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British Columbia Churches Provide Chaplain for Refugees


A “what-if” conversation about refugee sponsorship last fall led to the recent appointment of Dena Nicolai as refugee chaplain and community mobilizer in Vancouver, B.C. Nicolai will provide spiritual support for newcomers as well as connecting and supporting Christian Reformed churches seeking to welcome refugees.

Her position comes with the endorsement of the local classis (regional group of churches) and widespread support in the churches.

Nicolai, a member of First CRC in Vancouver began her work in March. “Dena is absolutely the right person for such a time as this,” said Peter Roukema, a member of Willoughby CRC. “She has rich experience with refugees, particularly people from the Middle East, and she is able to converse in Arabic.”

Prior to studying at Regent, Nicolai spent four years in the Middle East, based in Cairo, serving as the coordinator for students in a study-abroad program through the coalition of Christian colleges. In 2013 she visited Lebanon and Jordan with World Renew and the Canadian Foodgrains Bank to assess and report on the growing Syrian refugee crisis at that time. 

Nicolai will be based at the soon-to-be opened Refugee Welcome Centre. The center, run by Immigrant Services Society of B.C., will house up to 138 government-assisted refugees. The Canadian government is committed to accepting thousands of refugees over the coming years.

Nicolai sees the place of the church in the unique Canadian landscape of public, private, and blended sponsorships as a “holy opportunity.”

“We as Canadian Christians have the gift of worshiping and living in a peaceful nation, and we now have the opportunity to respond in gratitude and with generosity to this gift by welcoming refugees fleeing homes that are no longer safe,” she said. “My prayer is that in this position, I can offer spiritual and pastoral care to refugees passing through the Welcome Centre—many of whom may be encountering a Canadian Christian for the first time—before sending them on into the supportive circles of churches, who can then be the presence of Christ as they offer the relational and community support that is so needed for true welcome and integration of newcomers into Canadian society.”

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