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James and Songsuk Chong with their family. Photo by Won Hur

Giving thanks to immigration

Immigrants have become a blessing to the entire church and nation

By Carolyn Pogue

I’m grateful that Canada welcomes immigrants. They help us revision our church, communities, nation and, sometimes, our families.

Our story began when my husband Bill was minister at Toronto’s Trinity United Church during the 1970s. He was involved in a revitalization project in co-operative ministry with downtown churches (Trinity-St. Pauls, now a Centre for Faith, Justice and the Arts, was one result.). Toronto Korean United Church was involved, too. Rev. Sang Chul Lee, who later wrote his immigrant memoir, The Wanderer, and served as United Church moderator between 1988 and 1990, was minister then. The lay representative was James Chong, who along with his partner Songsuk and children, was a recent immigrant — a part of a small community of Koreans.

As Bill recalled: ”There was a commonality; our prophetic understanding provided enough glue to bring people together to do some creative work. In our project, and all these years later, James was a strong voice, committed to the prophetic vision of the church and to supporting immigrants in his adopted city."

Over the years, the Chongs have remained strong members of their church, helping to settle many refugees and immigrants. One family was Won Hur's.

"As a child, I could be me, without having to explain myself, in the Toronto Korean United Church,” Hur said. “It was always my community of support. My faith grew and deepened; I eventually became a minister and now serve at Ebeneezer United Church in Markham, Ont. My [immigrant] experience allows me to serve the wider church with compassion and understanding, especially those on the margins. It has enriched my work writing worship resources and Bible studies, and serving on the church’s Racial and Gender Justice Advisory and Mission Outreach Committees, as well as the presbytery’s Justice and Global Initiatives.”

“The ancient Hebrew prophets,” Hur added, “said that the litmus test of faith is the way the nation treats widows, orphans, poor and immigrants. Canada has done well in welcoming immigrants and giving them opportunities to be educated and to flourish. In turn, immigrants have become a blessing to the church and the nation. Thank you Canada, and thank you United Church of Canada.”

The Chongs, whom Hur calls “pioneers,” have put down deep roots in Toronto. They are proud of their kids and thankful for the opportunity to raise them here. Donald, a member of Trinity-St. Paul's Church, is an award-winning architect while Esther is a medical doctor serving disadvantaged families in the city. But Donald’s father is particularly proud of his son’s goaltending skills. “There are not many immigrant families who took their kids to the hockey arena and to tournaments around the province. But I did. I wanted my kids to learn about Canada, and hockey helped them to learn. Canada is our country now.”

About 20 years after James Chong and Bill worked together in downtown Toronto, their kids met and fell in love. Long story short, the wedding ceremony was in English and Korean, with both Very Rev. Sang Chul Lee and Very Rev. Bill Phipps officiating. Our grandchildren are now 9 and 6 years old.

Indeed, my vision of Canada and my beloved family has been — and continues to be — blessed by immigration. For that I'm thankful.

Author's photo
Carolyn Pogue is a longtime Observer contributor. New posts of The Pogue Blog will appear on the first and third Thursday of the month. For more information on Carolyn Pogue, visit www.carolynpogue.ca..
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