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Feb21FriAt Yorkminster Citadel, Lola Agosu found the support she needed to make a new life in Canada. February 21, 2020 by Kristin Ostensen
Did I make the right decision? Or was coming to Canada a mistake?
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Lola Agosu struggled to shake the doubts and questions that were crowding her mind. It had been months since she and her five children left their home in Nigeria, and the immigration process had stalled. Even working two part-time jobs, Agosu found it hard to provide for her family. Nothing seemed to be going their way.
“I was beginning to lose faith, wondering why God wasn’t answering prayer,” Agosu recalls. “I was starting to feel like God didn’t love me anymore.”
What she needed, more than anything, was hope.
The Right Fit
Agosu and her children—aged six to 24—arrived in Canada in December 2017, settling in Toronto soon after. It was a difficult decision to leave her husband and their life behind, but a necessary one in order to protect their children, who were facing threats and attacks.
“We needed to get them out of there and go somewhere safe,” she says.
After moving to Toronto, Agosu and her children initially lived in a shelter for refugees downtown, before finding accommodations in North York, near The Salvation Army’s Yorkminster Citadel. While they had a roof over their heads, there was little under it, and that was where the Army stepped in.
“Many families who come to us from the shelter start with nothing,” explains Liz Colley, community and family services manager at Yorkminster. “They don’t get any financial support for beds, furniture or anything like that.”
“When I came to the Army in June 2018, Liz did her best to get us everything we needed,” says Agosu. “We received vouchers for clothing, shoes—even bedding and other household items.”
As Agosu and Colley spoke, it became clear that Agosu needed more than just material assistance. “As we got talking, I mentioned that I was trying to find a church to go to and Liz said, ‘There’s actually a church right here and we’d love to see you,’ ” Agosu recalls. “I didn’t know that! I started attending and this was where I wanted to stay—The Salvation Army fit well.”
A few months after Agosu came to the Army, the corps decided to implement the Canada and Bermuda Territory’s new Pathway of Hope (POH) initiative. POH is a case-management system that helps participants break the cycle of poverty by setting and achieving goals.
“At that point, I had a number of challenges in my life and it was difficult for me to find solutions, so I really needed a program like that because I didn’t know if I was doing anything right anymore,” Agosu says. “When Liz told me about POH, I was happy to join.”
The Agosus were one of the first families to do POH at Yorkminster, working with caseworker William Jin.
“I met William and he was very good, always sending me links and information, discussing things with me, following up and updating me,” Agosu says. “I was happy having somebody else thinking for me and about me; I wasn’t thinking alone.”
Agosu’s primary goal involved finding new accommodation. “Her apartment was in need of repair and she was not getting support from the landlord,” Colley explains.
“This was something that my husband used to handle at home,” Agosu says. “So it was a big relief to have a counsellor guide me and help me make a decision.”
Her second goal was to go back to school and complete a personal support worker program so she could get a better job and earn more income for her family. However, because she was working part time—at a shelter downtown, as well as driving for Uber—Agosu feared that she wouldn’t be able to fit school into her schedule.
“But William encouraged me to talk to my supervisor and they gave me a more flexible schedule and I was able to go to school,” she notes. “I started having hope again. William showed me that I can do some things myself.”
Agosu graduated from the program in January.
Ready to Help
With her practical needs taken care of, Agosu’s third goal concerned her spiritual life.
“I was sad, finding myself in a situation that was not fair,” she remembers. “I was beginning to question a lot of things.”
With support from the Yorkminster community and corps officer, Major Pauline Gruer-Caulfield, the despair that nearly overwhelmed Agosu began to disappear.
“Here, I’m able to be myself—I’m natural and real,” she says. “The love and the warmth I’ve felt here is something different from where I’m coming from. At The Salvation Army, you see the expression of what Jesus would have done.”
As time went on, Agosu’s faith was renewed. “I don’t have a lot of things here in Canada, but I have other things I can be grateful for,” she says. “I started to remember what God has done before and this gave me confidence that he’s able to do more than that again.”
"At The Salvation Army, you see the expression of what Jesus would have done.”
Since they started attending Yorkminster, Agosu’s children have joined the band, singing company and timbrel brigade, and her oldest daughter helps with Sunday school, while Agosu has joined a small group. One of her sons was enrolled as a junior soldier last year, and Agosu and two of her daughters have completed senior soldier preparation classes.
Watching three of her children participate in the corps’ Christmas pageant last year was particularly special for Agosu. “She was excited that her 12-year-old son had a speaking role in the play because she said he’d been so shy,” remembers Colley. “She was so proud to see him up there performing and reciting his lines, she recorded a video to send back to her husband.”
For Agosu, what makes the Army unique compared to other churches she has been to is the love that she and her children have experienced.
“I cannot express how much I appreciate it,” she says. “It’s easy for me to tell my friends, ‘Come and try The Salvation Army.’ They don’t want to know if you’re black or white, they don’t want to know about your background; they are here and ready to help.”