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Ottawa’s Pastor Joseph Kiirya Receives City Builder Award for Modeling Christ’s Love Among Immigrants

November 1st, 2016 Posted in From Dianne

Local Feature -Congratulations to Ottawa’s Pastor Joseph Kiirya of River Jordan Ministries who received the City Builder Award in September for his outstanding service to Ottawa’s immigrant population. We’re grateful for the way you represent Jesus to our city!! Thank you.

kiiryaAs an immigrant from Uganda, Joseph Kiirya remembers the challenges of settling into Canada. His empathy for newly arrived immigrants spurs him on in his role as Senior Pastor at River Jordan Ministries and it has not gone unnoticed. On September 14, 2016, Mayor Jim Watson awarded Kiirya the City Builder Award in recognition of his work over the past decade.

“Many people settle in and just forget the experience,” Kiirya explains, “but for you to remember the experience you went through and see how best you can help others going through it, I think that’s why [the city gave me] the recognition.”

Ward 9 City Councilor Keith Egli says Kiirya is “a mentor and a counselor to his community. He is engaging with the youth in the community and is a positive role model for them. I often describe his church as small, but mighty in taking on the positive, proactive role it does. Ward 9 is lucky to have him and his congregation.”

Mentoring Others

Kiirya is distressed by the number of young black men who find themselves in trouble with the law. He especially sees the vulnerability of youth and newcomers, and he refuses to opt for inaction.

“We can reach out to them, show them how the system works, and encourage them to live by the rules.”

Many of these youth come from single-parent households in low-income neighborhoods. Kiirya explains, “There are very few fathers available for these young people, [so] I try to be their father.”

Kiirya says just by being there for the young men, it turns “potential problems into potential promises.”

Fredrick Mubiru exemplifies the power of Kiirya’s transformative work.

As a newly-landed Ugandan immigrant, Mubiru had no family or network to help him adjust. He didn’t know where to start or who to turn to for help, but a friend introduced him to River Jordan Ministries. Kiirya took Mubiru under his wing and provided him with emotional, spiritual, and practical help.

“I am what I am today because of what Kiirya poured into my life.”

Kiirya became a father figure to him: teaching him to drive and paying for his driver’s test, referring him to school and work, connecting him to community networks, and counseling him on marriage and parenting.

“Personally I call him ‘Papa.’ He’s almost like my dad because when I do something that I shouldn’t do, he chastises me,” says Mubiru. “When I do something that is worthy of praise, he praises and encourages me.

“My integration into Canadian society was very quick. Within two years, I graduated high school, I knew how to speak English, got a job, and learned how to drive.”

Now a pastor at River Jordan Ministries, Mubiru gives back by mentoring other young men.

“I am what I am today because of what Joseph poured into my life.”

Supporting single mothers

Kiirya is also keen to assist immigrant single mothers.

“They’re in a new country, maybe they’re not working. Even if they are working, they’re in minimum-wage jobs. Maybe they have to do two jobs, just to make ends meet.”

Gang violence and crime compounds their hardship, as their children often get caught up in the wrong circles. The issue is very personal to Kiirya as he has presided over the funerals of young men whose lives were lost to gun violence.

“Because these mothers are in my church, they are in my sights directly,” he says. “I just do anything I can do to make sure these mothers are supported.”

Kiirya’s love for the people of this city is evident through his work.

When asked of the award’s impact, he says, “This recognition brings an encouragement to many people who are doing little things. It is huge for them to know that the city is watching and what they do matters and makes a difference.”

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By Esther Kwan, Special to Spur Ottawa

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