Karina Cowan
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When Carol-Anne Foty retired from her career as a Pharmacist, she found new ways to meet the needs of people in her community. Finding a connection to Stonegate Ministry, a collective of organizations working to provide for the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of the Humber Bay/Etobicoke area, Carol-Anne got involved with the Great Finds store.

 Great Finds offers high-quality, gently-used items for the entire family. While meeting these practical needs of those who shop at the store, the staff and volunteers are also intentional about offering more than just the products on their shelves. Every second and fourth Tuesday of the month, a team provides prayer for a variety of customers and volunteers at the store. What the staff and volunteers of this prayer team couldn’t have predicted, is the connection and blessing that would follow for one particular family, who had become regular customers. 

In February 2016, Said Esmail and Jehan Belal, along with their two young sons, moved to Canada as a government sponsored Syrian refugee family. The following month, the family accessed to the resources at Great Finds. “Because their two sons (9 and 6 years old) gained fluency in English better than their Arabic speaking parents, we could not get much information about what they needed until recently,” Carol-Anne explained. “This summer, the father, Said, suffered a badly broken leg in a construction accident and was hospitalized for 2 weeks, needing surgery. Jehan and Said (in a rented wheelchair) came into Great Finds asking for some medical items, which we didn’t have. Since they were now on welfare, it broke my heart to find out they were paying $90.00/month for the wheelchair, and had numerous other medical expenses that they simply could not afford.”

Motivated to break through the language barrier, Carol-Anne arranged for a volunteer translator, Sulafa, who herself was a refugee from Sudan, to join the family for a meeting at Great Finds. Together, they were able to get all the information necessary to link the Belal/Esmail family to other resources provided by Stonegate Ministry, such as the ministry’s benevolent program, offering $50.00 of free purchases per month, and access to the food bank at Christ Church St. James (CCSJ). Thankful for the help and support of all the players that joined forces to help their new friends, Foty noted, “it is exciting and so encouraging to see God’s hand at work and His presence within the meeting of like minds and hearts!”

The connection between Carol-Anne and the Belal/Esmail family goes further than access to network connections though. “Our relationship is growing and they enjoy our fellowship”, she said. Journeying through the ups and downs of life, Carol-Anne and her husband John, along with the support of their home church, Christ Church St. James, have become community for Jehan and Said. “They now come to Messy Church, and Said, now healed from his leg injury so well that he no longer uses a cane, has come to worship services several times on his own. He especially enjoys attending the monthly men’s breakfast. Their youngest son has had some health issues that have kept the entire family from being able to participate at the same time, but I do still see them regularly as I help them get to and from the food bank in this terribly cold winter.”

God has been cultivating this sort of ministry, melding the practical and spiritual, within Carol-Anne for many years. “When the door is opened or the idea is planted, I sometimes wonder, ‘is it just me? Am I just trying to spin wheels and do stuff with my own motives?’ But the team has been put together by the Lord, with precisely the right timing and everything! It’s His work, I just get to participate.” It would appear that neither God, nor Carol-Anne, nor the team supporting the many aspects of this relational ministry are done yet. Another young man, Tewelde, originally from Eritria but now a Canadian citizen since 15 years, called the church to inquire whether they support refugees. His hope was that CCSJ would help sponsor his sister’s family (6 individuals) who are in a refugee camp in northern Ethiopia, fleeing persecution. When asked what her reaction was, Carol-Anne responded, “my heart leaped! There is a growing sense of expectancy for what new things the Lord is bringing about to reveal Himself to folks who are in desperate need.” Because of the faithfulness and her ministry partners, CCSJ was able to say “yes” to Tewelde, and ultimately say “yes” to participate in God’s Kingdom work. Sponsoring this family of 6 is not a guarantee, and will likely be a several year process, but Carol-Anne is hopeful that this is the Lord’s leading. “He had been seeking a church to aid him for over a year, and everyone passed him by. We are in a position to help, we have a team that are willing and and it just feels right.” Like Jehan and Said, Tewelde has been attending regular worship services at CCSJ and meeting parish members each time.

From providing high quality, low cost clothing to supporting refugees, Carol-Anne and her ministry partners are trusting in God to do the real work of transformation in the lives of those they meet. God’s plans are bigger than we could imagine. Step by step, little by little He is opening doors that they didn’t even know existed, and looking back on this new ministry journey she’s been on over the last year or more, Carol-Anne has learned a lot; “It’s such an adventure! Working with people in great need, I’ve seen a lot of hurt, but all I can do is try to be an example of Jesus to them. I’ve stopped trying to fix them, which I think was my mentality in all my years as a Pharmacist. But to put it all in God’s hands, is certainly to give God glory, praise and thanksgiving for His constant mercy, provision and intervention in our lives!”