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Christine Ford McLaren: Big picture, sharp focus

Christine Ford McLaren was, quite literally, born into the Inter-Varsity family.

Her parents, Don and Barbara Ford, worked first for Inter-Varsity in Winnipeg, where Don was director of Manitoba Pioneer Camp and staff for the high school ministry. Later, in Calgary, Don became the directorship of Pioneer Ranch Camp. Christine was born in Calgary, her early years shaped by visits to Pioneer Camps.

“Inter-Varsity was always part of the furniture,” says Christine. “Prayer times in our family always included the Intercessor Prayer Calendar and the names of the staff listed there were always part of the rhythm, part of the music of our family.”

Now, from her home in the British Midlands, Christine still refers to Calgary when asked about her Canadian roots. But she’s quick to expand on the answer. Her geographical scope, like that of her family perspective, is far reaching. While in Canada, Christine lived in various Ontario cities. Further afield, she’s lived in Jordan and Egypt.

Christine and her husband Alasdair both work for an interdenominational mission that serves the Arab world, yet another indicator of her broad view of what’s important in life.

“One of the main threads of my life through Inter-Varsity and our mission agency is interdenominationalism – that’s kind of a long word, but because of Inter-Varsity, but  I feel the church of Christ is broad – I don’t mean to be loose about the church but I’m quite happy when the denominational lines are blurred.  I think that makes the list of essentials much shorter.”

The study and application of scripture is one of those essentials.

Christine first learned to study the Bible inductively while attending a high school Christian fellowship group in Barrie, Ont.   She honed her skills under the direction of staff worker Pauline Lowry and as one of the first participants in Ontario Pioneer Camp’s Leaders in Training (LIT) program.

“This method of Bible Study has almost spoiled me as it encourages me to search for meaning and application from within the passage, rather than returning to perhaps more familiar passages. When leading Bible Studies myself, I have sought to follow this method of studying the Bible, whether in England, in Canada or the Middle East.”

Christine has been travelling to the Middle East for more than 20 years, working out a call God placed on her life while she was a student at Trinity Western University.

“While there I became exposed to the spiritual needs of the Arab world. After graduation I went on a summer team to France and Morocco. The following year I went to Tyndale Seminary (then Ontario Theological Seminary), after which I applied to the mission.”

After being accepted into the mission, Christine spent two years in Toronto in order to raise support and pay off student loans. While there, she volunteered alongside Sandra Ricketts, an International Student staff worker with Inter-Varsity.  While at Tyndale, Christine had done her field placement with Sandra, helping lead Evangelistic Bible studies among international students at the University of Toronto.

“That was a great experience,” recalls Christine.  “Sandra was terrific – she always kept her youthful spirit.   I remember talks we would have about cross-cultural things, different ways of doing things. I still tell stories that she told about her life in India.  We still keep in touch, I send her our newsletter.”

That newsletter has chronicled Christine’s diverse experience with the mission, including stints as a tent-maker in order to live and serve in Middle Eastern countries.  After learning Arabic in Jordan, Christine lived in Egypt for four years where she trained as an English teacher and also freelanced for CBC Radio and the print media back in Canada.

After Egypt, Christine moved to England where she took on communications duties for the mission.  “I did a lot of travelling in the Arab world, gathering stories, taking photos and monitoring the media for news.”

In 1999, she found herself back in Canada, working for the mission’s Canadian office, teaching a course on Islam at Heritage Seminary and making friends with Muslim families in Cambridge, Ont.

In 2007, life changed again for Christine when she, quite literally, married into the mission family and long-time friend and co-worker, Alasdair McLaren, became her husband. 

After the wedding, the couple moved to England, where both could continue their work for the mission.  Christine focuses much of her time coordinating short-term programs for the entire mission and writing policies and best practices for short-term workers.   Alasdair handles administrative work in the office as well as providing pastoral care for mission colleagues who have faced difficulty on the field. 

The couple still travels regularly to the Arab world, providing encouragement to mission staff and to Christians in countries where persecution and hardship are realities.

In a recent newsletter, Christine reminds supporters “we are keen that a sharp focus on the Arab Muslim world is retained.”  Relating a story of a Bedouin man who had come to Christ, she writes, “such wonderful incidents encourage us to continue caring for those sent to the Arab world, and to help send out others for shorter or longer terms.”

