A local church in Winnipeg serves a culturally vibrant congregation with five services every Sunday.
"City Church started in 2008 as an intentionally intercultural church primarily made up of former refugees around the world," says Tim Nielsen, the pastor at City Church in Winnipeg.
The building is located at 484 Maryland Street. The congregation is made up of people from all over the world, including from Burma/Myanmar, the Congo, Eritrea, India, and Pakistan, to name a few.
"Prior to starting the church, my wife and I were in Indigenous ministry for about 20 years. It was God leading us."
Nielsen says that God opened the door for him to start helping refugees. All this started after Nielsen struck up a friendship with Indiana Cungcin, a refugee from Burma.
"Back in 2003 the Canadian government put 10 Chin individuals here in the city, but they didn't speak English and we were trying to find them jobs. Then in 2007, the government brought 10 Karen people from Burma, and those 10 had the same problem."
Seeing this obstacle, Nielsen and Cungcin worked with the Canadian government to bring over 300 new refugees, with the agreement that the two men would find work for them. This proved a challenge as they all didn't speak English, but it didn't stop the men from coming up with a solution, having a translator in the workplace.
"The Lord opened up the doors for us. A number of manufacturing plants were willing to have people who didn't speak English but had translators on the job site. Today those families continue to work for those factories and they're doing remarkably well."
The Past Decades Work
Since opening up, City Church has been running a ministry centre called City Connections across the street from the church. In 2017 they partnered with Naomi House, which is a transitional home for newly arrived refugees.
"In 2020 we started privately sponsoring refugees. Right now we have 80 sponsorships in and we have 170 refugees that are on our waiting list."
There is a lot of paperwork that goes into helping bring refugees over to Canada, as well as once they get to Canada. Nielsen works with a team of people to help get all this work done.
"We have Candace Loewen who is with Africa Inland Mission and she does all our paperwork. We have Shahrazad Mohamed, a born-again Christian originally from Somalia, and she is with International Association for Refugees. My good friend Indy is with Vision Ministries. There's a whole team of us. It's not about City Church but building up God's kingdom."
Only one per cent of refugees are ever sponsored around the world, according to Nielsen. Those he helps bring to Winnipeg react as many would suspect.
"Overall, the general response is great joy. Joy that they've been able to come to Canada. There are 84 million forcibly displaced people around the world. Of that, 48 million are internally displaced, but 26 million are refugees that have had to flee their countries, and as a result, they are looking to be sponsored."
What's in a Name?
Pastor Nielsen shares that it's important to get to know the names of people coming to Winnipeg, rather than just facts about them.
"As believers in Christ, we have an opportunity that we can love and care for people that we have never met but they have suffered. Some through political and some through Christian persecution. Canada is the only country in the world where you can sponsor a refugee by name."
Nielsen says that while the whole process is not easy, it's a great opportunity for believers to put their faith in action. He encourages churches to join them in this, or start a sponsorship on their own.
"Learning a person's name is the doorway to building a friendship. As we remember a person's name they feel loved and accepted. It's the foundation of building a relationship."
A Typical Sunday at City Church
Sunday mornings at City Church starts off with a typical church service starting at 10:30 a.m.
"We try to involve as many different ethnic groups as possible together on the platform. We seek to build friendships with each other and walk through life together as friends, although we're from different countries. Together we're each enriched by each other's stories and backgrounds."
That's only the first of many services they offer the community.
"Then in the afternoon, we offer ethnic-specific services as well. At 1:00 we have the Karen service from Burma, at 3:00 is the Chin service from Burma, then there's an Eritrean service at 6:00 and a Punjabi service at 6:00."
From all the services, City Church serves between 500-700 people as part of its congregation. Their heart is for discipleship.