-By Debra Fieguth
Education is a value I cherish, but would I be willing to give up my home, my country, my extended family, my culture, for several years in order to get a higher degree?
That’s a sacrifice many theological scholars make when they come to Canada to pursue master’s level or doctoral degrees. Canada is a great place, we all know that, but, let’s face it, it’s a tad colder than the countries most of these scholars come from.
I interviewed three people for an article in Faith Today called “When Global South scholars call Canada home.” David Tarus of Kenya, Hyeon Woo Shin of South Korea, and Chandra Wim of Indonesia have all made the long trip here to Canada because they believe they can learn something valuable to take back to their own countries. They know the abundant resources, the well-stocked libraries, and the teaching and mentoring they receive in Canada are worth leaving home for.
What struck me more than the adjustment to a colder climate, though, was something all three of them expressed in separate conversations: what they miss the most in Canada is the sense of community they have in their home countries. All of them are from places where extended family, strong neighbourhoods and deep relationships in the church community are the norm. “People here are nice,” Indonesian Chandra Wim allows, but one of his cultural adjustments was to realize that “’How are you?’ is just a greeting” and not an invitation to open up and share. Canadians, even Christians, tend to have tighter personal boundaries.
Church culture in Canada is also different. Even though we have a range of worship styles through many denominations, by and large churches here as “not as vibrant as the African church,” says Kenyan David Tarus. “I miss that a lot.” Having been in worship services in several African countries, I have a little sense of what he’s talking about: the rhythm, the dancing, the joy, the enthusiastic singing – there simply is no parallel here.
In Korea there seems to be more commitment to reaching out to others, Hyeon Woo Shin notices. At home, if someone is organizing an event, they will urge others to attend, he says. “In Canada I was really confused because nobody came to me. Instead there was a sign-up sheet.” That might be an overgeneralization, but perhaps it’s true that Canadian Christians are a bit too reticent in sharing our faith and inviting others to join our events.
Over the years I’ve probably gotten to know hundreds of international students who come to Canada as undergrads, master’s and doctoral students, and even PhDs doing post-docs. They’ve come from China, India, the Middle East, Latin America, numerous countries in Africa, basically from all over the world. And if there’s one thing I know, it’s this: as much as they have to gain from studying in our institutions of higher learning, we have just as much to gain from them: things like warmth and hospitality, different ways of looking at the world, different ways of expressing our faith.
I would hope that, with the gift of global Christian scholars in our places of learning and in our churches, we as Canadian Christians realize that they have a lot to teach us, and that we tap into that vast cultural resource, which will only make our own churches stronger.
Debra Fieguth of Kingston, Ont., is a senior writer at Faith Today.