Ontario Churches Reach Out to Muslim Immigrants
Emad Girgis says a meeting between Christian Reformed Church ministry leaders and Arabic- and Farsi-speaking pastors in the Greater Toronto Area of Ontario was an answer to prayer.
Coordinated by Christian Reformed Home Missions and Christian Reformed World Mission representatives, the meeting took place earlier this summer at Willowdale CRC in Toronto.
“Amazingly, a meeting like this is what we have been hoping to see,” said Girgis, coordinator of Children of Abraham, an outreach ministry to Muslims based at a Pentecostal church in the nearby city of Mississauga, Ont.
“We have been praying for more churches to open themselves to a love for Muslims. The need to do this is not optional in Canada because we are seeing so many Muslims coming into this country. The harvest is huge.”
Girgis works in various ways with immigrants from such countries as Egypt, his original home, as well as Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq. A growing percentage of the population in Mississauga is from these communities.
“Doing this ministry is not easy. It is complicated, especially given the media attention that can portray all Muslims as terrorists,” said Girgis.
Also, he said, “You have to be patient in this work if you are looking for true converts.”
The meeting in Toronto was an outgrowth of the unification process between Home Missions and World Missions. Even though the agencies won’t formally combine their offices until next year, efforts such as this are already under way.
The meeting this summer was encouraged by a World Missions missionary who would like to see the new agency for mission use its resources to work with immigrant and refugee groups overseas and in North America.
“The missionary has connections with different people in the Toronto area and suggested getting together so that we could learn from one another,” said Greg Sinclair, project manager for Salaam 2.0, a World Missions effort that reaches out to Muslims in Canada’s large urban areas. He kept the name of the missionary confidential due to security risks overseas.
Participants included CRC pastors who are hoping to do ministry with Muslims in their communities and ministry leaders from other denominations who are already at work among Muslims speaking either Arabic or Farsi.
“The meeting was only a start,” said Sinclair. “We allowed for conversation and prayer to take place. We were there to listen to God and hear what he had to say and where he would have us go.”
Especially with the influx of Syrian refugees to Canada, many of whom are Muslim, there is a growing need to share the gospel in ways that are relevant and effective to those from other cultures, said Mark Wallace, who works for Home Missions and is among those helping to create a vision for the new unified agency.
“We talked at the meeting about what it would look like to do ministry together with people whose history is so different from ours,” said Wallace.
“It was a tremendous opportunity to learn about those whose communities are now in our midst.”
Doug Nieuwstraten, pastor of Community CRC in Richmond Hill, Ont., was excited when he learned about the meeting, given his commitment to finding ways for his church to reach out to Muslims and other immigrants in the area.
“It’s long overdue for the church to do something like this,” he said. “It was wonderful to hear of others who have a heart for Christ and to learn of what they are doing with our brothers and sisters who are lost in the Muslim faith.”
Nieuwstraten’s church will begin a program later this month to introduce people to the beliefs of the Muslim religion and to offer suggestions on how to do outreach and share the gospel with persons who embrace Islam.
Among other things, his church currently offers an English as a second language (ESL) program.
Richmond Hill, a fairly affluent suburb of Toronto, is already home to a large group of people from China and Russia and, increasingly, immigrants from the Middle East.
“I want to dream big about what can come out of something like this [meeting],” said Nieuwstraten. “I’d love to see the CRC be in the forefront of ministry to people coming to Canada from the Middle East.”
Doing ministry out of a former Salvation Army storefront in Milton, Ont., John Bouwers was also eager to attend the meeting. As a church planter and pastor of Crosstowne CRC, he has sought to work with Muslim immigrants living in the area.
“I have found it to be a great learning experience trying to understand their faith and figuring out ways to share my faith,” he said.
The meeting this summer, he said, gave him even more insight into the landscape of religious diversity in Canada and offered approaches that other ministries are taking to connect with Muslims.
For him, he said, one-on-one ministry is best. For instance, he built a friendship over time with a Muslim man who worked at a nearby variety store.
“We had short bits of conversation about prayer. We would laugh with each other over things,” said Bouwers. “He’s moved away now.”
He also met a woman from Bangladesh, who is a Muslim and interested in Christianity, at a meal his church put on at a nearby government-sponsored housing complex.
They have spoken frequently, and she stops by the CORNER, the space where Crosstowne meets on Sunday for breakfast, conversation, prayer, and praise, along with other ministries it offers.
“In many ways, immigrants and refugees are the future of the Christian church,” he said. “We as a church must consciously and intentionally be learning about and engaging in this mission field.”