A Spanish-language church service gives agriculture migrant workers a new home

A new Spanish church service has started at Christ's Church on Niagara on the Lake.

'They say they now have a home,' says Rev. Javier Arias

St. Alban's Anglican Church hosts a Spanish-language service every Sunday evening at 6 p.m. (Javier Arias )

Niagara region's Anglican church has launched a second Spanish-language church service to meet demand from the areas growing population of migrant workers.

A Spanish language service has been run in Beamsville for the past 4 years, but starting last weekend, there is a second service available in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Rev. Javier Arias of the St. Alban's Anglican Church says it was necessary to expand share his Spanish-language services  and he convinced the diocsece to do so.

They say they now have a home.- Rev. Javier Arias 

"Javier approached me last summer about bringing the Spanish service here," said Rev. Dorothy Hewlett of Christ's Church in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

"It was a no-brainer." 

Christ's Church opened its doors to the Spanish-language service on Saturday, Mar. 10.

"I saw it as a reaching-out opportunity," Hewlett said. "Jesus said to reach out to those neighbours who are lonely, hungry, and lost."

After service, socializing and support

The first service brought in a handful of workers, Hewlett says. Although she expects the numbers to grow once the weather becomes warmer.

Between migrant workers from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and the Caribbean, Arias estimates nearly 4000 agricultural workers live within the Niagara region. 

A Colombian immigrant himself, Arias believed having a Spanish-language service was much needed within the community.

Arias started the St Alban's Spanish-language services back in 2014, with a group just shy of 20 migrants farm-workers Arias says.

Now, four years later the numbers have grow drastically.

"We have nearly 80-120 workers come every Sunday at 6 p.m.," Arias said.

After the service the workers are welcome to socialize with their friends over a hot dinner, go to the medical clinic, or participate in English lessons run by the church. 

There's a new energy in the church and theatmosphere.- Rev. Dorothy Hewlett 

However, due to the growing numbers in the region, Arias says many told him the service was difficult to get to.

"Some of the workers in Niagara on the lake approached me and said they wanted to come to Beamsville for the service but it was too far for them to travel to," Arias said.

"It was easier for us to find a church closer to them instead of making them drive to Beamsville."

St. Alban's and Christ's Church have collected nearly 600 bikes over the past five years as part of their Bikes for Farmworkers campaign. (Javier Arias)

Arias says the most important factor about offering the Spanish-language service is bringing the workers together.

Away from families

"They say they now have a home to come together and receive support," Arias said. "Which is very important to them when they leave their family for seven to eight months. So it's very important to offer these services and give them time to chat and have a warm meal after the service."

Arias says he's happy with the results of the Spanish program but hopes it expands over the years to come.

"Our dream is to cover all areas in Niagara where migrant farm-workers are," Arias said.

For Hewlett, the act of lending a helping hand and  providing a space for those who need one is a feeling she'll never get over.

"There's a new energy in the church and the atmosphere," Hewlett said. "When we feel we're needed and able to help it's a neat feeling."

Church collects bikes for workers

In addition to the services, Arias says St. Alban's and Christ's Church are collecting bikes for the migrant workers.

"We've given out close to 600 bikes since we started the program in 2015," Arias said. "We are desperately looking for more bikes to donate."

Arias says donations are welcome to be dropped off at either church. Arias or a volunteer would be happy to pick up the bike at a convenient location.

"Our bike program allows the workers to come to the town to buy their groceries and meet the local people."