It is not always easy for one to leave their place of origin and culture, but there are many reasons why people need to immigrate to another country, such as safety and economic security. Like many other immigrants, members of Emmanuel Mission (the South Sudanese Dinka congregation) left their country of origin mainly because of political instability that resulted in a prolonged civil war. The immigrant experience is rewarding as well as challenging culturally, socially, economically, and spiritually. A culturally rooted church not only serves as a source of comfort and strength, but also as an anchor for immigrants while navigating their new environments.
Moving to a new cultural setting is testing to families and individuals. Kids and youth are quick to adjust, but adults, in general, take more time to integrate socially and culturally. Although living in Canada has brought many benefits to the South Sudanese diaspora, it also has brought challenges, especially in maintaining language and culture. Many families struggle to stay together under the pressures of their new society. As in many immigrant communities, the South Sudanese faith community represents a place where the culture can be preserved and passed on to the next generation. It gives people a sense of belonging and identity that helps ground them and encourage them. People share their joys and sadness, gaining strength from one another. They have been affected by the civil war, whereby many people have lost, and continue to lose, friends and relatives.
The Church is always evolving as perceptions and culture change. A culturally rooted church like Emmanuel Mission can become a bridge between generations, playing a pivotal role as a place for people to receive culturally appropriate counselling and spiritual guidance. It is a cultural hub where their language, customs, and values can be expressed and renewed, as well as challenged.
Culturally rooted churches are also places for mainstream congregations to learn and appreciate the cultural backgrounds of newcomer populations. Immigrants have brought their culturally influenced faith with them and continue to practice it in Canada. Such faith groups are the agents to effect changes in the Anglican Church of Canada. The world is globalizing and getting more interactive in many aspects of life. As immigrants are to learn a new culture, it is necessary for the wider society to be culturally competent, helping the newcomer feel welcome and integrate.
Although the South Sudanese Mission is relatively small and new, it has been able to connect to the wider faith community in different ways to overcome its isolation. For example, its affiliation with the Diocese has encouraged a relationship with various other churches and clergy. The Diocese has also supported youth programming at the Mission, which has a positive impact on the lives of many, helping our young people overcome crime in the city. This partnership has become a relationship that will continue to grow over time. We also appreciate the people of St. Matthew’s, who have assisted us with space and trust, enabling us to better access the Diocese.
It is important for all people of faith to acknowledge that our duties are to fulfill God’s call to discipleship here in Winnipeg, building an inclusive and welcoming society where we appreciate and respect our diversity.