Working in community and family services at Montreal Citadel, Beatriz Alvaran meets people like herself nearly every day.

“As with so many of them, I am also an immigrant,” she says, “and so I put myself in the same shoes as each family that comes to my office and let them see that everything is possible if we first have Jesus in our lives.”

It’s a bold statement of hope—and a testament to how God has transformed Alvaran’s life since she arrived in Canada in 2006.

“The blessings spill from my hand every day,” Alvaran says. “That doesn’t mean I don’t have problems—of course, I do. But I can say that I have no problems because they are all in the hands of my God.”

Invisible Suitcase
Before they immigrated to Canada, Alvaran, her husband and two young girls had a happy life in Colombia, until local mobsters started harassing them.

“We had good jobs and everything we needed, but in Colombia, when these people know that you are living well, they start asking you for money,” Alvaran explains. “If you don’t do that, they will take your properties, everything you own, or even kill you and your family.

“So when they said that we had to work for them, we said no,” she continues, “and we had to run away immediately.”

When they arrived in Canada, the family stayed with Hayde Rojas, a good friend who was the only person they knew in Montreal. It was a particularly difficult time for Alvaran.

“When I came from Colombia, I brought with me an invisible suitcase—full of many dreams, hopes and wishes, and all the things that hurt,” she shares. “I talked with Hayde about my invisible suitcase and how heavy it was, and she invited me to her church.”

Coming from a Catholic background, Alvaran was surprised when Rojas brought her to Montreal Citadel.

“I was kind of scared when I saw it was not Catholic, but she said, ‘Don’t worry. This is a nice place,’ so I said OK and stayed there,” Alvaran shares. “And with tears in my heart, I emptied all my invisible suitcase. When I finished, I felt different.”

Beatriz Alvaran, with a Salvation Army shield in the background“This church is my family,” says Alvaran
The Next Step
Although she had that powerful experience at the corps, Alvaran still felt somewhat unsure about The Salvation Army because it was such a change from what she was used to. But she decided to keep attending and started volunteering with community and family services. In 2007, she started working at Montreal Citadel as a receptionist.

Over time, Alvaran began to feel more comfortable with the Army, so when a friend asked her if she’d like to attend a women’s camp at Lac l’Achigan in 2008, she accepted gladly. It was while she was at camp that everything finally clicked.

“I found that the Army was so different, so nice,” she recalls. “In the Catholic Church, we would receive communion every Sunday, bread and wine. At the Army, the communion was to share with people. People that you have never seen before in your life welcome you, they start speaking with you. For me, that made an impact.”

At Camp Lac l’Achigan, Alvaran discovered she was ready to take the next step in her relationship with God. “When the pastor said, ‘Somebody wants to become a Christian here,’ immediately I went to the front and I gave my heart to the Lord.”

Saving Relationship
That experience at camp was a turning point for Alvaran and her understanding of faith.

“I know now that to be a Christian is the doorway to a special relationship with God,” she says. “It’s having someone who really cares for you, who loves you with a love that heals your hurts and gives you the strength for life. I feel that God is my best friend and my loving Father.”

Alvaran has found the perfect outlet to share God’s love with others at Montreal Citadel’s community and family services, where she has been an intervention worker since 2010.

“One day, one of my clients said, ‘I’m looking for a church,’ and suddenly I started speaking about the Salvation Army church, which is in the same building,” she says. “I talk to my clients about the way I fell in love with God and I invite them to be part of the church family because I say, ‘This is my family.’ When we came to this country alone, we had no family here, and this church welcomed us.”

“Beatriz’s goal is to not only give her clients physical things, such as food and clothing,” says Captain Colleen Gleadall, corps officer. “She makes showing them the sanctuary a part of their first intake meeting in order to open the door to the possibility of a saving relationship with Christ.”

For Alvaran, evangelism is simply a matter of sharing her own experience. “When I start speaking about the invisible suitcase, they immediately have tears in their eyes,” she says. “I say, ‘If you want, I can unpack that suitcase with you, at the mercy seat we have in the church.’ ”

Time and again, Alvaran’s clients accept her invitation. “Beatriz has been instrumental in bringing new people to church almost every Sunday,” notes Captain Gleadall.

Alvaran meets with Rocio Paez and her daughter, Samantha, at Montreal CitadelAlvaran meets with Rocio Paez and her daughter, Samantha, at Montreal Citadel
A Real Family
About eight years ago, Alvaran felt called to step out in faith again, this time by starting a Spanish Bible study at the corps. Since the beginning, the group has attracted a strong crowd and now averages 30 to 40 people every week.

“I am always thanking God because it’s a gift,” she says. “I invite people to church and to Bible study and they show up. I’ve seen people become Christians in our Bible study, people become soldiers in The Salvation Army. This is so good!”

Ministries such as the Bible study have had a major impact on the congregation as a whole. Today, about 35 to 40 percent of Montreal Citadel’s members speak Spanish as their first language and the corps has purchased a translation system to help these members feel included in the services.

“Sometimes we read the gospel in Spanish, and we sing in Spanish and English,” says Alvaran. “We try not to discriminate against the people who speak Spanish so that people feel like real family.”

Alvaran’s passion to see others find hope in Christ infuses all of her ministry at Montreal Citadel—in both the corps setting and her role at community and family services.

“Every day, I start by praying in my office for an hour in the morning,” she notes. “I say, ‘God, lead me this day. Put the right words in my mouth to speak with the people. When I speak with them, may they hear your voice, not my voice.’ ”

While fleeing her home country and starting a new life in Canada is not what Alvaran would have envisioned for her life, she believes it was God’s plan for her.

“This beautiful country gave us the opportunity to be here,” she says. “I think that the purpose in my life is to be here with my family. I am a very different person than I was before because now I have God in my heart.”

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