The Christian Reformed Church’s Office of Social Justice marked World Refugee Day on June 20, noting the denomination’s long history of helping settle refugees and immigrants in North America.
For Lois and Arlyn Glewen, working with refugee families goes back more than 30 years. In 1983 they worked with a CRC in Salt Lake City, Utah. That experience, said Lois, “along with our awareness of the plight of refugees in various cultures,” led them to prayerfully consider sponsoring refugee families in Michigan through Moline CRC.
The Glewens and participating members of Moline CRC are examples of the CRC’s ministry to refugees. A far cry from the original Dutch immigrants, current refugee families come from areas outside the traditional realm of the CRC.
Three of Moline CRC’s four sponsored families are Burmese, relocating here from Myanmar and Thailand.
“Bethany Christian Services contacted our missions committee, who then challenged our church . . . to sponsor a family by getting involved in various ways,” Lois said. “The farms and fields surrounding Moline reminds them of Burma.”
Moline CRC, in partnership with Bethany, has provided budgeting, transportation, and English as a Second Language (ESL) services for the families.
“This ministry is a wonderful way to help our people become aware of the needs and culture of those who were not brought up in such privileged circumstances,” said ESL teacher and Moline member Carol Smith. “You can never out-give God, and that is so true in helping these refugees.”
Moline CRC acts as an extended family for the families, hosting baby showers and shopping trips. Lois and Arlyn, called Grandma and Grandpa by many of the resettled children, note the successes of the families as they might their own.
“The first family that we sponsored was Dong Thang, Nuam Cing, and their son, Peter, a Burmese family from Myanmar who speak Chin,” said Lois. “Peter has just completed kindergarten at Meadowlawn Elementary school and continues to love school.”
The Moline congregation is one of many examples of how the CRC has extended itself as a supportive family for families looking for a new home.
“This ministry is important to our church, as it has given us a greater and wider awareness of another culture,” said Lois. “We have gleaned a greater vision of the church worldwide.”
Canadian CRCs have been engaged in refugee resettlement since 1979 through World Renew Canada’s participation in the private sponsorship of refugees program with the Canadian government.
World Renew helps with the application process to ensure that applicants meet eligibility criteria, follows up on the processing of applicants, and assists with their resettlement.
“Many Christian Reformed churches have been very active in refugee resettlement over the years,” said Rebecca Walker, refugee coordinator for World Renew Canada. “Churches provide the much-needed ‘hands on’ support when a family arrives in Canada, starting with greeting and welcoming the newcomers at the airport. Churches walk side by side with the family, helping them to navigate Canadian systems and culture. They provide support for housing, furniture, and other items as well as assist the refugee family with getting children enrolled in school, obtaining language training, and finding employment.”
She said churches play a vital role in responding to the many questions refugees have and in supporting them as they adapt to their new way of life in Canada.
Approximately 60 congregations have sponsored refugees over the years—some many times. World Renew also works with congregations from other denominations.
“After sponsoring a refugee or refugee family, many churches comment on what a positive experience it has been for them as well,” Walker said. “Not only are newcomers welcomed to Canada, but those involved experience the joy of serving others and God.”
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