So when you think about visiting a quiet western Ontario farm town on a beautiful evening you immediately think street evangelism – right? Yeah, me neither. Yet that is exactly what happened last Friday night when my friend Mandy and I went to visit Brazos Abiertos – an outreach ministry of Open Arms FMC in Tillsonburg, ON.
Located on the main drag, Brazos Abiertos (Arms Open) is an outreach centre for Spanish speaking migrant workers open every Friday night from 4-8pm. As Doug Dawson, pastor at Open Arms, told me, “we offer fellowship and expressions of practical love to Mexican workers who are here from now until November. We offer food, clothing, help with banking/shopping/sending money back to Mexico, transportation, English language training, dictionaries, Spanish Bibles, music, one-on-one sharing of the gospel and much more.”
In its eleventh year, the outreach centre’s location has changed frequently based on availability and cost. As Doug joked, “If you can find us you can come.”
Shortly after arriving we hit the streets with Lloyd Peterson listening for anyone speaking Spanish. Lloyd and Barbara Peterson (Pastor at Iglesia del Buen Samaritano) make the trip from Sarnia almost every week to be part of the fellowship and offer translation. Walking through the downtown mall we ran into four Spanish speaking men. Lloyd proceeded to chat them up in Spanish and found out this was their first summer in Canada. He welcomed them and told them about Brazo Abiertos. Mandy and I stood awkwardly beside Lloyd just smiling, nodding and feeling very uncomfortable. It wasn’t until we went into the local grocery store that I understood the importance of what was happening. Lloyd was warmly greeted by another group of migrant workers who regularly drop into Brazos Abiertos. At that moment I tried to imagine what it would be like to live in a country where I didn’t speak the language and had only a small circle of friends. I am pretty sure I would feel isolated, homesick and scared. This street evangelism is right on the mark here in Tillsonburg.
Brazos Abiertos has been offering a little taste of Mexico for the past eleven years. This “taste” includes tortillas and authentic salsa that Doug hunts down and drives a good distance to get because the local grocery store doesn’t carry them. He then sells them at cost to anyone who drops in.
I asked Phyllis Thompson why she volunteered each week, “For many years I would see migrant workers on the street and think they must feel so alone here and if only they knew somebody. I just wanted them to know that they have a friend here – lots of friends and we hope that when they see how we care about them they will know it is the real thing.”
Real thing it is. In the couple of hours we spent there several men dropped in for a cold drink and something to eat but it was clear that they were there to chat, visit and get caught up. Real, genuine and honest stuff.
Everyone I met that night had been there before except the last two young men who arrived – the ones that Lloyd chatted up in the mall.
And if you decide to drop in on the folks at Brazos Abiertos be sure to call Doug by his other name, “Here my name is Santiago because Doug is too hard to pronounce.”
For more photos click here.
For the video version of my visit click here.