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Mandarin service a first in diocese, possibly Canada

By Stuart Mann

As a child growing up during China’s Cultural Revolution, the Rev. Esther Deng was so afraid that the police would come to her house and arrest her father that she never broke a law, no matter how minor, and did not draw attention to herself. If arrested, Mr. Deng, an elder of a church that met in the family household, could be imprisoned or executed.

“He used to say to me, ‘Remember that I didn’t do anything wrong. If they put me in jail, it’s because I am a Christian,’” she recalls.

Ms. Deng and her family survived the persecutions and eventually immigrated to Canada. Today, she has started the first weekly Mandarin-speaking Anglican service in the diocese, possibly in Canada.

No longer afraid to share her faith in public, she has spent the past several weeks walking through the shopping malls and parks around St. Paul L’Amoreaux, Scarborough, meeting people in the community and learning about their needs.

She is particularly well suited to her surroundings. The highest number of immigrants settling in north Scarborough and Agincourt come from mainland China and speak Mandarin. Many have no Christian background. Although there are a lot of churches in the area that offer services in Mandarin, not one is Anglican.

She says that inviting people with no Christian background to her service is hard work and takes time. “Friendship comes first,” she explains. As she meets new people and learns about their needs, she refers them to the many programs provided by St. Paul’s. That is often a good introduction to the church.

She says the needs of immigrants from mainland China and southeast Asia have changed over the past 20 years. In the early years, many newcomers arrived with very little and needed basics like clothing and housing. Nowadays, they need help and advice with family relationships.

They are often reluctant to talk about their problems and concerns, she adds. “That’s why we need time to build up friendships and trust in each other.”

She held her first Mandarin-speaking service at St. Paul’s on Sept. 25, and 28 people attended. It was a promising start, but she admits that she needs help to keep it going and to grow the congregation. “I need people to pray for me,” she says. “I also need some lay leaders who have a calling for this ministry.”

If Ms. Deng’s history is any indication, the service will succeed. Before going to St. Paul’s, she planted seven churches in China and Canada, and all of them are still going. The secret to her success, she says, is simple: “For me, it’s about loving others. By doing that, you build up relationships.”

The Rev. Canon Dr. Dean Mercer, incumbent of St. Paul’s, says he is “thrilled” with the new service, one of six that are offered at St. Paul’s on Sunday. The others are in English and Tamil.

He says the Mandarin-speaking service, which includes the eucharist, will appeal to immigrants from mainland China who are moving into his parish. “While most of them don’t have a Christian background, they are an enquiring group, so I think it will be fruitful.”

The  Mandarin service at St. Paul, L’Amoreaux is held on Sundays from 1:15 p.m to 2:30 p.m. The church is located at 3333 Finch Ave., E. For more information, contact the Rev. Esther Deng.