All Ontario Youth Convention Sees Glimpse of the Refugee Experience

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“But I'll take the hand of those who don't know the way, who can't see where they're going. I'll be a personal guide to them, directing them through unknown country.” Is. 42:16 (The Message)

God’s promises found in Isaiah —to always be present, to be “Here,”— was the theme for the 2018 All Ontario Youth Convention held this past weekend at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont.  The convention, originating in 1975, continues to grow each year and aims to encourage and equip youth to learn more about God, themselves and how to be catalysts of transformation. 

Along with worship and workshops, the youth could spend time in prayer at the Stations of the Cross or in the Prayer Labyrinth.  To engage the youth with current global issues, World Renew,  the relief, rehabilitation, and development organization of the Christian Reformed Church, also works with the planning team each year.  At this 2018 convention, the agency’s Refugee Experience depicted those literally in an ‘unknown country’ and highlighted how Christians can be the hands and feet of God, helping those who need aid.  Moving in groups, 297 youth were immersed in sights and sounds that simulated a small snapshot of what a refugee faces. 

“We can quickly disengage from the refugee crisis, so we wanted to stimulate the senses through sounds and images as a way to become re-sensitized,” said Iona Buisman, manager of global volunteer programs  at World Renew.  “We hope that this experience, which is just a snippet and by no means gets to the complexity of a refugee’s experience, will stir up something in hearts and minds.”

Scenes were set up inside five separate shipping containers, donated by Dave Guichelaar of Go-Minis, to use for the weekend. The first scene had visual and audio recordings of the chaos in Syria, during and after attacks. The next scene focused on a single experience using a recording and image of a teenage Syrian boy’s story.  The third scene was a simulated border crossing where a border patrol asked the youth questions to determine if they could pass into his country.  After this, the group moved to the refugee camp scene where a woman demonstrated cooking and cleaning in typical camp living quarters. The last scene was a video about a young girl who had come to North America and was starting to talk about her experiences.  This video depicted the beginning of healing, a story of hope. 

“We wanted to make things uncomfortable but to also share stories of hope and how we can be story-changers,” Buisman explained.

World Renew also asked youth to consider the ways they could help people who are dislocated from their homelands. The youth responded with overwhelming interest and concern. Some youth asked if World Renew could come to their school and others joined together in a time of prayer. Youth were also given the opportunity to donate money for food supplies for refugees. Each dollar raised would be matched 4:1 by the Canadian government. At the end of the conference, they surpassed their goal raising a total of $6,079 CDN.  Once matched, this means $30,395 CDN of food will be sent to Syrian families currently in refugee camps.

About the Author

Krista Dam-VandeKuyt is a member of Kemptville CRC and lives with her family in Burritt’s Rapids, Ontario.