Churches Face Changes in Refugee Policy

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“The dentist sat on the floor in the waiting area and played with the kids so that they would feel comfortable with him. I could not believe what I was seeing,” said Mary Van Es.

Van Es and her husband, John, had recently helped their church, Community CRC in Kitchener, welcome a family of Eritrean refugees. But because the Canadian government recently cut some health care funding for privately-sponsored refugees, the extensive dental work the three children needed would have to be covered by the church.

“There are times I get upset when we are once again told that this family does not qualify because they are privately sponsored,” said Van Es. “But God was already thinking, ‘Watch me.’”

Soon after learning that the church would be on the hook for expensive dental bills, a dentist approached Mary Van Es at church and offered the children dental care. It wasn’t until later that they received the estimate for the work.

“The amount was zero dollars and the provider was himself. I was shocked. That’s not all—the [staff] in the office asked the kids to look under the Christmas tree. There were several gifts under it. Two gifts for each child. Mom received a card with a department store gift card.”

Rose Dekker of World Renew, who had arranged this sponsorship and many others, has been following the changes in refugee policy and the medical profession’s uproar over it carefully.

She explained that World Renew warns churches about the unexpected expenses they could incur because of the cuts. So far, no churches that she deals with have been on the hook for large bills, but she is concerned that one day a church could sponsor a refugee who is later diagnosed with cancer or another such disease and that the astronomical medical bills for things like chemotherapy medicine could bankrupt the church.

Dekker and a Mennonite Central Committee worker have often met with their member of Parliament about the situation. Dekker is also active in the Canadian Council for Refugees, a coalition of groups that speak up for refugees in Canada.

“Canada boasts about our private sponsorship program abroad,” said Dekker. “And yet these cuts have not been overturned.”

Privately sponsored refugees are sponsored by individuals or churches from a pool of refugees approved by the government. They are separate from refugee claimants, who arrive at Canada’s borders seeking protection and then apply for protection once in the country.

When asked why she continues to do refugee sponsorships, Mary Van Es responded, “Every time we see God, and that’s what keeps us approaching the deacons. It’s not about ‘saving’ people. We feel we’re working for God.”

About the Author

Danielle Rowaan is the CRC’s Justice Communication and Education coordinator.

See comments (1)


Kudos to Kitchener Community CRC for deciding to dispense the grace of God.  This story is yet another illustration that Christians, including in the CRCNA, can do the work of Christ without the government providing all the answers and and all the money.

At the same time, one of the article's seeming primary points is the Candadian government really, really should recommit its money to funding these refugees' needs, as if "private placement" means private-but-really-funded-by-the-government-placement.

Sure, we can all wonder about what would happen if there was cancer or any number of other things.  At the same time, I recall in the days of my own childhood when no one had medical insurance, and yet we and everyone in our community survived.

In my own city, Christians from various traditions (churches) have been operating a free, open six days a week, medical clinic for years now.  The non-profit created for doing this almost entirely uses volunteer doctors, volunteer nurses and volunteer non-professionals.  Great for those who use the clinic, but also great for those who volunteer (as for the dentist in this article).  Many years ago, my own church sponsored two refugee families from southeast Asia (post-VietNam war) and there was no government back-up.  Yes, people can do these things sans an all-powerful, all-taxing government, all -decidion making government.  Mary Van Es is very much on to something when she says, "But God was already thinking, 'Watch me.'"