New Canadian Friendship Centre: loving God, loving people
By Laureen F. Guenther
Xian Dong moved to Canada from China in 2011 after marrying a Canadian. She visited the New Canadian Friendship Centre (NCFC) to study English while her young sons received care. “They just every day welcome everyone and you can see the love from them,” said Xian Dong, about the staff and volunteers at NCFC.
“I was curious because they are different,” she says. “I never met a group of people like that.”
“I asked, ‘How come all of you can serve people and you can love people?’ Because they are so friendly to everyone. Somehow, I knew it’s not something you can pretend.”
“I asked a volunteer, and she told me, ‘Because of Jesus’ love.’ So she told me about Jesus. She said it’s because Jesus is in them. And they have the same heart to love people.’ … Then I started thinking, what’s Jesus about?”
Dong became a Christ-follower, and three-and-a-half years later, she knows He’s truly in her life.
“Now when I am facing difficulty, I feel it’s not a big thing,” she says. “Not like something I need to be stressful or be afraid, or going to worry. … That’s a big change in my life. Because I have no more fear. … In my heart I really trust God, because I never doubt. I just trust Him. Trust His Word. Trust what He says to me. And it means I can obey Him. … God is real for me, and I just follow.”
NCFC, funded by Centre Street Church, opened in northeast Calgary in 2013. Each week, four part-time staff and 35-40 volunteers serve about 80 guests. Another 30 volunteers help occasionally. Seventy-five to eighty guests register for English classes each semester, and 10-15 children receive weekly care and Bible teaching.
The centre also offers classes in citizenship preparation, sewing, cooking, baking, and exercise, and a drop-in café.
NCFC’s mission, says Katherine Milum, Program Manager, is “to reach out in practical ways to support new immigrants as they transition to life here in Canada, and through that to welcome them into a healthy, respectful, safe community.
“We live out that love for God and then for others. We’re just creating that community where people are exposed to God’s love. It’s the Spirit of God that comes through,” she says. “We have so many phenomenal volunteers who just love God and love others. … That love for God flows out and when people come, they feel that.”
Like Dong, some guests have become followers of Christ, while others follow their original beliefs. But their choice of faith has no impact on the welcome they receive at NCFC. Staff and volunteers love them regardless of their faith.
“If they never make that choice (to follow Christ), I love them just as much. And we’re here just as much for them,” Milum says. “That doesn’t matter, or change what we offer anybody.”
Jan Wilkinson, who’s volunteered at NCFC since 2013, teaching English three times a week, says that love keeps her going back.
“The overall feeling of that whole ministry is love and caring,” she says. “Someone to listen to you, and somewhere to come, and somewhere to be accepted. It’s amazing
“I love the volunteers who come there, who give their whole hearts to people, and help them and listen to them.”
She demonstrates love by encouraging students to see their potential, like the day a student came to class celebrating that she’d gone to the mall on her own.
“I went okay, that’s all (the affirmation) I need for this year, the fact that you have gone to the mall by yourself,” Wilkinson says. “Because I want you women to realize this is a safe country, and you can go and do whatever you need to do to make your life good.”
“Those of us who don’t volunteer at NCFC are also called,” Milum says.
“NCFC is nice and the volunteers who come here are nice. But you don’t need an NCFC, because it’s every person in the body of Christ responding to that challenge and that call. It’s not just new immigrants. … Who does God call you to see? And to give a cup of cold water to? See the neighbour on your street, and even if it’s uncomfortable, do you look at them with eyes that say, ‘I’m glad you’re in my country,’ or do you look past them?”
She quoted Matthew 25. “For I was hungry, and you gave me food. I was thirsty, and you gave me drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked, and you clothed me. I was sick, and you visited me.”
“It’s not a whole pile of great big things. It’s so many little things all the time. … It’s a cup of coffee. A cup of chai in Jesus’ name.”