Refugee Advocates Encourage Churches to Take Worldwide Focus

While Christian Reformed congregations have been stepping up to sponsor Syrian refugees, Rebecca Walker, refugee coordinator for World Renew in Canada, says it is very important to remember the millions of other refugees that have been waiting to be resettled.

“There definitely is a huge upsurge in churches wanting to take some kind of action,” Walker said. Her office has received more than 120 new inquiries from churches interested in beginning a private sponsorship process. However, Walker said the requests from all the sponsorship agreement holders across the country looking to sponsor Syrian refugees outnumber the government-referred cases that have only become available on a weekly basis since the beginning of January 2016. 

At the time of writing, Walker’s office had 69 applications in process, 18 of them representing Syrian refugees and the rest from other countries in crisis including Sudan, Eritrea, Myanmar, Pakistan, and many other places.

“A lot of churches call and say they really wanted to sponsor a Syrian, and when I would explain about the global refugee crisis with many people in the world waiting for resettlement, most churches would say ‘Oh, okay, then we want to sponsor anybody who’s really in need.’”

Two of those churches include Living Hope Christian Reformed Church in Abbotsford, B.C., which welcomed a Sudanese family in December, and Jubilee Fellowship CRC in St. Catharines, Ont., which just last week welcomed a family displaced from Eritrea.

This is the ninth sponsorship for the St. Catharines church, whose refugee committee got into action again last March when a compassionate church member approached them about the growing Syrian crisis. “We were looking and hoping for a Syrian family,” said Anna Bailey, a member of the committee. “We saw many profiles from other countries though, with narratives that told heartbreaking stories and displayed desperate need to begin a new life in Canada, so we [chose] a family from Eritrea.”

Bailey said Jubilee Fellowship CRC has sponsored a different family once every five years or so. “We generally commit to helping a family until they’re very well acclimated to life in Canada and in our community, and then we rest and rally to begin another process.”

Welcoming the Jael family to Abbotsford was also the most recent of several past sponsorships for Living Hope CRC. “As deacons we felt a strong desire to sponsor another family, and so I started looking at . . . that,” said Kevin Veenstra, the church’s refugee support coordinator. “We as a group decided that sponsoring a young family would be good, as we are a church that could support a family. We also decided that it would be good to have a family from South Sudan as there is a strong Sudanese community in Abbotsford and another family in our church from South Sudan.”

Walker is one of many voices advocating for a wide approach to refugee resettlement. In its list of suggested actions for Canadians wishing to sponsor or assist Syrian refugees, the national refugee advocacy organization Canadian Council for Refugees’ number one piece of advice is “Consider refugees from other regions.”

“The concern for us sponsoring groups is we do not want the rest of the world forgotten,” Walker said.

About the Author

Alissa Vernon is a news editor at The Banner.