Last week we enjoyed our Thanksgiving feast. Turkey, stuffed to bursting and all good manner of harvest foods and fall favourites. The day brought back memories for each of us, and we reflected on the many Thanksgivings in Africa where we made a best effort (and came up quite short) to put together the traditional fare,- squash pie (made from butternut squash and spices to mimic pumpkin), gamey chicken and whatever variety of canned vegetables were available, but what was genuine as having a “real turkey” was the tradition we have stuck to, and most families I think of counting our blessings. The sign on our church says,- “get rich quick- count your blessings”. And indeed we are blessed and spend some time going around the table to share our thanksgivings with others.
This year, indulging in the familiar Canadian food, traditions and the scent of Fall upon the wind, leaves of crimson and yellow circling around us, we opened our house to invite an international student to join us and have a “Canadian Thanksgiving” experience. We greeted our guest warmly, and as soon as she adjusted to the yapping puppy, crazed cat circling the turkey, and five rambunctious children eager to talk to a guest, she pitched in with helping to peel potatoes and yams and talked about her experience in Canada so far. The worst thing about Canada: people wear socks and sandals. She was quite appalled and noted, if you did that in my country,- your ‘social life is gone forever!’ I was thinking, good thing Jay wore his boots and didn’t don on his socks and flip flops combo, or his summer shorts with winter boots fashion statement! Best thing about Canada: people are helpful and kind. It was nice to hear these sentiments and to learn more about this young lady, her family back home and her goals and aspirations. She noted how much she missed her family, how hard it was to be away from them and how quiet campus was now that all the students had gone ‘home’ for the holiday.
At the beginning of the meal we bowed our heads to “give thanks”. Jay poured out a simple prayer of Thanks to Jesus, for His good gifts that sustain us, for the meal, for health, for our guest. At the end of the “amen”, C noted, “I’ve never done that before”. The kids looked perplexed? “what?” C responds “grace”. C noted that she is atheist, as are most of her countrymen, where belief in God is not apart of life or culture. There was a pause,- I let that sink in.
By the end of the evening we experienced some more “traditional Canadianisms” including pumpkin pie (a first for her) as well as the following power outage due to high winds that lasted the next few hours. As Jay made the trip back to the university, he was able to chat about her hopes of becoming an astrophysicist, which opened up conversation about the stars, the universe and of course (anyone who knows Jay) the origins of life, the grandeur and majesty of the Heavens which trace and display His handiwork. “The heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of His Hands” (Psalm 19:1). Jay had an opportunity to chat about why He believes in God. A few seeds planted, deep.
There are a few things on the go for us, and although my impatient spirit always longs to have things calculated and figured out in full, I rest in the days of progress, in the small glimpses of what He has. I learned something last night (again), to rest in what He is doing, even if it looks different from my vision of things. And in a confession, I admit we had signed up to host a refugee family for supper and I was a tad disappointed that instead of a house filled with two families we were matched with a solo student…. And yet we were incredibly blessed, and I was encouraged and reminded that the God who creates, who orchestrates planets and constellations, gravity and space also leans in to orchestrate our comings and goings and interactions, giving us opportunities to be who we were created to be, to be a light, that shines and directs others to know the greater glory of our God.
Africans in Nova Scotia? In the last few weeks we have been contacting organizations who work with refugees and new comers to Canada. We are super excited to be volunteers with ISANS (immigration services association of nova scotia) and in the coming weeks we will be paired with an African Family who are new to Canada who we meet with weekly to support, help, practice English, and encourage. I am also excited to volunteer in a medical clinic to help support refugees who have just arrived the previous weeks in their first medical/immunization appointments. Jay is also looking into opportunities to co-facilitate a conversation (English practicing) circle for newcomers.
As we continue to get the lay of the land, we are privileged to meet with various organizations and leaders in the province who have set up programs and assistance to Africans and/or refugee/newcomers to Canada. Last week we entered into the ADAMS office located in a plaza beside the Speedy muffler and across from an exercise equipment store and the 24 carrots bakery. The sign was so small we wondered if we were in the right place. We were there to meet the director of the African Diaspora Association of the Maritimes (ADAM). We entered into the small 4 room office, and smiled. A bright piece of African cloth hung on the inside wall and as soon as we were greeted with the sound of familiar “African English” we felt immediately at home. The director was apologizing for her English, and we could not have been happier to hear it! Our meeting with Solange lasted the entire morning. Solange who has been leading this organization for the last few years is Rwandese, but was born in Burundi, returning to Rwanda after the genocide. She smiles, “people think if you are black you are all the same. We serve those coming from “the continent” 54 different countries with thousands of different languages and dialects. We try and connect people together, to provide resources that will help, support.”
