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  • Oct18Thu

    Two Countries, One Corps

    Woodstock Community Church, N.B., brings Filipino and Canadian culture together. October 18, 2018 Story and photos by Kristin Ostensen
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    Leah and Ariel Abiertas are members of the worship team at Woodstock CC
    Leah and Ariel Abiertas are members of the worship team at Woodstock CC
    Eleanor Tiam eyed the building with curiosity. Having recently immigrated to Canada from the Phillipines, she had never heard of The Salvation Army before. Yet two words on the sign jumped out at her.

    “It said ‘community church’ and that caught my attention,” she recalls with a smile.

    At first, Eleanor and her husband, Armando, thought it might be a church just for people in the military. But every time she passed the building, Eleanor felt a tug on her heart, telling her to check it out.

    “We needed to be in a place where we could grow and mature in our faith, and we’d been praying about which church we should go to,” she says. “The Lord directed us to this place.”

    When the Tiam family walked through the doors of Woodstock Community Church, N.B., one Sunday in July 2016, it was a new beginning for the Tiams—and for the church, as well.

    Answer to Prayer
    In 2015, when Majors Angel Sandoval-Silva and Marlene Sandoval became corps officers in Woodstock, there were no Filipino families attending the church. With the arrival of Eleanor and Armando, that number has grown to 10 families who are now dedicated members of the corps, serving in various ministries.

    “We’re so thankful that the Army embraced us with open arms,” says Eleanor Tiam, with her husband, Armando, and their daughter, Alisha“We’re so thankful that the Army embraced us with open arms,” says Eleanor Tiam, with her husband, Armando, and their daughter, Alisha
    Located an hour’s drive from Fredericton, Woodstock is home to around 5,000 people. It’s not a place where you would expect to find a significant Filipino population, but the Tiams and many other families have come there for work.

    That source of work is Jolly Farmer, which operates a 10.3-acre greenhouse just south of Woodstock and employs up to 250 people during peak season. The company brings in many Filipino workers, and has a partnership with a Christian denomination in the Philippines that sends members to the farm in Woodstock.

    This context makes Woodstock Community Church a good fit for Majors Angel and Marlene, who immigrated to Canada from El Salvador 32 years ago, escaping the country’s brutal civil war.

    Intercultural ministry comes naturally to them “because we know what we faced as new immigrants,” says Major Marlene.

    Armando has worked at Jolly Farmer since 2007, returning to the Philippines for one or two months each year. Eleanor and their daughter, Alisha, joined him in Woodstock in 2016.

    When the family started attending the Army, they immediately found a warm welcome. “The group touched our hearts,” says Armando.

    “We started simply fellowshipping with the majors,” says Eleanor. “We would talk with them and they were very open, very accommodating. We didn’t expect that.”

    “There are similarities between their culture and ours, so we can easily interact with each other, even though with our English and their English—there are some barriers,” Armando says with a laugh.

    Within a few weeks of attending the corps, Eleanor and Armando were eager to serve, beginning with the Sunday morning worship service.

    “When the Tiams first came, we didn’t have any musicians so we were using CDs or YouTube,” explains Diane Schriver, corps sergeant-major.

    “The Lord touched us to use our talents as we had done in the Philippines,” says Armando, who plays the guitar while Eleanor sings and leads worship. Over the past two years, they have built up a thriving music ministry.

    “It was definitely an answer to prayer,” says Diane. “We were praying for a piano player, and as it turns out, we were limiting God because he sent us a whole worship team!”

    Gathering Space
    Once Eleanor and Armando became involved at the corps, they wasted little time in inviting their friends. They found the perfect opportunity to bring people in with Eleanor’s birthday party—Majors Angel and Marlene had offered the church hall as a gathering space.

    “I said, ‘Lord, if I make food for them, they will come to the church, and probably they’ll be curious.’ This was my hidden agenda,” says Eleanor with a smile.

    Day of PrayerPrayers for Home
    In March 2017, it was Woodstock Community Church’s turn to host the local World Day of Prayer service. “Every year, they focus on a different country, and that year, it was the Philippines,” says Diane. “If that’s not a God thing!”
    Major Marlene asked Eleanor to spearhead the organizing of the event, and she recruited many volunteers to cook traditional food, and perform Filipino dances and songs while wearing traditional costumes. “It was a beautiful celebration, and we were so proud to present the Philippines for the first time,” says Eleanor.
    From left, Mjr Angel Sandoval-Silva, Naty Paway, Mjr Marlene Sandoval, Eleanor Tiam, Vilma Canilao, and Mjrs Cavell and Wayne Loveless, ACs, Maritime Div
    About 80 people came to the party and met the corps officers and The Salvation Army. A subsequent New Year’s Eve party hosted by the Tiams offered another opportunity for the officers to meet members of the Filipino community.

