More than a million new immigrants have come to Canada in the past year, and another 1.5 million are anticipated in 2024. “In all 400 communities where The Salvation Army serves, there are going to be new Canadians who are eager to be ministered to by someone with a smiling, loving face,” says Major Doug Binner, territorial corps life director.
Love New Canadians, a ministry created by Rick and Patti Love from Calgary, has partnered with The Salvation Army to deliver a program that will help equip ministry units to embrace the growing communities of new Canadians around them. Salvationist staff writer, Abbigail Oliver, spoke to the Loves and Major Binner about the partnership and their vision for the future.
Can you tell me about yourselves and your background?
Rick Love: I grew up in Calgary. When I was young, I went to Canadian Bible College in Regina, and later did a master of divinity and PhD at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Illinois. I taught Old Testament at seminaries for 19 years in the Philippines and Canada.
Patti Love: I went to the same Bible college. That’s how we met. I also have a master’s degree in intercultural studies from Canadian Theological Seminary and another in teaching English language and literature from Ateneo de Manila University in Quezon City, Philippines. Rick and I were international workers with the Christian and Missionary Alliance in the Philippines for 11 years.
How did Love New Canadians begin?
PL: We once attended a conference where the speaker asked, “What can we do to think outside the box to reach people for Jesus?” That evening, I said to Rick, “Some day I want to work with new Canadians.” A few years later, we returned to our home church, Foothills Alliance Church in Calgary, where I became the pastor of intercultural ministry in 2006.
Our lead pastor visited a grocery store right beside our church and noticed that our neighbourhood was changing drastically, with people from all over the world moving in. But our congregation did not look like the people shopping right beside us. He knew we had to be more intentional.
RL: In 2014, we decided to start Love New Canadians, and now we help Christian faith communities experiment with the ministry model that we began at our home church, and we assist through coaching curriculum and seminars.
Can you share some insight into the specific needs and challenges that new immigrants face when they arrive in Canada?
PL: When Foothills Alliance Church first hired me, I spent months doing research into possible intercultural ministry. I interviewed more than 100 immigrants in our church and neighbourhood, asking how we could help them settle in Canada. The most common answers I got were related to social connections: “I want to feel like I belong,” or “I want to meet my neighbours,” or “I want my kids to make friends.”That’s what new Canadians need most.
What does the Love New Canadians curriculum consist of? How does it help immigrants adapt to their new home while also nurturing their spiritual growth?
RL: We use a three-stage ministry model. The first stage is about friendships, settlement, meeting needs and encountering new Canadians using little or no spiritual content. Stage two is for the spiritually curious, and stage three is for those close to faith, new to faith or who are seriously exploring what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
Stage one involves social events, conversation classes and Canadian topic-based lessons. In stage two, we study Canadian culture, English language and the life and teachings of Jesus. We’ve tried to create the gentlest introduction to the gospel that we could. We wanted people from various faiths, including atheists, to attend class, learn English, have fun, make friends, laugh, and then return to class the following week.
Then, if they are interested, stage three is what you might expect in a Bible study. We learn English, but with a focus on how to be a follower of Jesus.
Can you tell me more about how you introduce people to Jesus?
PL: We call stage two our “bridges class” because it builds a bridge between stages one and three. It can be hard for people to transition from social events to Bible study. So, the bridges class starts by using the words of Jesus to teach English. We use the Gospels as reading and vocabulary practice. Then in small groups, we do discussion questions based on what Jesus said.
RL: We also use the life and teachings of Jesus as a jumping-off point to learn about the lives of our new Canadian friends. As an example, we were looking at John 14:6, “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’ ” And we asked the discussion question, “What are some things that you could only do one way, and what are some things you could do many different ways?” And that’s how we get to know each other. As we grow to love and trust each other, they’re more likely to explore in greater detail what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
PL: Some people never become believers. Some move on, and others stay and attend for years, and you see them progress on their pathway to Jesus. Either way,it’s beautiful to see people making genuine connections with Christians.
Are there any stories you would like to share about people you have encountered in the program?
PL: Kathy, an immigrant from China, wanted to understand Christianity, but mostly, she wanted to improve her English and enjoy a Canadian meal around a table with other people. After two years, she became a believer. It was a great joy to disciple her. She told me that when her husband and daughter eventually immigrated to Canada, they would also follow Jesus. I asked her if they knew what that meant, and she said, “No, but they will do whatever I tell them to do!”
A few years later, Kathy’s teenage daughter immigrated to Canada. She introduced herself to me and said, “Patti, I want to follow Jesus.” So, I asked her, “Do you know about Jesus?” and she said, “Yes, I do. My mom called me every week to tell me what she was learning. It didn’t make sense to me until one day, my mom explained to me about the Holy Spirit living in someone who follows Jesus and giving them power.” She said, “That day I decided to follow Jesus, and my life became wonderful.”
Love New Canadians has partnered with The Salvation Army in Canada to provide this program on a national level. How did this partnership come about?
Major Doug Binner: In response to a stated need in the Army to learn how to minister to the new Canadians in our communities, I reached out to Rick and Patti to ask how we could develop a more significant partnership with the territory.
RL: Love New Canadians made a proposal to help Salvation Army corps with coaching curriculum and seminars. The relationship became official on November 1, 2023. Our vision is to see Canada become the best place for immigrants to come to, because no matter where they settle, they’ll find a local church or corps to assist them. And for those with a spiritual interest and curiosity, they will be able to move along the pathway to Jesus.
PL: We love the fact that The Salvation Army is exploring how you can welcome new Canadians in your communities. There are people right now who don’t know they’re going to follow Jesus next year. And they’ll do so because they’ve stepped into a corps with kind people who will make it so welcoming and easy for them to follow Jesus.
What message or advice would you offer to Salvationists as they begin exploring this curriculum in their corps and communities?
RL: Ask yourselves, “What are the needs of new Canadians in my neighbourhood and what resources do I have at my corps to help meet them?” Is there something you can do that will naturally lead to growing friendships with your neighbours?
Whatever it is, figure out a way to do that one thing extremely well so it will be appealing and people will want to invite others. Then you can start thinking about the next stages for those who are spiritually curious.
DB: We also need to recognize that there are hundreds of new immigrant families who are going to come through our family services. They’re already walking through our doors. We can be intentional with this so that our family services offices are equipped to connect with our neighbours.
I am excited about all the potential that is at our fingertips right now—the potential of our ministry units that are surrounded by new immigrants and international students, but also the beautiful potential of this amazing curriculum that Rick and Patti are bringing to us. It’s the marrying of great need with great opportunity and resources.