Sunday, March 29, 2009


We have an American pastor coming to candidate at our church for a lead position. From the deep south. Since I'm an American who has lived in Canada for all of my adult life, I shudder to think of the huge learning curve and culture shock he will encounter as he begins to minister among people who look like him but are fundamentally very different in so many ways.

What would I tell him?

Please, please, please, educate yourself about this country before you come. Even though Canada is the USA’s largest trading partner, many Americans know very little about it. Canadians resent that. Canada is NOT “a lot like the USA.” Read “A Look At Canada” and memorize the answers to the citizenship questions. Even though you aren’t becoming a citizen, it provides critical information for you to know if you are going to minister effectively in this country.

It reminds me of the example of the Apostle Paul throughout 1 Corintians 9, especially verse 22: “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.” Living outside my country of birth has given a wonderful perspective on what is good about America and what might need some sober second thought.

What follows now is one woman’s view as an American-born dual citizen in both Canada and the USA. Here’s my layman’s understanding after living here 28 years:

While the USA is a melting pot, Canada is a mosaic. It never gets hot enough here for it to completely melt together. Canada honors, values and promotes multiculturalism, not assimilation. We have hyphenated citizens: French-Canadian, Dutch-Canadian, Chinese-Canadian, ad infinitum.

Canada is not a Christian nation. It was not founded on the principles of freedom of religion, though it is “guaranteed” in our Charter of Rights (1982). Recent rumblings in the press have questioned whether certain individuals should be dismissed from certain government positions because they were Christians. Freedom of conscience for doctors is under fire. Freedom of speech for religious leaders is jeopardized by pending “Hate Crimes” legislation.

Canada is part of the British Commonwealth, and besides the obvious multilateral cooperation between 53 member countries, they also consider the Queen their head of state. The United States kicked Great Britain out of their country around 230 years ago. The idea of pledging “To be faithful and to bear true allegiance to the Queen” still troubles my red, white and blue roots.

Both federal and provincial governments are parliamentary democracies. You can only vote for your local representative. The party members select their leader, he/she becomes Premier (provincial) or Prime Minister (federal) if his/her party ends up with the most elected representatives. I know that’s very simplified but there’s so many more issues to cover…

I grew up in the Midwest where “God and Country” were breathed almost as one. The attitudes in the two countries about the military and patriotism are so different, you might as well place them at the opposite poles. Some Canadians are very anti-American. They hold the position that they will be and do anything other than what the United States would be or do. I remind myself on a daily basis that for followers of Jesus, our citizenship is in Heaven. National boundaries are man-made divisions, huge barriers to overcome when dealing with spiritual and social issues.

Canada is a country of two official languages. Though only about 25 percent of the country speaks French, primarily in Quebec, it would be a mistake to treat this as a novelty. This isn’t just about language, it’s about way of life and the question of the sovereignty of Quebec. The divisions and differences in worldview between French and English are so deeply ingrained that there is no possible parallel upon which to draw in the United States. Read “The Two Solitudes” by Hugh McLennan to get an overview of the tip of the iceberg.

Because Catholicism had such a societal hold, the educational system by necessity includes both Public and Separate (Catholic) systems. Both receive public funds. While private and charter schools exist, they are only given limited public funds. Alberta is unique in that they provide for limited reimbursement to registered homeschoolers for some of their educational expenses.

No law on abortion exists. The previous law was struck down as unconstitutional. No other proposed legislation has ever been passed.

The movie rating system is more lenient in Canada and is determined provincially, not federally. Broadcasting is governed by the CRTC, and one of the “Public” radio/TV networks, the CBC is primarily funded by the government.

On the upside:

Canadians are quite polite. Helpful. Generally good-natured and as diverse from coast to coast as if the five primary regions were themselves different nations. It is a breathtakingly beautiful land. Alberta herself is a glittering jewel. Her mountains and rivers have been the inspiration for much of my poetry. Calgary is a sparkling city and hosts the highest percentage of American expatriates as any city in Canada. Calgarians are exceptionally helpful. 71% participate in some form of volunteering (2005 Ipsos-Reid survey).

The skiing is world-class, the hiking and other outdoor pursuits rival any nation, anywhere and if you get the right gear to keep you warm (from innovative Canadian companies), your life will never lack for recreational pursuits, no matter what the weather.

Our banking system rates tops in the world. Seriously. The news this morning reported that of the "top 50 safest banks in the world," all of Canada’s banks are on the list. More Canadians use debit cards and ATMs per capita than any other country. Of the largest banks in the world, by assets, four of Canada’s banks are in the Top 10. I also heard on CTV, but was unable to independently verify, that no Canadian bank failed in the Great Depression.

Our health system. Wow. This is an area I have no knowledge other than my personal use of the system. But I love going to the doctor and never pulling out my wallet. When my son lay critical in his hospital room for several days, I didn’t have to worry about how I was going to pay for his medical bill and multiple CT scans. It is not a perfect system, but I have benefited greatly.

All this to say, welcome to Canada. It’s diverse, it’s beautiful, it’s challenging. Just like the human race. Please don’t make assumptions, treat her as you would want to be treated. Learn about her, learn to love her. Love without conditions. Give without expectations.

Do that, and we’ll get along just fine. ☺

Anyone reading this that spots errors or has other significant issues to contribute, feel free to comment, politely, as Canadians do...

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