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Fort Erie pastor helps newcomers start service in French and Creole

(Excerpts of article Jan-Feb 2008)

I was invited to Fort Erie mid January 2008 to witness the first French Creole service of the First Haitian Bethel Pentecostal Assembly in Fort Erie. I started the day worshipping at the morning service of the Bethel Pentecostal Assembly of Fort Erie conducted in English by Pastor Stanley Burnsey. PastorStanThe service took off with praise worship led by Ecuadorian born Dave Sanfarella. Pastor Stan as called by the congregation opened the service by acknowledging that the congregation may feel low for not having the faces of the Haitians in the church that morning. He urged them to be thankful that the Haitians had moved on to have their own service conducted in their language. “It is an incredible thing that has happened and do not be discouraged by the fact that you do not see the faces of all those people amongst us.” “The good thing from this is that the assembly has now reached three services on Sundays,” he said.

After the morning service I spent a few minutes interviewing Pastor Stan on how he was able to minister to the Haitian newcomers who have now grown in number and are hosting their own service in French and Creole for the first time later in the afternoon. Pastor Stan Burnsey of Bethel Pentecostal Assembly, Fort Erie, part of the Pentecostal Assembly of Canada was called into the ministry in 1988.Pastors The native of Newfoundland loves multiculturalism. When he came to the Fort Erie Church, the congregation was made up of white Canadians. The church had a lady from the Baltic as a member.

Things started changing December 2004 when the Canada – Third Safety agreement took effect. A lot of people crossed the border to beat the deadline. The Safe Third Country Agreement between Canada and the United States is part of the U.S.–Canada Smart Border Action Plan. The church started ministering first to Spanish speaking newcomers. “We had a couple that came to the church, it was the first contact the congregation had,” said the pastor. As more people arrived from the United States, the congregation got used to seeing new faces in their midst from Zimbabwe, The Democratic Republic of Congo and Haiti.

The newcomers started a bible study in the home of one of them and they later moved to the church after growing in number. Pastor Stan encouraged his congregation to extend their hands of fellowship to the newcomers and so they did. The church grew in population and after a while those attending the service had to be picked up by a 15-seater passenger van donated to the church. The membership of the newcomers at the Bethel Pentecostal Assembly grew rapidly because the newcomers had a place to worship and also enjoyed the forum created to mix and meet people from the same background.

I asked the pastor how difficult it was to manage the coming together of the newcomers’ culture and that of their hosts. “They do things the Haitian way”, the pastor replied with a smile. “We do not want you to be canadianized. We want you to be who you are, we are proud of your culture,” he said. “The Haitians brought their culture into their worship. They are very vibrant. I enjoy their type of worship. They say it all in French and Creole though I do not understand all what they say,” he remarked. The pastor conducts his service in English language. The French-speaking newcomers also enjoyed the English service as part of their integration. “I’ll like to see people of different congregation worshipping the Lord in their own way,” said the pastor. The Haitian leaders are the pastors of their church. Pastor Stan is only an overseer of the ministry. The building is accessible to them to use for service and meetings. The Haitian congregation meets its own need and is given help on request. “We are there for them because they are part of us. We are able to do this because they are part of our congregation.” While the interview was on, the enormous role of the overseer was evidenced as he received phone calls on worshippers stranded for the afternoon service needing transportation.

Despite the task of overseeing the newcomers, Pastor Stan said one of the things being done was getting them in contact with the Pentecostal Assembly of Canada. The intention was not to denominationalize the congregation but to get them resources and connections that could be useful to them in future. “Today is a great day of joy for me. This is a highlight of my ministry. When I retire and reflecting on my ministry this will be one event close to my heart,” he said “I see this as a great success I believe this is what god has brought about. I enjoyed every minute of it.”

The language barrier was one of the hurdles the pastor had to overcome. “I could preach and look at their faces and see that they could not understand because they speak Creole and French.” “ It is good to hear the word from Pastor Michel,” he said. Pastor Stan offers some words of advice to fellow residents of Fort Erie. “My advice is that if you have influence and resources to do what you can to help people you should do it.” The cultural exchange has helped Pastor Stan in many ways.

He advised immigrants to be patient. “Immigrants need to be patient with Canadians.” “They need to be patient in that if there is a misunderstanding it is not borne out of resentment but both sides need to be educated and be patient.”

At exactly 1:00 pm I moved from the pastor’s office to the church, ushered in by men in well-cut suits. The service started in French with some English translation. Pastor Milmer Charles from New York led the service in company of resident Pastor Joseph Guy Michel. The songs were in French with choruses at high decibels.

Some in the congregation danced, some waved their hands in the air while some could not hide their emotions.Congregation The misty eyes could easily be explained by the struggle many of the worshippers had faced getting to Fort Erie. It was tough enough leaving Haiti under very difficult circumstances. It was more difficult having to move to Canada after living in the United States for years without any residence to allow them settle down permanently.

The plight of some members was brought to fore by visiting church members from the United States who came to support their friends, acquaintances start a new life in Canada. Tears flowed freely as some of the speakers remembered the day they drove their friends and families to the Canada border. The rendition of Blessed Assurance (Frances J Crosby 1873) in French was appropriate for the launch of the service.

What the pastor told me in course of my interview manifested. The music was loud, the drum was loud, the microphone vibrated, the dancing was uncontrollable while the emotion was visibly displayed: L’assurance bénie, Jésus est la mienne ! C’est mon histoire, ceci est ma chanson, Félicitant mon sauveur tout le jour long ; C’est mon histoire, ceci est ma chanson, Félicitant mon sauveur tout le jour long. Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine! Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine! Heir of salvation, purchase of God, Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood. This is my story, this is my song, Praising my Savior all the day long This is my story, this is my song. Praising my Savior all the day long.

