….”
The couple are quick to point out that while some of these hardships are related to pressing material needs, there can also be a spiritual dimension to a refugee’s sense of discombobulation. For Christian newcomers, Teresa suggests, the most pressing questions of faith are not scholastic but very practical: “If they want to be true Christians, how can they do it in Toronto?”
“We serve these clients so that they know who they are, what they can look forward to, and how they can take themselves into a foreign culture,” adds Arnold.
Since the end of January 2020, the couple have been hosting a drop-in Bible study at the Willowdale Welcome Centre every week, to help clients find answers to this daunting and complicated question. Each session begins with participants separating into four smaller groups, in which, as Arnold describes it, clients can “share their concerns with [us volunteers], their understanding of the Bible as it is presented each time, how they understand what the Bible is talking about, and how to apply its teachings to their current situation in Toronto.”
When asked if the specific testaments of their own church presented an obstacle to communicating and connecting with very different spiritual traditions and contexts, Arnold is adamant: everyone who attends their weekly sessions, he points out, “all claim to be Christians. Even though they are from a whole spectrum of backgrounds, and their faith may not align with our church, that is not the issue. We are only talking about Jesus Christ … everyone seems to agree that that is the right thing, this is what they need.”
Written by Andrew Winchur