Magazines 2019 Sept - Oct You cannot start a Filipino church in Toronto …

You cannot start a Filipino church in Toronto …

15 September 2019 By Narry Santos with Timothy Tang

Lessons we’re learning on intercultural hospitality for Canadian churches today

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Photo above: Some of the youth at Greenhills Christian Fellowship gather before their special presentation in church.

Immediately after my family and I were met at Toronto Pearson International Airport in April 2007, the Filipino Canadian friend who picked us up told me point-blank, "Pastor, you cannot start a Filipino church in Toronto." I was taken aback.

Now you tell me this, after I left a thriving ten-year church ministry in the Philippines, after I uprooted my family from the comfort and safety of a Christian church, school and friends, and after we travelled halfway around the globe?

I managed to ask, "Why not?" I knew I was in trouble because that was all I knew – planting a Filipino church.

multiculturalministry.jpgPHOTO: Pastor Narry Santos preaching at Greenhills Christian Fellowship–Peel, which meets at Castlebridge Public School in Mississauga, Ont.

My friend gave this startling reply. "It does not make sense to plant a Filipino church in one of the most multicultural cities of the world." After being a full-time pastor for 13 years, I had to unlearn all I knew and then be willing to learn how to be a new kind of church planter in Canada.

I learned this lesson the hard way – and right away.

What did I have to unlearn? Greenhills Christian Fellowship (, our church in the Philippines, had sent my family and me to Canada to plant churches. This sending occurred after God enabled us to be part of four church plants in South Manila ten years earlier. We had realized it was time for us to leave our comfort zone and be engaged in the growing field of diaspora mission.


Diaspora is the scattering (migration) and gathering of peoples. It means people who are on the move, whether involuntarily (push) or voluntarily (pull). Diaspora peoples may be immigrants, refugees, temporary workers, international students or more. Diaspora ministry recognizes the need to strategically engage in a new paradigm of mission that takes seriously the significant movement of people in our contemporary time (

But the reality check my friend offered me challenged me and my fellow leaders to ask God, "What kind of church do you want us to be in Canada?"

Multicultural ministry is long and hard

To help fulfill our multicultural mandate, the Tyndale Intercultural Ministries (TIM) Centre in Toronto came alongside us to train and coach us in multicultural ministry ( I remember the two words Robert Cousins, who directed the TIM Centre at that time, told me to describe this kind of ministry – difficult and slow. Those two words went against my preferred style of ministry. I preferred my church-planting ministry easy and fast. That was not to be.

We still have a long way to go in this journey, but it is worth the trip.

Much of this journey involves being intentional and strategic. One early step we needed to take was to make an accurate assessment of our intercultural capability, fluency and competency. What did we know? What didn’t we know? How good were we at interacting and communicating between cultures? What did we need to learn? (See sidebar on IDI.)


The Tyndale Intercultural Ministries Centre is located at Tyndale University College & Seminary in Toronto, one of the world’s most culturally diverse cities. TIM provides intercultural resources for networking, training and research using the city’s diversity as a setting for practical application to coursework and resource development.


The IDI is a professional assessment tool to help individuals and teams, through its qualified administrators, assess and reflect on where they are on their intercultural development journey. The TIM Centre offers this assessment in conjunction with missional training or as a stand-alone tool to any organization or church.

This is a challenging and humbling exercise for seasoned leaders whose extensive experience commonly offers us an overestimation of our own ability to cross cultures deeply and genuinely. With continual training and coaching, assumptions and values that are so often stumbling blocks for other cultural groups become evident and can be slowly chipped away. For example, a belief that multiculturalism is only about the colour of skin in our pews is an assumption that needs to be dismantled. We needed to realize culture had so much to do with our values and expectations, and the way we did things that ran deep in everything and everyone.

multiculturalministry4-(3).jpgPHOTO: A new family visits the church after a community event for kids.

Multicultural mission needs to be missional

We discovered multicultural ministry is long and hard. We also learned that to be intentionally intercultural we needed to be intentionally missional, to be on mission with God in what He is already doing where we were.

We discovered an important and relational way to engage the people around our church was to love and serve them through hospitality, which we defined broadly as welcoming strangers. Here is one way to think about hospitality. The acronym AT HOME opens the concept in six ways for what we call untamed hospitality:

  • Acceptance with warm welcome
  • Turning guests into friends
  • Hearty service for the new and needy
  • Open homes, open hearts
  • Making room for others
  • Extravagant and untamed hospitality.