Posted: January 17, 2011

Christmas camp is a gift for everyone who attends

When the thank you note arrived, Mimi Kashira knew she had made the right decision by accepting 12 last-minute registrations for Christmas Camp.

The note said this: “Mimi, words can’t describe how much we love all of you. You brought so much joy to us during our Christmas Camp. Thanks for accepting us. A huge thank you to all of you who welcomed us. May God make you happy and bring you peace all days of your life. Peace on earth.” 

The note was signed, “sincerely, the Saudi group”.

Mimi had just arrived at the camp in Westport, Ontario on Dec. 22 when she answered a phone call from a Saudi Arabian student who had picked up a Christmas Camp brochure that very day at the International Office at Queen’s University in Kingston.  Could he come? And could he bring some friends?

Mimi said yes, never dreaming that 12 students would eventually make their way to the camp.

“This has never happened before at our camp,” says Mimi, an Inter-Varsity staff worker in Kingston, On.  “Saudi students are one of the groups that it is difficult to get to know. But they left camp with a wonderful memory and a new image of ‘Christians’. I believe the seeds of the love of God that have been planted among Saudi students, and all the non-Christian students at Christmas Camp, will never go in vain. God will make them grow and bear fruit.”

Every December, Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship staff workers, their families and dozens of volunteers spend Christmas in a unique way.  They host Christmas camps across Canada for international students. This year camps were held in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Eastern and Central Ontario and Newfoundland.

More than 90 staff and volunteers helped run the camps which provided a Christmas home away from home for 228 international students.

Students came from all over the world: Russia, Pakistan, China, India, Burundi, Botswana, Brazil, Japan, Jamaica, Germany, Iran, Iraq, Kenya, Morocco, South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Ukraine, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Serbia, Nigeria, Colombia, Ecuador and, at the last minute – Saudi Arabia.

Giving up a traditional Christmas with family and friends may seem like a sacrifice to most Canadians. But staff and volunteers who host Christmas camps don’t see it that way.

“We can offer students one of the best times of their lives,” says Gerry Falk, who along with his wife Shirley, work with Inter-Varsity’s international ministry in Saskatoon, SK.

“We can spend a vacation with students, having fun, playing, learning together, building trust and friendship. We can live among them for several days and mirror Christ to them in so many ways.

“Yes, Christmas camp is a ton of work, but the thought of the bus arriving at the camp, watching with delight as students skate and set puzzles and play together, to see them hold the Bible for the first time and discuss things of God, makes it all worthwhile.”

Many of the students who attend Christmas camps are not Christians.  This year, belief perspectives included Muslims, Japanese Buddhists, Hindus and Chinese atheists. Christian activities at the camps, such as Bible studies and a Christmas Eve service, are optional, but often well attended.

“One of the Saudi students willingly agreed to participate in the Scripture reading of Luke 2:1-7 in Arabic,” says Mimi. “He never touched the Bible before. All 12 of the Saudi students attended, waiting patiently to see ‘what Christians do on Christmas eve.’”

Memorial University of Newfoundland staff worker Martin Mack has seen many seeds of faith sprout in the 16 years he’s been involved with Christmas Camp. “A couple from Sri Lanka has spent time in some of our homes after the camp and has expressed interest in coming to church with us.”

Post-camp connections with students bring joy to James Seibert, staff worker at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. “We have some students who are now asking to join ongoing Bible discussions.”

Steve Schalm, staff worker at McGill University in Montreal, experienced the same reaction from students. “McGill students expressed how special the camp was to them and how much it surpassed their expectations.  A non-believing student from McGill who came with me asked about follow-up opportunities in Montreal and wondered if he could join our scripture study in the new year.”

Says Mimi: “Many of us will never have the privilege to go to Saudi Arabia, or to Iran or Iraq to bring the Good News there. But God is gracious enough and is bringing students to us.” 

Serving those students at Christmas time is a gift – for those who offer it as well as those who receive it.

“One student from China shared how she expected to be lonely and uncared for when she arrived in Canada, but was very touched that Canadian Christians would go out of their way and give up their holidays to provide this experience,” says International Student Ministry intern Philip Chadwick. “Christmas camp was a great chance to deepen relationships with international students.”

Posted: January 17, 2011


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