Mongolians energize Toronto church

A group of people on church steps
Mongolian parishioners at Christ Church St. James, Toronto, gather for a photo at the church.
 on May 1, 2019
Michael Hudson

Congregation assists newcomers

Somewhere in Ulan Bator, children and senior citizens will be breathing a little easier, thanks to the generosity of Christ Church St. James in Toronto.

During Lent, the church raised money to buy breathing masks for children and seniors in Mongolia’s capital city, which has one of the highest rates of air pollution in the world.

For many in the congregation, the outreach effort had special significance. About 20 people from Mongolia worship at the church, located in Toronto’s west end.

Toronto’s Mongolian population is tiny – about 500 people – but individuals and families from the community have been finding their way to Christ Church St. James over the past few years. It’s been a story of love, compassion and hospitality.

“Our congregation is beautiful, and they’re hugely welcoming,” explains the Rev. David Smith, incumbent. “That’s one of the reasons why the Mongolians are here – because they are warmly welcomed.”

Odga Zagdaa with a horse fiddle, a traditional Mongolian instrument.

The first Mongolian family – Monica with her husband and children – came to the church’s foodbank about a decade ago, striking up a friendship with members of the congregation. The family was due to be deported and the church provided them with sanctuary for the next two years. The vote to give them sanctuary was unanimous.

The family was appreciative and started to tell their friends and relatives about the church and its ministries. In addition to a large foodbank, the parish provides assistance to newcomers to Canada and those who are new to the Christian faith.

At around the same time, the church learned about Khulan Bataa, a Mongolian woman living in Toronto. Ms. Bataa had leukemia and was due to be deported – likely a death sentence, given the lack of medical care she would have received in Mongolia.

Once again, the church helped out. It hired a lawyer to argue her case and she won, receiving permission to stay in Canada. She wasn’t covered by OHIP, so Princess Margaret Hospital provided her cancer treatments for free. She made a full recovery and became an active member of the church, eventually serving as its secretary for a few years.

Ms. Bataa has become a key ambassador for the church, welcoming not only Mongolians but people from other lands as well. The congregation includes people from Zimbabwe, Eritrea, the Congo, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and India.

“Khulan, being a new Canadian herself, has a great ministry with new Canadians who come to the church,” says Mr. Smith. “She’s able to relate to everybody.”

Some of the Mongolians who attend the Sunday service cannot speak English, so the church has purchased headsets that allow Ms. Bataa to translate the service into Mongolian for them. The church is thinking about buying more headsets for people who want to listen to the service in their native tongue.

Mr. Smith says the Mongolians have energized the church. “They’re really lovely people and also a lot of fun. They’re sharing their love of Christ, not just with Mongolians but with others. They’re bringing people to God.”

He tells the story of a young man in Toronto whose mother died in Mongolia from a respiratory illness. He was heartbroken and unable to travel home for her funeral, so the church held a special service for both him and her. Afterwards, the man and his friends hosted a dinner and brought gifts for the entire congregation. He continues to attend the church on Sunday, even though he lives more than an hour away by public transit.

The pastors of some Mongolian congregations in the United States have visited Christ Church St. James, and the church is now a member of the Mongolian Christian Church Association of North America. In March, Mr. Smith and a group from the church travelled to Washington for the association’s conference, where he was invited to be a guest speaker.


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