International students at Lambton College in Sarnia, Ont., were literally warmed by the welcome they received from members of Redeemer Christian Reformed Church on December 30. The students were given gift packs that included new blankets and throws donated by members of the congregation. They could also choose from donated coats and other winter clothing as needed.
The gifts were just part of an evening in which the church hosted 23 students from India, Vietnam, Brazil, and other countries for an evening of dinner, games, and gifts. Church members and students enjoyed dominoes, sjoelbak (tabletop shuffleboard), cards, and crokinole.
Many of the students had arrived in Canada just two days before and were touched by the welcome. “All the students were very grateful for the dinner, especially since most of them were in temporary housing with no cooking facilities,” said Joleen Vanderheide, part of the community team at Redeemer CRC. The team planned the dinner and games evening knowing that many students from overseas had no local connections for fellowship and community during the holidays.
The idea for gifts of warm clothing and blankets came from Doug Thomson, a chaplain at Lambton College who is supported by Sarnia’s three Christian Reformed congregations as well as other area churches. Students from countries with warmer climates often find the Canadian winter colder than they had expected and welcome these gifts of warmth.
This was the first year that Redeemer CRC reached out to the international students at Lambton in this way, and they were excited to see it received so well. They are considering hosting a second dinner and games night on the Family Day weekend in mid-February and possibly providing cooking classes or ESL conversation groups in the future.
“While we recognize that these ideas are nothing new to many other church communities, they are new to our congregation, and we are excited that God seems to be nudging us in this direction,” said Vanderheide. “We hope this can be a tiny step toward embracing these new members of our community.”