Fleeing violence in Colombia, the Ortiz family arrived as refugees to Canada in January 2013. At first, John and Milena Ortiz, along with their three sons, struggled to get by as they knew little English.

Staying with friends in Mississauga, Ont., the family visited The Salvation Army’s Mississauga Temple Community Church. Lieutenant Johnny Valencia, then in charge of the multicultural ministry, warmly invited them to attend Bible study and to join them for supper.

“That day, we began to develop a sense of love that contributed to our spiritual growth and our process of adapting to Canada,” says John. “Lieutenants Johnny and Carolina Valencia helped us grow in faith and overcome moments of distress that immigrants go through.”

Blessed Moment
Back in Colombia, the family attended church, but John rejected Christianity. A neighbouring family started a Bible study on Saturday nights and his kids began pestering him to join, to the point of tears. John reluctantly decided to go.

“I started to go every Saturday to the Bible study, then church, and then I started to follow Christ and be obedient to Him,” he says.

The Salvation Army in Canada helped the Ortiz family with housing, food, clothing and other material needs. John recalls how the Army helped to make their first Christmas special. “They gave us six bags full of toys and we felt so blessed,” he says.

From Being Helped to Helping Others
John, who had worked as a journalist in his home country for a decade, enrolled in college to develop his English skills. To support their family, he and his wife started a small maintenance company. Their decision to work at night allows them to spend as much time as they can with their children during the day.

John and Milena decided to become official members of The Salvation Army in 2014, followed by their sons. Last year, John and Milena began attending The Salvation Army Mountain Citadel, then led by Majors Darryl and Cathy Simms, and soon noticed another family from Colombia that attended that church.

“They had been coming to the church for almost two years and hadn’t understood what was being said,” explains John, “but they really loved The Salvation Army.”

John shared the conversation with Major Cathy, and she asked if he would be interested in starting a Spanish ministry.

“Even though we already had a lot on our plate between the family and our business, I immediately replied, ‘In order to serve God, I’ll do whatever I have to do.’ ”

The Ortiz family began leading Wednesday night Bible studies for two families. In September 2017, he and his eldest son, Santiago, began translating Sunday services simultaneously into Spanish. Their contributions have helped newcomers to Canada feel more comfortable and engaged.

“They didn’t attend activities such as potlucks before because they had no idea what people were saying,” says John. “But now they understand that there are programs for kids and they feel more involved.”

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