To apply the practice of hospitality in our urban context, we sought to connect with and engage the international students in our community. At that time we met on Sundays at a local community college. I asked the director of the college residence how we could help the more than 200 international students who lived there.

She willingly opened doors for us to help the students feel at home. She asked our church to help carry the luggage of the new students from the parking lot to their dorm rooms. We were given permission to host a Thanksgiving dinner for the students at the main hall, a luncheon for them on the Family Day weekend and a Good Friday event at the reception area. She also welcomed our effort to invite a Christian immigration lawyer to the school to speak with the graduating international students and answer their questions on immigration.

multiculturalministry3.jpgPHOTO: Members of the GCF–Peel congregation gather for prayer before the Sunday morning service.

"Your church has been doing these things for the students and you have not asked us for anything back," the director said. Then she offered us free use of one room weekly to continue meeting with interested students. We accepted her offer and conducted weekly Tuesday night gatherings called Chips and Chow. This fun and relaxed time provided free pizza, hotdogs and chips, offered English practice time and short videos on topics relevant to them. We also partnered with staff from International Student Ministries Canada – a ministry that focuses on serving international students ( – to coach us how to serve the students well. We do not have to do this ministry alone.

multiculturalministry6-(1).jpgPHOTO: Preparing for the monthly celebration of the Lord’s Table.

At other satellite locations of our ministries we realized student ministry may not be our first priority because of where we were located. Place helps define the multicultural ministry that makes the most sense. Diaspora, or scattered people, comes in many forms, and it was up to us to identify what missional opportunities were at hand. 

Starting regular fun nights at a local community centre put us in touch with Filipina nannies. We invited them to casual evenings of food, table games, table tennis, karaoke singing and line dancing, along with a small but relevant talk from the Bible. In yet another location, we rent a local basketball court and offer two hours of sports time for basketball enthusiasts, appealing especially to millennials and young families.

Hospitality for diaspora mission allows us to get to know our neighbours, be aware of their needs and interests, and add value to our community. Doors open to engage our neighbourhood in loving deeds of kindness through the diaspora. So the Good News becomes adorned with good works that lead the diaspora to be attracted to the Jesus we know, love and serve.

Long-term multicultural ministry is multigenerational

"Have you made good friends in school?" I asked my daughters when they were in high school.

"Yes," they readily answered.

As a first-generation immigrant, my next question was, "Where are they from?"

My two daughters gave me a quizzical look, rolled their eyes and said, "Dad, they’re our friends."

multiculturalministry5.jpgPHOTO: Hazel and Narry Santos and their family were sent by their church in the Philippines in 2007 to plant churches in Canada

My daughters are both colour blind. They don’t see colour of the skin. They are also tone deaf. They don’t hear accents. I realized the way for us to engage the other diaspora groups in Canada, along with Euro Canadians, is through the next generation of the diaspora. May God give us the wisdom and courage to be actively involved in effective intergenerational faith transmission to, through and beyond the people we now serve.

My story is one example of multicultural ministry today. It is a story of contemporary mission, and the essential need to keep up with an everchanging world. The "West to the rest" models of mission have mostly ended. The scattering of God’s people from everywhere to everywhere has compelled Christians to respond with the power of the Good News in hand, wherever they are.

Multicultural ministry is long and hard. It is missional and multigenerational. It’s never as simple as a three-point sermon. But the tremendous opportunity God has in store for us is all around us, everywhere. The Church in Canada has the opportunity to go deeply multicultural and enjoy God’s Kingdom in a way that goes far beyond the surface. We can lament the older ways of understanding church, as author and scholar Soon Chan-Rah advises in his book Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times (IVP, 2015), and then move into an openness to truly engage God and the full cultural expression of the various people He created.

Narry Santos is assistant professor of Christian ministry and intercultural leadership at Tyndale Seminary ( and vice-president for the Evangelical Missiological Society Canada ( He also serves as bivocational senior pastor at Greenhills Christian Fellowship–Peel ( and GCF–York (

Timothy Tang is the director of the Tyndale Intercultural Ministries Centre ( After 20 years as a lead pastor in a Chinese church in Toronto, he now facilitates training and growth opportunities for Christians and various communities for effective missional ministry in diverse multicultural contexts. Join him at an intercultural worship conference in Mississauga, Nov. 1–2 ( Listen to our interview with Timothy Tang and Robert Cousins, "How to Be an Intercultural Church," near the top of this webpage.