    “They came and spent the whole night with us,” notes Eleanor. “That’s an asset of the majors—they don’t limit themselves to time; if you are with them, time is unlimited.”

    The party was a significant turning point for the church’s relationship with the Filipino community. “It was the icebreaker for them to start knowing us and coming to the church,” says Major Angel.

    “Afterward, they said to us, ‘Why don’t you visit us individually, as a family?’ ” adds Major Marlene. “So we took the time to visit every family, and we organized a group gathering where they could ask all the questions they wanted to know about The Salvation Army.”

    Within a few months, Woodstock Community Church was full of new faces.

    Settled In
    The Paways were one of the first families to join the church after an invitation from Eleanor and Armando.

    “As you come in this church, they embrace you and let you feel that you are a part of it,” says Joseph Paway. “There is no racism. Whoever you are, you are welcome here. They don’t see where you are from, what is your colour, what is your language, but all are welcome.”

    Joseph Paway and his sons Richwill and Lemuel enjoy a game of foosball in the youth room at Woodstock CCJoseph Paway and his sons Richwill and Lemuel enjoy a game of foosball in the youth room at Woodstock CC
    Joseph first came to Canada to work for Jolly Farmer in 2007. His wife, Naty, and their sons Richwill and Lemuel joined him in 2016. It was a difficult transition for the family, and the support they’ve received from the corps has been invaluable.

    “Majors Angel and Marlene visited us and they said, ‘Whatever you need, just tell us and we will see if we can help,’ ” Joseph says. “And that’s what they’ve done. We needed some encouragement, especially my family, because, the first time they came here, they really wanted to go back to the Philippines. They felt homesick, missing our loved ones there. When we asked for help, the majors came and comforted us, prayed for us, and hugged us. They didn’t say, ‘We are busy, can you wait?’ They came when we needed them.”

    Their relationships-first approach to ministry has been key to the church’s growth. “We have many people asking us, ‘What is happening in The Salvation Army now?’ ” says Major Marlene.

    “And we say, it’s simple,” continues Major Angel. “We don’t do anything special. We pray, we ask God for guidance, and we visit the people.”

    Now settled in at the church, the Paway family have been active with the Christmas kettles and the Army’s Partners in Mission campaign, and Joseph has joined the worship team.

    Beautiful Music
    Music ministry has been a common entry point for many of the new Filipino members of the church. Ariel and Leah Abiertas, who also work for Jolly Farmer, are involved with worship at the corps and beyond. Leah leads worship, alternating Sundays with Eleanor, and the couple has occasionally performed at other local churches.

    “Some churches have invited us to go and sing if they are having a fundraiser, and the majors go with us,” says Ariel.

    “Every time we go, we introduce ourselves as part of The Salvation Army,” adds Leah. “We tell them, this is our church.”

    “We were looking for a church, and with this church, our prayers were answered,” says Leonardo Arogante, with his son, Jessie, and Mjrs Angel Sandoval-Silva and Marlene Sandoval“We were looking for a church, and with this church, our prayers were answered,” says Leonardo Arogante, with his son, Jessie, and Mjrs Angel Sandoval-Silva and Marlene Sandoval
    Participation in the worship team is also a family affair for Leonardo Arogante, who attends the corps with his wife, Lourdes, and five children. He sings on Sundays and three of his children are playing and learning to play instruments at the church.

    “They love to come to church every Sunday because of the music ministry here,” says Leonardo.

    “It’s so nice,” agrees Leonardo’s son, Jessie, who plays drums with the worship team.

    Involvement with music ministry has given the new members a way to take ownership of the church, and their contributions have been greatly appreciated by the congregation. “When they’re up there, they’re not just singing, they’re worshipping,” says Diane. “It’s amazing. They’re such an example to all of us.”

    Children’s Time
    With so many new families attending, the corps suddenly had need of a Sunday school program. Leah initially spearheaded the effort, which has since been taken over by other members.

    Ning van Rhijn, who attends the church with her husband, Remko, and their daughters Lianna and Tala, is one of the Sunday school teachers. She and her family first came to the church in December 2016 after Eleanor invited them to a children’s Christmas pageant.

