Hope for those seeking belonging in a new place

Written by Andrea Nwabuike

“Sometimes I wish I hadn’t come to Canada.”

A disheartening number of international students have exhaled these words in my office. They come for therapy with hunched shoulders and downcast eyes, weighed down by the burdens of immigration. As food and housing insecurity impact a growing number of Canadians, international students are left especially vulnerable given that they are eligible for far fewer social supports.

Unspoken academic and social expectations cast doubt on their ability to realize the dreams that brought them to Canada. Despite being eager to make friends, they often feel left out or excluded by their domestic peers. My clients miss their families and friends, their cultural traditions and practices and, most of all, the confidence of knowing that they belong. They have given up too much to return to their home countries but the idea of staying in Canada feels increasingly more impossible.

One of the most significant tasks of my role as a psychotherapist is to support my clients in the process of restoring hope. International students often seek a specific kind of hope: hope that the pain of immigration will be made worthwhile and that their journey to Canada will not be in vain.

No other story responds to this desire with more certainty than the Christmas story. But the hope of the Christmas narrative does not come in the form of a rags to riches story or the realization of the Canadian dream. Rather, it comes in the comfort of a saviour who is sits at our table and shares his own immigration story.

When we meditate on what it meant for Jesus to come to Earth, a new weight is added to the wonder of the season. Jesus’s immigration was costly. It required him to take on the limitations of human flesh, meaning that the one who spoke the world into existence now had to learn to walk and talk. Many greeted him with reverence and joy, but he also faced hostility and ostracization from the moment of his birth.

Although he authored the laws that would shape Israel’s way of life, he entered a rebellious culture drastically different from the peace and order of his heavenly home. Imagine the culture shock of being surrounded by a people that rejected his teachings and insisted on the righteousness of their own practices. Consider the awkwardness of the King of Kings performing chores assigned by his earthly mother and father.

Jesus understands the sorrow of the immigrant because he has experienced those sorrows for himself.

Though misunderstood and rejected in their new home, God’s heart is drawn towards immigrants in solidarity and compassion.

As pastor and author Dane C. Ortlund writes in his book Gently and Lowly the Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers, “If you are in Christ, you have a Friend who, in your sorrow, will never lob down a pep talk from heaven. He cannot bear to hold himself at a distance. Nothing can hold him back. His heart is too bound up with yours.” Comfort is given to those who receive the gift of His heart.

Hope begins with his comfort and is sustained by His promises. Jesus will not waste the suffering of his people. His own immigration was filled with pain but it bore beautiful fruit. Though he was rejected and despised, he cultivated deep friendships. He endured the obstacles before him to accomplish the mission that brought him to Earth. Despite incredible resistance, he brought transformation to a culture of darkness that would reverberate throughout time.

The same fruit is available to those who are struggling with their immigration stories today. There is a place for you wherever God has sent you. There is a community longing to be a blessing to you and waiting to be blessed by you. There is a purpose to your journey to Canada and no obstacle can defeat you if you rely in obedience on the God who sent you.

Andrea Nwabuike is a Nigerian-Canadian mental health counsellor and writer living in Toronto, Ont. Read more from “Church of many cultures.”