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Osoyoos Baptist Church provides facilities, dignity to Quebec migrant workers
There is no room for politics or judgment when it comes to helping the needy and less fortunate, says the popular Pastor with the Osoyoos Baptist Church.
That’s why the church and its large congregation of parishioners decided four years ago to step in and lend a helping hand to assist the hundreds of migrant workers who flock to Osoyoos each spring and summer, said Pastor Phil Johnson, who has been the leader of the congregation at Osoyoos Baptist Church for the past 11 years.
Every day this week between Monday and Friday, hundreds of migrant workers will flock to Osoyoos Baptist Church for what has become an annual tradition of sharing food and camaraderie during the Migrant Workers Dinner.
Church volunteers spend long hours preparing food to feed hundreds of migrant workers during the evening dinners, said Johnson.
The church’s commitment to helping migrant workers continues to expand as the church took the initiative this year to hire a French-speaking chaplain to come to Osoyoos to work with and assist the migrant workers from Quebec.
Jeremie Goudreault, 24, who is a university chaplain in Montreal, has been in Osoyoos since the first week of May and spends long days working side-by-side with hundreds of mainly young migrant workers from Quebec.
As a man of God and someone who has dedicated his life to spreading the gospel and helping others, Johnson said it made him upset and angry that hundreds of migrant workers from Quebec had no place to access shower facilities, do laundry or seek spiritual guidance in this community.
So when the leaders of Mountain Park Church in Abbotsford called four years ago to suggest offering Osoyoos Baptist Church as a sanctuary for the migrant workers, Johnson quickly approached his congregation and they wholeheartedly supported a concept to reach out and help them.
Starting usually in early May and continuing all of June and into early July, hundreds of migrant workers visit Osoyoos Baptist Church each week to access showers, laundry facilities and to be surrounded by fellow workers who are sharing the same experiences they are going through, said Johnson.
“As the leader of this church, it’s not my job to judge people, it’s my job to help them,” he said. “When I first approached our board four years ago with a plan to help these kids, there were one or two who were hesitant, but even those who were skeptical got to see in only a few weeks just how much these kids appreciate what we’re doing for them.
“I know for a fact that well over 90 per cent of our parishioners think that what we’re doing in helping these kids is a really good thing.”
Two questions that have never been asked since Osoyoos Baptist Church committed to assisting the Quebec migrant workers is “can we afford it” and “what will the church family think”, said Johnson.
“The only question that is always asked is, is this what God would want us to do and that is a very easy answer. The answer is yes.
“I truly believe God is at work when we’re helping people who need assistance and it’s our job at this church to help these people. God believes all people should be treated with dignity and he loves them as they are.”
As a longtime resident of Osoyoos, Johnson said he realizes there are some young visitors from Quebec who don’t necessarily come to the South Okanagan to work, but simply to enjoy the sunshine and have a party.
However, those few “bad apples” are in the minority, he said.
“I deal with these kids every day and I can tell you that the vast majority are very nice kids,” he said. “There are a few jerks who come for the wrong reasons, but they don’t fit in with the others and usually end up going back home sooner than later.
“Most of them are young and looking for adventure, like many young people do. They come without any preconceived notions and they just want to have an experience. But many of them quickly realize it can be tough being so far from home. When they find out there was nowhere to shower or do laundry, most just can’t believe it. That’s when we knew we had to do something to help.”
Hiring Gaudreault has been a blessing as he’s able to speak to the Quebec migrant workers in their own language, assist them in a myriad of ways and also provide spiritual counselling when necessary, he said.
Gaudreault said he has thoroughly enjoyed his job over the past nine weeks.
“I love it,” he said. “It certainly has been eye opening, but it has been very rewarding working with and helping so many of them.”
While the majority of local citizens don’t react one way or the other about the presence of so many migrant workers from Quebec, there are others who do pass judgment based on their lifestyle choices, the clothing they wear and admittedly carefree attitude and lifestyle, said Gaudreault.
“There are some people who are close minded and bigoted,” he said. “Most people are welcoming and realize most of these kids are here to pick fruit and have an experience.”
Gaudreault also readily admits he has observed and recognizes there are a small minority who don’t come here to work and spend most of their time drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana on local beaches.
“I’ve had to deal with a few of the bad ones, but thankfully there aren’t many,” he said.
While helping organize laundry and shower services is a big part of his job, providing spiritual guidance to those seeking it is also a big part of the job, said Gaudreault.
“I believe in dialogue over monologue,” he said. “I don’t preach to them, but I’m there if they are having concerns and need some spiritual assistance.
“These kids are a long way from home and a few of them get lost along the way and they reach out for guidance and I’m there to provide that guidance.”
Gaudreault praised Johnson and all members of the Osoyoos Baptist Church for reaching out to help so many of these migrant workers from his home province.
“It is important for Christians to allow people to live with dignity,” he said. “We are all made in the image of God and we should all have the opportunity to have basic things like a daily shower and clean clothes.
“The Gospel states that God will accept us even if we’re dirty and will love us no matter what. The members of this church are showing the community that God loves us all and to pass that love on to others.”