We learned that ADAMS was created 14 or so years ago, due to the need to address the division and differences of new Africans coming into the province, as the government recognized that new Africans were quite different than the Nova Scotian Africans. There is a history of Africans in Nova Scotia,- one that is complex and I admit I have not yet understood the depths of. But ADAMS was created in part with recognition of the gap between new Africans and Nova Scotia Africans.
Solange walked us through the various programs offered. They have one “mzungu” volunteer and a few others. She shared with us what ADAMS is doing and also what she hopes ADAMS can do. She sees a lot of need amongst the Africans here.
She talked about stories of Africans struggling with mental illness, depression, anxiety, isolation, who have few supports and culturally not sure how to process this struggle (as mental illness in the home African culture still associated with evil sprits and alienation).
She talked about families new to Canada who have had children removed from their home by social services due to the use of discipline in the home, and the lack of preparation, education on the difference between their home culture and Canadian culture that has resulted in such a loss and trouble with the social system. These parents love their children she notes, they just didn’t know that how they have been taught to raise children is very different here in Canada.
She talked about the many youth that have no place to connect together, of starting a soccer club but the fees were not affordable to rent the fields. She talked of the many new African children coming to Canada who are placed by age into the educational system, who have no grasp of English. No wonder Africans end up with menial or no jobs in Canada,- she notes, they are placed where they can not succeed. Many of the children who come have spent years in refugee camps with little to no education at all. Solange spends an hour each morning tutoring a boy recently here from Congo placed in grade 9 with no comprehension of English. “In the DRC alone there are 600 dialects, different cultures, different tribal groups and ethnic groups, finding a translator that can understand the language is difficult”.
She laughed, Canada is filled with forms, which is trouble for a new African Canadian who has come from a refugee camp or a country where they have not had access to computers or have computer literacy. ADAMS offers computer courses or help with online forms and referrals.
We want to help we said. What can we do? We talked about our vision of having a camp for African children who would not have the opportunity to get outside the city. Being careful to be transparent, we said, it would be an Evangelical camp, we would want to share about Jesus. Fearing that this might be a barrier, she smiled again, “No worries – I am Catholic, my niece is Mslm, and I still have her go to Mass every Sunday. Our mandate at ADAMS is to partner with all charitable groups whether religious or secular.”
After leaving ADAMS were impressed with how much Solange and ADAMS are doing, and also felt that there are needs that exist, in the area of youth support and outreach, mental health, support of women and children, support of school age children that we could help with. Pray for us, we are delighted to be finding out more and more about what we can practically be doing to help Africans here.
Feasting of another kind…
I heard a quote last Sunday by a famous theologian (sorry forgot the name!) but it has sat with me for the last few days, “In hunger we are fed and in famine we feast”. As I thought about it, I became more aware of the blessings that come alongside trials and struggles, and I can not help but be thankful today for the “famine” moments of our days as we start up here. The fears, the worries, the insecurities as we tread on new ground, the challenge of lacking full financial support, the hoops needed to jump through for NP registration, the innate desire to have this new work all figured out and looking like my mind’s eye pictures, for kids as they hit routine bumps and snags in new school and with new friends, of family with needs far away. Instead of worry, instead of discontent or grumbling, or fears the frustrate and follow, I can rejoice and be thankful for these struggles, for the way they bring me to my knees, as they urge me to draw close to Him for rest, for strength, for wisdom, to wait, to trust, to handover. How easy it is to feel like you can manage, you can get by, (with enough planning and endless lists of course) how arrogant I can be. How great His grace to be patient to reveal again and again His love, His work, His purpose, His mercy, His redemption, His glory. So let me, (let us) feast spiritually in a famine of need. Need of practical things, which bring me to my need of Him and ultimately leaves me filled with the fullest measure, heaped over, overflowing.
Thank you for many who pray for us. Pray that He would open our eyes to opportunity and we would trust Him in every and all opportunity to share Jesus.