Now in her second year of educational assistant studies at Niagara College, Natalia exudes confidence. But it wasn’t always like that. Just over a year ago, when she, her husband and two little girls arrived in Welland, Ontario, from Colombia, they weren’t sure how to start making a life in this new country.
“From the first day of being here, we started looking for newcomer support groups,” recalls Natalia. She came across Niagara International Student Ministries and decided to give it a try. “I felt quite nervous because they are people you don’t know and you have language as the first barrier.”
Ryanna Schlechter, the Welland campus coordinator for ISMC, received Natalia’s message through the Niagara International Students Facebook page. She directed Natalia to the website with its many resources, and encouraged her to apply for a welcome package—hand-delivered fresh-baked goodies and other treats for newly-arrived international students.
A few days later, Ryanna delivered the gift to Natalia at their Airbnb. When Natalia mentioned they were moving to a new place and Ryanna realized the apartment was unfurnished, she connected Natalia with Niagara’s on-going furniture ministry. “We quickly rallied volunteers and furniture donations to meet the need,” says Ryanna. Natalia recalls how valuable this practical assistance was—things they didn’t need to buy to equip their home with the basics.
But Natalia is especially grateful for relationships that developed through these interactions. “The first help we received was furniture, clothes for our daughters and toys,” says Natalia. “Then we began to meet more people by participating in the activities they plan, which on an emotional level is quite important. And they gave us spiritual support by inviting us to participate at church services in Welland.”
Lineke, one of the volunteers who brought toys for the girls, became like a grandma to them. She invited the family to church, and soon Natalia was also attending the Bible discovery class that Lineke leads.
Growing up in Colombia, Natalia knew about God. But in Canada she learned what it means to have a relationship with Him. “We are much closer to God every day,” says Natalia, “seeing His mercy through the help we receive.”
Natalia describes the kindness of those who helped them as an affirmation that God is near. “The truth is,” she explains, “they cannot imagine what it is like to find this type of support in a new and unknown place. This makes us think that there really are good people and that God will always help us.”
More about Ryanna and her ministry.