In conversation with Rev. Joseph Kiirya, River Jordan Ministries


Rev. Joseph Kiirya

Rev. Joseph Kiirya


Could you tell me about your childhood? Where were you born? Is there anything about your childhood that stands out for you? Was there any person or persons that influenced your childhood the most?

My mother is Kenyan and my father is Ugandan. My parents were officers of The Salvation Army. I was born and raised in Kenya after my parents escaped from the tyranny of Dictator Idi Amin in the 1970s. My parents ran to Kenya for safety after Idi Amin banned operations of The Salvation Army in Uganda. Escaping from Uganda as a child quickly exposed me to the reality of adversity, and finding shelter in a foreign country (Kenya) introduced me to the beauty of diversity; this was my greatest childhood lesson. My childhood was largely influenced by the work of The Salvation Army, I saw a Christian organization concerned first and foremost with the felt needs of people. I saw them devote resources to alleviate the plight of underprivileged and marginalized populations. The Salvation Army served people irrespective of their religious affiliations, race, gender and any other factors. The Salvation Army’s slogans like “Heart to God and Hand to Man” or “Saved to Serve” inspired and modeled me and my faith construct.

What is your educational background?

I studied Business Administration, Computer Programming and Theology.

Could you describe your day-job?

My typical day involves a combination of any of the following: i. Prayer ii. Personal preparation for speaking engagements and/or meetings iii. Board and/or community meetings iv. Courtesy calls, Follow-ups, Networking or new relationship building v. One-on-One Counselling with individuals and families vi. Teaching sessions Tuesday night, Friday night and Sunday morning vii. Travelling for conferences and speaking engagements in North America and overseas viii. Spending time with my wife and three children

 You are best known in Ottawa as the pastor of the River Jordan Ministries. What made you decide to go into evangelical work? Was there an incident in your life that motivated you or was it a gradual process?

When I immigrated to Canada, like any other immigrant, I was faced with the following questions: i. What was I going to do? ii. What was I going to be? iii. What was I going to contribute to this new society? These are question everyone needs to ask themselves at a certain point in life. I began to explore initiatives that I would contribute to; through this explorations, I realized that many of the immigrants I met were disillusioned, discouraged and disappointed by their prospects in this country. This stirred a passion within me to journey with immigrants and see how I could inspire them to make the most of the opportunities available in Canada. I thought of being a Counsellor, Social Worker or Religious Minister.  Through much prayer, soul searching and tutelage of Bishop Jacob Afolabi, I felt a very strong push towards religious ministry and that’s how I enrolled at St. Paul University to study Theology.

Can you tell our readers about the River Jordan Ministries? What have been your successes and what have been your challenges?

We have focused our efforts on the following programs: i. Supporting New Immigrants to start well and transition quickly in society: a. We connect and refer new comers to available community resources within the city b. We provide life coaching and career guidance to youth and younger immigrants c. We support parents particularly single mothers with resources to help them succeed ii. Community Involvement: a. We partner with community organization like Somerset West Community Health Centre b. We encourage our members to participate in civic activities c. We foster a commitment to volunteer and serve others within the community iii. Unity of the Church: At River Jordan Ministries we strive to foster unity among the different churches in the city. This we have done through intentionally building relationships with others churches and my active participation in city wide initiatives like: a. Love Ottawa b. International Pastors and Leaders Forum c. Global Day of Prayer d. The Big Give iv. Spiritual Growth: We help people grow and deepen their faith in God. We help people understand that God is a loving father who has their best interests at heart, He is for them and not against them. We help people to keep going on inspite of their struggles in life, we give them hope and assurance that God’s grace is sufficient and that God He knows and loves each of us. Our efforts have yielded great results that I can’t find space to enumerate in this interview. i. We have seen new families established because we supported them along the journey ii. We have guided many youth to a meaningful and productive future iii. We have established great relationships with community organizations iv. We have raised awareness on community concerns like Safety, Health and Finances v. WE have supported communities affected by tragedy like the Kenyan community vi. We have contacts with our City Council through our own City Councillor Keith Egli vii. We are building a mentorship program for at-risk-youth in partnership with City Council viii. Our church members volunteer and help candidates of choice during election period ix. We have inspired members our congregation to stand as candidates in elections x. We have been an active catalyst of unity among ministers and ministries in the city 3 Our greatest challenge is funding. All our operations require finances, our own facilities alone cost us over $5,000.00 per month to rent. We don’t have any agency or grants to fund our services. It is the people we serve who sometimes contribute. I am personally not paid for my work. But all is good.

 One of your Facebook comments was a complaint about beer being sold in grocery stores in Ontario. How do you reconcile your religious beliefs with the very “liberal” approach to morality in Canada e.g. the legalization of same-sex marriages and the proposal by the new Federal government to legalize marijuana?

Liquor in a grocery store is like a night club in a residential neighborhood. True, the Government has a social responsibility to accommodate various aspects and interest groups of our communal life, but these provisions need to be properly regulated. I have a spiritual responsibility to speak into social structures that are set up without appropriate considerations of how they impact the rest of society, particularly the younger generation. It is irresponsible to place a mind-altering substance like alcohol in grocery stores, that is a bad precedence. Beer has traditionally been sold in designated liquor stores, that in my opinion is responsible merchandising; but Beer in grocery stores is pushing the buck too far.

