Full of faith and enthusiasm, David Benjamin boarded a train and headed to Bhutan to do ministry at seventeen years old. Two months later, he was back home in India feeling like a failure. The problem? “I was ill-prepared, in a totally new place. I didn’t understand the language, culture, and so many things. I left there so disappointed.” It was in Calgary, 30 years later, when God used this short, disheartening episode to begin something new; helping refugees bridge communication and relationships between cultures.
“It was in 2008 that a friend from Bible School days asked if we could visit Bhutan together. We met some pastors from the underground church in Bhutan, who referred some refugees to me who had just arrived in Calgary. We started doing ministry with them.”
“We soon realized that the youth and young adults were facing immediate issues because faith practices and spiritual challenges here are so different from what they are used to. They needed help figuring out how to apply their faith in a new context.”
“Just like me 30 years earlier, they were not prepared,” says David.
Out of this need, came the first Fusion Conference in 2014 for South Asians living in Calgary. The conference organizers are passionate about Christ and work among youth and adults, encouraging them to seek Christ in community. Discipleship must be at the core of such a community that can grow together and serve together. Along with this, the conference organizers delve into topics like exploring cultural conflicts in relationships including marriage. Some young refugees have lived their whole lives in camps, and have had little opportunity to learn decision-making or how to look after money, for example. Fusion assists with some of these practical needs too. “We want to help them on their journey in Canada.”
The conferences were held annually at River’s Edge Conference Centre. However, they offered mini-series on ZOOM several times during the last two years. FCC is an initiative of Yeshu Mandli (where David Benjamin is pastor), with partners including Inter Varsity, uTurn Project, East Edge, Centre Street Church, Rock Pointe Alliance Church, and Calgary Kingdom Network.
Participants must be recommended by a local church. At each themed conference participants come together to worship, listen to inspirational speakers, practise applying Scriptures, attend practical hands-on workshops and have fun during team building activities and games. It is a time intended to spark interest, challenge thinking, awaken, encourage, and inspire. Along with this, some are given opportunity for skill-building by taking part in leading and planning aspects of the conference. A few have gone on to organize conferences where they are. “We hope our participants will leave the Fusion conferences having gained collaboration and networking skills – new people they can journey with. And that they will be challenged to look for how they can bless others and invite others to follow Jesus.”
In 2015 they began providing additional sessions for adults. With online capabilities they have seen the potential for providing Fusion conferences abroad.
Nicole Jones-Qandah, Director of EMCC World Partners, participated as a facilitator at the 2021 Fusion Conference held on Zoom. Here is what Nicole says about her experience with these conferences:
“It was a unique privilege to share online alongside theologians, teachers, and practitioners across Southeast Asia. Perhaps more unique was to personally connect with young professionals across India and Bhutan who were asking key questions about how to use their talents, create community, and live in cities and contexts where faith in Jesus is unknown. It was encouraging to discuss, pray, and discern together what an integral gospel approach can offer amidst the questions, challenges, and opportunities brought up throughout the conference.”
David Benjamin is Pastor at Yeshu Mandli (Jesus Gathering), Calgary, AB. David holds a masters in Global Leadership from Fuller Theological Seminary.