Wendell was there with a group of students for a visit during RJC’s Alternative Learning and Service Opportunities Week. The group was in Alberta serving with Camp Valaqua, at a homeless shelter called the Mustard Seed and at the Banff Food Rescue as well as packing relief kits with MCC Alberta. But while they were in the city they also spent a day meeting youth from another community at the Calgary Chin Christian Church, which is part of Mennonite Church Alberta.
The two groups of youth came together for an evening sharing food, singing and storytelling, a chance for each group to learn more about each other. “We want our students to be able to have a wide understanding of what church can look and feel like,” says Alex Tiessen, director of development for RJC, who planned the visit together with Peter Sang, general secretary at the church. “When we share stories from our own contexts about how we understand God, peace and justice based on our varied life experiences, we can deepen our understanding of faith,” Alex says.
RJC students had a chance to share about their experience of Christian education and what it’s like to be a student at the school. And Peter shared about the Chin people, including some of his own story of fleeing Myanmar (Burma) at the age of 18, living in India before coming to Canada.
Many of the students didn’t know much about the Chin people before the trip, and weren’t sure if they’d had much in common. But Wendell found once he started to get to know some of the youth from the church they had lots of shared interests. “My favourite part of the visit was just getting to sit down and talking to the boys that were there and connecting with them. I found out that we had a lot more similarities than I expected, like sports, school, the food,” he says. He was also surprised to discover the food was similar to the Filipino food he grew up with, and that the Chin people shared a lot of history with the Karen students he was friends with at RJC.
From that one meeting some of the youth started following each other on social media and they have kept in touch. “Seeing those friendships form in a short amount of time was really touching,” says Alex. “The kids were able to connect over lots of commonalities; some had a similar cultural background, others connected over sports, music and church.” And for youth from the Chin church, getting together was a nice reminder that they’re not alone as young people in the church. Their congregation sometimes gets together with other churches in the area, but they don’t often find a lot of young people. But in meeting the RJC students, Peter says, “They realize they are not alone … we are a part of the same community as RJC.”
The time of singing was a highlight for everyone. The youth from the church were impressed by the talented students from RJC, says Peter. And the RJC students connected with the music from the church. “The church music they sang for us after supper reminds me of my culture in the Philippines,” says Wendell. “It was in Chin so I couldn’t understand what they were saying, but it was really soulful and everyone had so much energy.”
While the diverse student body at RJC means students have friends from different backgrounds, this event was also a meaningful opportunity to build more connections with youth from a different community, helping to expand students’ worldviews. It was also a good opportunity to experience what faith and church look like for other cultures. “During ALSO we are taught to think about the world in new and different ways and expand our perspective,” says Wendell. “I think going to the Chin church helped us see a new way of living, and experiencing God.”