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When “Jesus” Moves into the Neighborhood

By Jewel Showalter

Paula and Art Shore* are RMM workers among the immigrant community in the Waterloo region of Ontario. God is opening up many opportunities for them to live among, learn from, and love their neighbors from around the world.

“We’ve gotten involved in quite a tangled web of relationships here in this neighborhood,” laughed Paula* as she talked about their life in this diverse community.

“But God is building his church. Amazingly the woman with whom I could least communicate, has been the first one here to become a believer. Living among these dear people will bear fruit whether we can communicate in their languages or not. What a blessing it is to come alongside and be family for these displaced friends.”

Paula’s friendship with Fatma,* a Kurdish woman from Iran, began two years ago when they were introduced through mutual friends at a Community Center. Her husband, Ali,* had fled through the Middle East on his way to Canada, picking up a language that the Shores speak. The common knowledge of this language created a natural bridge. As they connected, Ali shared about his growing disillusionment with Islam.

But unlike her husband, Fatma didn’t speak that language and didn’t appear to be very interested in the seekers Bible studies they began to have. Her lack of any shared language created a huge communication barrier, but undaunted, Paula started visiting Fatma in her home.

Their friendship continued through a difficult pregnancy and delivery. When Paula visited Fatma in the hospital after the birth of her first child the nurse asked her, “Who are you? This woman has had a tough delivery, and shouldn’t be left alone.”

So Paula was with her almost constantly for the next two weeks, nursing her back to health, providing food and caring for the baby. One day, as her strength returned, Fatma flung her arms around Paula and blurted out, “You my sister, my friend, my mother. I love you.”

“Living among these dear people will bear fruit whether we can communicate in their languages or not. What a blessing it is to come alongside and be family for these displaced friends.”The young couple continued to struggle in their marriage and when Fatma planned a visit with the baby to her family back in Iran, she threatened to stay permanently. As she seesawed back and forth, Paula spent hours listening and crying with the distraught young mother. One day she told Paula, “I’m done with Islam. I’m going to Iran, but I’m coming back. I love Messiah, and I walk with Messiah.”

And after a three-month absence, Fatma did indeed return. On their second visit she told Paula, “Now I’m ready for Messiah!” The two women – who still had only a smattering of words in a common – prayed for Jesus to fill Fatma’s life with his forgiving, healing presence.

One day when Paula and Art were strolling through the neighborhood they noticed a young man staring intently at them. He yelled from across the street, “Is that you, Art Abi (Older Brother)?” They couldn’t believe their eyes. It was Moses,* an Iranian who had visited them in the Middle East while he was waiting for immigration status in Canada. During his years in the Middle East Moses had become a believer and led a fellowship of 50 other displaced Iranians. He had just moved into their Canadian neighborhood three days earlier – and quickly joined their little Middle Eastern Bible study group – discipling and teaching in fluent Farsi. Fatma and Ali are part of that regular Bible study for new believers in Farsi. The group also includes three other Iranians and one other North American couple.

But outside the formal times of worship and study Paula continues to walk closely with Fatma. “We are doing life together,” Paula said, “drinking lots of tea, praying and crying out to the Lord together and reading promises of the Word as we walk through her difficult marriage and my struggle of supporting my mother through her failing health.”

Art and Paula marvel at the receptivity of their Kurdish and Iranian friends and at what God is doing among their people, both in their home country and among the diaspora.

Besides the weekly Bible studies and informal visits, Art and Paula join other Christians in the community in inviting neighbors for special Harvest, Christmas, and Easter gatherings at the local Community Center. There are planned activities for the children, special music, and a short, season-appropriate message from the Bible along with a rich assortment of delicious foods and neighborly fellowship. Those evenings have been great opportunities to become acquainted with many people in the neighborhood, many of whom are lonely and traumatized.

Whenever she can, Paula attends a women’s gathering at the Community Center – a place where newcomers can connect with one another and learn about available social services. Several other Christian women also attend. The newcomers are surprised that “real Canadians” are befriending them and inviting them into their homes. Sadly this kind of friendship and interaction between refugees and “real Canadians” is all too rare.

Each summer the Shores and some of their believer friends of Muslim-background help to run a tent at the region’s Multicultural Festival, where Bibles in 75 different languages are available without cost. Last year they handed out Bibles in 25 languages along with hundreds of Scripture portions in English.

Recently they participated in a 24-hour prayer vigil, praying for God’s light and truth to shine forth from their lives, for the strongholds of the enemy to be destroyed, and for the Kingdom to be realized and known in their neighborhood.

As more and more Syrian refugees are being welcomed into Canada, Art and Paula are being asked to speak in a variety of churches – helping to educate and orient members about how to welcome and host Syrian refugees. On several occasions, immigrant friends have accompanied them to these presentations.

In addition to their outreaching friendships in the immigrant community, Art has taught English at the local college to newcomers to Canada, opening the door to interactions with immigrants and foreign students. When teaching jobs became scarce he picked up flooring work. Currently, he also serves as interim pastor for a small Mennonite church.

“We love what we’re doing,” Art and Paula said. “It seems unlikely that we will be able to return to the Middle Eastern country where we lived for many years, but it’s amazing to see how the “Middle East” is coming to us! God has given us a wonderful opportunity to become family for these displaced friends and invite them to our great big eternal family... the one that knows no language, race or color.

“Pray with us that God will use these people who have suffered so much -- to bring the Good News to their families and friends in the Middle East in ways that are far more effective than what we could have done.”

*Names changed for security reasons