Back to Top

A Newcomers Perspective on Community

My name is Bryan Mwaka and I work on the Community Engagement Team in Edmonton. My story in Canada starts on January 24th, 2020, the day I arrived at Pearson International Airport in Toronto. It was from there that I got onto another flight that got me to Edmonton International Airport in the wee hours of January 24th. It was -30 degrees. 

I left my country under circumstances that were out of my control. As I exited the Edmonton International airport, I was approached by a cab driver who helped me load up all my luggage into his trunk and I got into the back of the cab as fast as I could because it was really cold. It was then that he asked me where I was going and it dawned on me that I didn’t have an answer to his question. He asked me if I had the money for a hotel but I didn’t. All I had was enough to get me to the shelter that he told me about. We arrived at Hope Mission at about 3 am where I was able to get a few hours of sleep before being woken up to exit the building. 

When I got up, I noticed that my shoes were missing plus one of my suitcases. This startled me and I got a little anxious. I had another pair of shoes but I was able to get snow boots from the emergency closet there before exiting the building. At that point, I was told that I wouldn’t be able to recover my stolen suitcase. I had another suitcase with some of the other belongings that I would then wheel around for two and half months. It was the morning of January 24th that it dawned on me that I was homeless.

I loved being a small part of what was happening at the Mustard Seed.

The full lockdown due to the pandemic in February created a lot of uncertainty for a lot of agencies that were providing services as they tried to navigate and see how best they would continue to serve the community. I was able to get a tent from a friend whom I called my big brother. He always watched out for me and we had our tents pitched next to each other. I remember being able to wheel our belongings to the City Centre mall to warm up, sit and have a coffee but all of that changed with the pandemic.

I met a friend in March of that year and he introduced me to the Mennonite Centre for Newcomers. They were of great help. I was able to file my refugee claim, apply for Alberta works, low-income housing as well as the interim Federal Health Program. The process of getting all that going took a little longer because of the pandemic but on April 1st, I moved into an apartment. I was able to pay rent because I was getting some money from Alberta Works. Through the Mennonite centre, I was able to get groceries from the food bank as well.

In August, I felt like I was not being productive enough so I sought out volunteer opportunities from different places. I went to the nearest fire station but because of the pandemic, they were not taking in any volunteers. I made several calls but I was turned down, due to the crisis we were facing. It was then that I met a lady who was volunteering at the Mustard Seed. I asked her if she would introduce me to the coordinator, which she did and I started volunteering three days a week. Three days turned into four days which turned into five days. I loved being a small part of what was happening at the Mustard Seed. During that time, I did some reading on the website about the vision, mission, values and work of the Mustard Seed. They aligned so well with my values and that got me so invested. I was able to volunteer at different hubs during this time which helped to see the vision, mission and values being played out.

I have been nurtured, challenged and given a chance to be a positive force

On October 28th, 2020, I got the opportunity to start working as a frontline worker when the Convention Center was opened as a shelter space. I went on to be a team lead and after the contract was done, I applied for the Community Engagement position I’m now in. 

My story is nothing short of a miracle, seeing where I started from and where I am right now. The season of homelessness and poverty is a levelling field that humbles anyone and I am thankful for that season because I now see how relevant it is in what I do.  God opened a door for me at the Mustard Seed at the right time in the right season with the skills and experience I needed to have the position He has given me here.

As an African who moved to Canada and now is looking to call this my home, it hasn’t been easy to integrate into the community due to a number of reasons, one of them being the pandemic which made the divide and individualistic part of humanity worse. Seeing how families were divided because of this and let alone trying to find people to connect with was a challenge. Being a black man in the community was made more evident when I had police called on me because I was walking around a rich neighborhood looking for a house where I had bought some household items off facebook marketplace from. But that was still a test for me. I believe that we need to see the beauty in who we are as human beings and still nurture relationships. 

I call the Mustard Seed my home because I have found a family here. I know that if I ever need anything, there will always be someone I can call. I have been nurtured, challenged and given a chance to be a positive force for the unhoused community and help break the stigma around homelessness and poverty.

I believe the church is called to be this same kind of family.  Welcome and open to be the hands and feet of Jesus.  And that may look different for everyone because we are the church, not the building and how we make other people feel is very important.

I would like to end with a verse that summarises my story. It’s from 1 Samuel 2:8 and it says, “He lifts the poor from the dust and the needy from the garbage dump. He sets them among princes, placing them in seats of honour. For the earth is the Lord’s, and he has set the world in order.”  

Read the rest of the series!  The Revelation 7 Church: Stories of Cultural Awareness

Photo provided by the author.  


The Reformed family is a diverse family with a diverse range of opinions. Not all perspectives expressed on the blog represent the official positions of the Christian Reformed Church. Learn more about this blog, Reformed doctrines, and our diversity policy on our About page.

In order to steward ministry shares well, commenting isn’t available on Do Justice itself because we engage with comments and dialogue in other spaces. To comment on this post, please visit the Christian Reformed Centre for Public Dialogue’s Facebook page (for Canada-specific articles) or the Office of Social Justice’s Facebook page. Alternatively, please email us. We want to hear from you!

Read more about our comment policy.