Your church has been very involved in promoting awareness of HIV/AIDS among the city’s African, Caribbean and Black population. Why did you choose to focus on this disease, as compared to other diseases such as diabetes and sickle cell disease, where we are equally at risk?

I got involved with HIV/AIDS because of the erroneous assumption among many members of our community that HIV/AIDS does not exist in Canada. Very few organizations speak about it, as a result very little is known about HIV/AIDS. I wanted to use every platform to sound the alarm. HIV/AIDS is the one epidemic which is not only fatal but could spread in great numbers within a very short time; silence does no good; on the other extreme, the stigma attached to HIV/AIDS makes it impossible for people to come out to test, yet, because one is not tested, one misses access to treatment and will potentially infect others, that is why our awareness campaign is critical. I have spoken about Diabetes, it concerns me, when I host HIV/AIDS events, I always have a Diabetes Awareness Desk.

Looking at Canada’s black population, there seems to be a divide between African and Caribbean communities, on the one hand, and Anglophone and francophone communities on the other. Do you agree with this perspective and if so, what can be done to remedy this divide?

I personally believe this divide exists structurally within a communal framework largely impacted by the reality of our history, however, the reality of this divide on individuals is negligible. I have personally made efforts to belong and to feel comfortable in the larger Canadian society. Yes, there is and there will always be prejudices and biases, but, hey, we live with these divides and prejudices right from our own countries of birth. Tribalism is a divide that makes people of one tribe not open to people from the other tribe, and we see tribalism in every country in Africa. Personally, I have chosen to work hard to belong and to embrace the whole as opposed to the summation of individual pieces of Canadian society.

 Over the years, have you seen any change in the status of the black population in Canada? Are we any better off now than say, ten or fifteen years ago? Do you note any differences between progress by black women compared to black men?

There has been progress in the black community with individual people making steps upwards particularly because of the Legislated Employment Equity Program. I have seen a number of personal  acquaintances rise to positions beyond what would have not been possible years ago. Ontario in particular has made some steps in having representation of visible minorities in its cabinet. Canada provides opportunity for all irrespective of gender and I have seen a number of black women make great progress and take a shot at rising up to their fullest potential. Ontario’s Premier should be credited for her 2014 initiative to provide employment opportunity targeted specifically to those who self-identified as black women. Black women are sometimes limited by the time they devote to raising their children particularly single mothers; nonetheless, there has been remarkable progress in the status of black women. It is however unfortunate that recent appointments to federal cabinet positions by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau completely ignored the reality of the black community in as much as the black community generally favors the liberal party; that said, the progress of black women in recent history is noteworthy with people like Hon. Michaëlle Jean serving our country as Governor General.

 There are some segments of our community which claim that black men do not respect black women and vice versa. They suggest that we tend to defer to other races when we interact with them, especially white Caucasians. Do you agree with this perspective?

I don’t agree. We have people who strongly believe in and take pride in the ACB community to the exclusion of everything else; we also have people who are open minded and would cherish relationships outside of the ACB community. In our times, people are substance-minded and don’t really care if you are black or white, like Michael Jackson would say “if you’re thinkin’ of being my brother, it don’t matter if you’re black or white” that is my position on this issue.

 Looking at the Black population in Canada, what do you see as our greatest challenges and how do we resolve them? What are our strengths?

Our greatest challenge is the black youth who are not optimizing the opportunities available to prepare them to be competitive in future. I spend much time meeting black youth one-on-one, I am currently involved in establishing a mentorship program for black youth in response to the gangs and guns epidemic in our city, through my encounters with these young people, most of them are either are not in school, have no jobs, have trouble with the law or simply don’t know who they want to be in future. This position does not give promise to a demographic striving for emancipation. The rest of the black community in most cases finds it easier to cry foul play or cry victim instead of strategically positioning ourselves for incumbent and incoming opportunities. We must come to an understanding that opportunity must meet preparation to produce value. For example, the black community has one of the lowest voter turn outs in any political election in Canada; this stance renders our community impotent in the minds of the very politicians who will be making decisions that affect us.

 Finally, do you have a message for readers of Black Ottawa Scene?

The key for our community is to remain optimistic – knowing that our best days are ahead of us. I see great potential within the ACB community. Individuals, community organizations, churches and other faith organizations, media outlets, community champions like yourself, Sarah Onyango and others, are all working hard to improve the prospects of our demographic. Three simple words “Don’t give up”.

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  1. I think this article is great in so many ways. It gives awareness of some of the problems the ACB community is facing yet I see how God is using people like Joseph and others to rectify those same problems. I pray this stirs up others to see the many challenges and strive to make Ottawa a better place. I hope to see more articles like this of the many other stories that need to be told. Thank you!!

  2. This is a great article. It’s really insightful and helped me better understand some of the cross-cultural challenges in Ottawa.

  3. Joshua Kyaligonza Rwolekya March 14, 2016 at 8:00 pm - Reply

    I must say that this is an explicit of your commitment and involvement to the society you live in. by ensuring that the Community have someone to guide them when they get overseas such as the Canada. Reading your first paragraph where you narrate your background of your early childhood, and having witnessed what you just said , indeed humbles me when i realize that you would still remember anything like that, for you were young then, but it is amazing the humble statements you made and these are true. I wish many would read this!!

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