After a quarter-century of shepherding Grace New Life Mennonite Church, Pastor Sririsach Saythavy—now in his late 50s and working two full-time jobs—is hoping a younger leader will arise to take on the Hamilton, Ont., congregation. His day job is making custom doors for homes, and his evening and weekend job is pastoring the congregation.
Already a pastor in Thailand in 1990, Saythavy was sponsored by a Christian Reformed congregation, along with other Lao people, to come to Canada that year; the denomination supported him to begin a congregation in Hamilton in 1991.
For a period of time, the church thrived, with about 80 people attending, but then Saythavy moved to Toronto to begin another congregation. It is often the test of a church plant to see if it can continue without its founding pastor, and within a few years, Grace New Life dropped to only four families, and its relationship with the Christian Reformed denomination had gone sour.
So a plea went out for his return. Which he did.
Through relationships with Lao pastors such as Kuaying Teng of St. Catharines Lao Christian Fellowship, Saythavy and church leaders made overtures to Mennonite Church Eastern Canada. Grace New Life became an emerging congregation of the area church in 2012.
The congregation has now rebounded to around 60, including children, with a potential for around a further 50 young adults in the community.
The congregation’s vision extends beyond Southeast Asian immigrants. Already the congregation is a mix of many ethnicities, including white Canadians. Services are currently a mixture of Lao and English, but Saythavy says he can see the day coming when it will be all English.
Saythavy’s passion, which is shared by church elders, is that “each visitor be touched by God’s love through the fellowship,” worship and preaching at Grace New Life Mennonite Church.
A celebratory 25th-anniversary worship service was held late in May 2016.