    “The kids liked it and they wanted to keep coming,” Ning smiles.

    “It’s more than a church; it’s a community,” says Remko van Rhijn, with his wife, Ning, and their daughters Lianna and Tala“It’s more than a church; it’s a community,” says Remko van Rhijn, with his wife, Ning, and their daughters Lianna and Tala
    One of the highlights of the Sunday service for the young ones is Children’s Time, which includes a short, kid-focused devotional message.

    “Children’s Time, when we all go to the front of the church, is my favourite thing to do,” says Lianna, 10. “We learn about God, but it’s the kids way, instead of the grown-up way.”

    “The church is really nice and it inspires me to be a better person than I already am,” adds Tala, 8. “It gives you a nice feeling in the morning because it’s so many friends in this one place, gathering to worship the Lord. It’s amazing.”

    Finding the right environment for their children is a priority for Ning and Remko, who immigrated to Canada from Belgium in 2013. “Canada is one of the best countries in the world to live in and grow up in,” says Remko. “It gives them a good start in life.”

    Life in Woodstock does have its challenges, however. Remko is a long-haul truck driver, which means he is on the road most of the time and home only four or five days a month. Having a supportive church and corps officers makes a significant difference for the family.

    “It’s more than a church; it’s a community,” says Remko. “I like the fact that it does more than just preach the Word. They are actually there for each other, try to help each other. It’s more than going to church on Sunday, and then living your own life the rest of the week. Majors Angel and Marlene are doing an incredibly good job when it comes to that.”

    Ning agrees. “The compassion and the genuine care that they have for everyone is inspiring and touching.”

    Growing Together
    As more newcomers have joined the church, there have been many opportunities for practical ministry, whether it’s helping people find housing and furniture, or obtain a driver’s licence.

    “We learned how the system works in Canada from the majors,” says Eleanor. “When it comes to money and taxes, it is extremely different from the Philippines, so that has helped us a lot.”

    One key area of concern for Majors Angel and Marlene is workers’ rights, as they’ve educated their newcomers about issues such as vacation time and over-time pay. “If you don’t know the laws, people will try to take advantage of you,” notes Major Angel.

    Boodle FightReady! Set! Fight!
    Most people would want to avoid a food fight. But what about a boodle fight? Woodstock Community Church hosted its first boodle fight in July 2017, which is a meal that is consumed by hand, with no dishes or cutlery. It’s a military-style meal, served on banana leaves that are spread out on one long table. Diners stand shoulder to shoulder while they eat—there are no chairs.
    While culturally educational, the meal was a fun experience for both Filipino and Canadian corps members. “That’s one event that bridged the gap between our cultures. We were laughing, trying to fight over the food, like, ‘Give me that one!’ ” Eleanor says with a smile. “Some people found it exciting, some found it hard, but most people enjoyed it."
    For the families that work at Jolly Farmer, coming to church on Sunday requires a special effort, as the farm’s official “day off” is Saturday.

    “They made an agreement with Jolly Farmer to start early in the morning, stop at 10 a.m. and come back at 1 p.m. because they want to be in church,” says Major Angel.

    “Coming to church is a big help for growing spiritually,” says Leonardo. “There is a good message every Sunday, and if you feel like you’re struggling, that message is going to be a big blessing for you.”

    Along with Sunday services, many newcomers have joined the church’s adherency classes.

    “Those classes have opened our eyes to know the doctrines of The Salvation Army, so it’s very helpful for us to understand the reason why we are here,” says Armando.

    “It’s very informative,” adds Leah. “I didn’t know that The Salvation Army was so big!”

    The adherency classes are an important part of helping the new families integrate with the corps, along with various special events that have allowed existing members to become familiar with Filipino culture (see photos: “Prayers for Home” and “Ready! Set! Fight!”).

    But one of the most effective ways that the corps has brought its Canadian and Filipino members together is also one of the simplest: coffee hour.

    “It’s nice because that way we can be closer,” says Ariel. “It’s not just go to church and go home. You want to mingle with people, share something, and if you see somebody’s too quiet, maybe they need a word of encouragement that you can give.”

    Now a member of the corps council, along with her husband, Armando, Eleanor is grateful that God led her to that “Army church” near her house.

    “The Lord is moving in this place,” she concludes. “We’re so thankful that the Army embraced us with open arms, with no limitations. We don’t take it for granted. We are a part of the family here. We love it.”

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