– An interview with Bernard De Mesa, senior coordinator of the community

When was your community started? – What inspired you?

In the early 1990s, a few couples who had moved to Canada from the Philippines came together to form an informal prayer group. Sensing the need for a more formal direction, in September 1993, the group went on a pilgrimage to a Catholic pilgrimage site in Portland, Oregon, for a whole day of prayer and spiritual discernment. Having been soaked in the Spirit, a prophecy surfaced, “Before you bring the good news of salvation to others, start with your own families. You are my family in Vancouver. You are families for Christ.” It was then that they decided to adopt the name “Families for Christ Community.”

Where are you located? What kind of area is it?
Between the alpine attractions of the resort town of Whistler to the north, the farms and vineyards of the Fraser Valley to the East, the Pacific Ocean to the West and the border leading to Washington State to the South – you will find our metropolis known as the Greater Vancouver area. It is composed of several cities and municipalities with Vancouver being the focal point. Our members are spread out over this Greater Vancouver area with the widest distance nearly 60 kilometers between some of our members. The area is largely residential (single detached houses and townhomes) with a few highly urbanized pockets (high rise condos and offices). There are also several green spaces (parks, lakes, forests, farmlands) easily accessible from all directions.

What is the cultural make-up of your community, and how many members do you have?
We are an immigrant community. Most, if not all of us who are 40 years old, or older, were born and raised in the Philippines – making us a predominantly Catholic community. Our members have been arriving in Canada over the last 25 years, some even as recently as in the last five years. Most of us are now Canadian citizens.

We presently have 120 members in 11 men’s groups and 14 women’s groups. That includes our young professionals who are also assigned to men’s and women’s groups. Age-wise, we have a wide range. Some members are grandparents and a few couples are in their 30s with children. But most of our adult members are in their 40s and 50s. Our young professionals are mostly in their mid-20s. Our university-aged children serve in University Christian Outreach (UCO) and our high school children are in what we call the Young Ones (YO) Group, while the grade schoolers are in the Young Believers (YB) Group.

Being an immigrant community, our members are in a variety of professions. Many of us had to reinvent ourselves and our careers to adapt to our newly adopted country.

How often do you meet, and in what configurations?
Our regular activities include:

  • Community assemblies twice a month. Simultaneous with these assemblies, our children will be having their own activities.
  • Men’s groups and women’s groups meet twice a month.

Other activities are:

  • Men’s breakfasts four times a year. This year, we introduced the joint breakfast for men and women.
  • Acts of mercy. We visit nursing homes and work at food bank distribution
  • A Lenten retreat
  • A summer picnic and Christmas celebration – great family events for us.

What do you as a community feel the Lord is saying to you? What particular strength or call do you feel you as a community have been given by the Lord just now?
In recent years, especially last year and this year, we have sensed that the Lord is calling us to be bolder and to step out of our comfort zones to share his good news with others.

What areas of community life or service do you feel are a focus for the community, things you as a community are working to strengthen or take new strides in?
Our mission is to bring families into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. We envision a dynamic community of Christ-centred families across Canada. We sense the need to strengthen our efforts at bringing others to know Christ – both at the personal level and as a community. This means having a stronger conviction to share our faith with others, including family and friends outside community and co-workers. We then have to create more opportunities to support our members in bringing others to experience our way of life – such as the men’s breakfast, women’s teas, and Life in the Spirit seminars where people can hear the good news in an informal setting and ask questions. Acting with more boldness to invite people to these things is a challenge for us, considering we live in a very secular society.

Why is it a help being part of the larger network of communities of the Sword of the Spirit?
First, it gives us great comfort to know that we are not alone in this spiritual battle – that we have brothers and sisters-in-arms across the world fighting the good fight of faith. This leads us to the second point – this reminds us that our community and our efforts are part of God’s greater plan. And third, this network offers a great sharing of resources – from teachings to best practices to logistics.

If people in your area wanted to contact you, what’s the best way for them to do it? Do you have a website? And which meetings would interested people be welcome to attend?

We would like the men to experience the men’s breakfast as a means of being introduced to our community. Or families can join us in our summer picnic and Christmas celebration. If they are familiar with community life, they may want to attend a community assembly or one of our men’s or women’s group meetings. Although most of us are of Filipino background, our community language is English, and we warmly welcome Filipinos and non-Filipinos alike.