(Edward Akinwunmi, Mosaic Edition Jan Feb 2008 Volume 3 Number 12)

Immigrant job seekers build network in Toronto

NOV-DEC 2008 Mosaic Edition.

Immigrant job seekers recently converged on Toronto to explore and build networks towards gaining an employment in their profession. The newcomers had an opportunity to listen to motivational speaker Mike Lipkin, born in the LipkinUK and raised in South Africa deliver his thought provoking message of empowerment. The collaboration between Mike Lipkin and the Toronto Regional Immigrant Employment Council, TRIEC, brought highly skilled internationally trained professionals and prospective employers under the same roof.

Yezdi Pavri, Group Managing Partner for Deloitte in the GTA with overall responsibility for delivering on the strategic priorities of the firm in the region was very direct in his message. “If you do not use your gift, you cannot be competent. Many people do not know what their gift is. The job seeker needs to identify what they are bringing to an organization to make an employer hire them.” Mr. Pavri told the newcomers what Deloitte looked out for before hiring. “What we are looking for are people with integrity, passion and creativity.” In terms of creativity, he shared his experience of how he could not get a job and had to switch to accounting after studying engineering for 6 years. “I knew I would not be practicing accounting but I used my accounting background and engineering background to become a risk consultant for Deloitte.”

The delivery of Mike Lipkin was very interactive as he paused during his presentation to call on employers to share a practical knowledge to drive home a point. Mike Lipkin told the newcomers many companies were looking for new ways of doing things. “They are looking for new solution, the challenge is how do you convince a potential employer that you can bring this new solution. You need to do your home work and study the organization but also bring your own ideas.” Young Park, Sector Vice- President of information technology firm, CGI, said “This type of event is not only helping to meet the right employer but you can demonstrate who you are.” She stated that Canadian companies look for someone who could fit in immediately into an organization. “There are different cultures in the world and adjusting to the Canadian culture is important, adjusting to the corporate culture is important, more so networking is important.” The parents of Ms Park emigrated from South Korea 30 plus years ago. “I lived around Thorold, in Niagara region,” she stated.

“The energy at today’s event was fantastic and participation exceeded our expectation,” says Madona Mokbel of Citizenship and Immigration Canada, CIC, media relations department. “Ontario Region has invested a lot of money in settlement funding to help newcomers succeed in Canada.” “We would like to help newcomers succeed because if they succeed, we all succeed.” “The government of Canada is very much committed to make sure that people when they come here have access to tools, resources, the right people, and organization that could help them find work and become part of the Canadian fabric.”

The Executive Director of TRIEC, Elizabeth McIsaac expressed satisfaction at the turnout and level of participation at the networking event. The mentor’s program delivered by TRIEC has helped many immigrants develop contact with Canadian employers. Stella Mejia who works on the mentor’s program at TRIEC said, “When you are new to Canada you are lacking the social and professional networks. By having a mentor, the mentor will invite you to meet colleagues and invite you to meetings and networking events.” TRIEC has 52 corporate partners in the mentor’s program.

Ben Liu, a mechanical engineer from China told Mosaic Edition, “as an immigrant, I came eager to make a contribution to this country. We want to use our knowledge and skills to make this country beautiful.” The engineer of ten years experience stated that the main barrier faced by Asians is the Language. He came to Canada in the year 2000 as an immigrant having worked several years in Japan as a mechanical engineer.

Ben Liu attended the LINC program to learn English. “If you cannot express yourself and communicate with mainstream Canada then you cannot get anywhere,” he said. He stated that the engineering firms were looking for intermediate or mid-level engineers with Professional engineering accreditation. The lack of professional engineering accreditation is another barrier he has to deal with. “I advise any engineer coming to Canada to first improve their language skills. No matter your possible skills, if you do not have the language to present it yourself you will not be hired,” the engineer explained. He has worked in many survival jobs including the fast foods, factories, as airline worker and also found jobs in the automotive industry.

Alan Rego, a native of India cameAlan to Canada in 2002 after working in Singapore. He came to Canada with 15 years of communications experience in blue ship fortune 500 companies but had to struggle for 2 years because most recruiters and employers were looking for Canadian experience. It took him 2 years to get an internship with Procter and Gamble. “ Since then I have started a networking for Communication Advertising and Marketing Professionals, CAMP. CAMP started with 12 members in 2005 and now has over 250 members. “The main purpose of CAMP is to help internationally trained professionals in advertising and marketing to get into the workplace.” “One of the biggest challenges for a newcomer is to grow his or her social capital. A way to do that is to expand the network of contacts,” he stated.

Najia Alavi came to Canada 2 years ago, originally from Pakistan after working in Dubai. She told Mosaic Edition “We really value the power of networking.” Ms Alavi who is a co-chair of CAMP thought she would find it easy getting a job when she got to Canada. “The best way to get a job in Canada is by networking with people. It is good to meet people. People want to put a face to a resume,” she noted. The influence of Spanish speaking immigrants on the economic landscape of Canada is becoming more and more profound.

Guillermo Mena - an entrepreneur and founder of Usaquen MorenoAssociates, Toronto based Management firm, said Spanish speaking immigrants struggle like any body else new in the country. He said they should however keep in mind and remember the reason for coming to Canada. The reason for coming to Canada should serve as a motivation to building a future. Guillermo Mena has successfully delivered leadership and change management development programs in multicultural environments both in English and Spanish in more than 20 countries in North America, South America, Central America, Africa, South East Asia, Eastern Europe and the Caribbean. The power of networking was presented by Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council, TRIEC, funded by Citizenship and Immigration Canada, and sponsored by CGI, Deloitte, Mount Sinai Hospital and State farm.

(Story and photos by Edward Akinwunmi, Mosaic Edition)

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