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A Friendly Connection at a Busy Airport

September 12, 2022 | 0 Comments

Imagine stepping into Pearson Airport as a newly arrived international student—jet lagged, disoriented, and with limited English. You need to find your way through Canada’s largest airport and figure out how to get from the terminal to your university.

Then imagine seeing a sign that says Welcome Students and Can We Help? Volunteers have a gift bag for you, and a laptop to help figure out transportation options. The volunteer walks with you to the transit point and makes sure the process goes smoothly.

Welcoming committee at Pearson Airport

Anki* from the Netherlands was flustered when she arrived at the Welcome Airport booth and grateful for volunteers who explained her options to get to McMaster University. When they brought her to the GO bus, she was even more grateful for help in navigating a glitch in the payment processing system that was much less daunting with a volunteer by her side.

ISMC is part of Welcome Airport, an informal partnership between many ministries working with the airport chaplaincy that ensures international students are suitably welcomed. “We are meeting and greeting and showing love to international students as they come off the plane and enter Pearson Airport,” says Johnson Hsu, ISMC’s Toronto city director. “We are building relationships with those who are open to it.”

“Meeting people at the airport is culturally appropriate,” explains Johnson “It’s what family does. ”Conversations through the airport can prove to be the beginnings of relationships, and students who feel comfortable sharing contact information are later connected to campus ministries. Besides a gift bag, there’s information about international student resources and Bibles for those who want them.

Students like Singh from India, who had one more connecting flight, but stopped to chat anyways. Johnson welcomed him to Canada in the name of Toronto-area Christians, and gave him a gift bag. Singh saw the Bibles, and explained that he had always wanted to read one. “Thank you for this life-changing message,” he said when Johnson gifted him a Bible. When Johnson left him at his departure gate with blessings for his journey, Singh was smiling.

In 2019, Welcome Airport engaged with over 300 arrivals. This year Welcome Airport was rebuilding networks and partners after a two-year Covid-induced hiatus. Still almost 30 volunteers connected with over 150 international students like Anki and Singh, holding out welcome bags and love at Pearson Airport.

“Really, we’re just there to be a friendly connection at a very busy airport,” says Johnson.

* names changed to maintain confidentiality


More about Johnson and his ministry.