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Refugee sponsorship demonstrates Christian charity

November 30, 2017 No Comment

The refugee family met with the committee at Saint James Lutheran Church a few days after their arrival.

WINNIPEG – It began with a presentation from Canadian Lutheran World Relief (CLWR) on October 24, 2015—a heartbreaking presentation that included a film about a day in a Syrian refugee camp, and a talk by two Syrian refugees now living in Winnipeg. Six members of Saint James Lutheran Church attended the presentation and knew at once here was an opportunity to be a Good Samaritan like Christ.

The first step was gauging the congregation’s commitment to time and treasure in sponsoring a Muslim refugee family from Syria. The president of the congregation gave a talk covering several topics: the United Nation’s definition of refugee; the recognition that no one is a refugee by choice; that there are 400,000 refugees on the continent of Africa alone; that some refugees have lived in the refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya for thirty years and know nothing else; that CLWR provides aid to 149,450 refugees; and finally the plight of Syrian refugees.

The talk included the options and responsibilities of any group who sponsor a refugee family. It is inaccurate to say 100 percent of the congregation were in favour of the mission, but most were. We do not sponsor refugees because they are Christian; we sponsor them because we are Christian. After all, many Lutherans are themselves refugees from the Second World War or have parents or grandparents who were. Jesus was a refugee in Egypt when He and His parents fled from Herod’s wrath.

We struck a committee of twenty, relying heavily on a report completed by Trinity Lutheran Church (ELCIC) in New Hamburg, Ontario. Their report outlined tasks to be done and sub-committees required to complete those tasks. There were many questions refugees might ask that we might never have thought of: how does the bus system work, how do you get a health card, where’s the library, how does it work, and how do you get there? What about English as a second language classes and, of course, how do you shop for groceries? Trinity’s comprehensive report was invaluable in this preparatory work.

After determining sufficient support from the congregation, CLWR’s Tom Brook gave a presentation on the refugee process, the options and responsibilities of a sponsoring group, and the cost of sponsoring a family of four (approximately $20,000). We also learned of an anonymous Winnipeg donor willing to provide an apartment rent-free for a year.

It took a couple of months but the congregation came through with the required financial support. The congregation submitted an application to sponsor one family in particular: Hassan, Samia and Amal Alkhatab. Part of the Alkhatab family were already in Winnipeg, sponsored jointly by LCC Synod office staff, CLWR office staff, and ELCIC Synod office staff. St. James asked to sponsor the brother, his wife, and their daughter to join them.

While waiting for approval, the congregation began collecting furniture, clothes, and household items. Donations poured in and soon nearly everything needed had been collected. The months went by. The refugee committee chair kept reporting no news. And then, word finally came: the family would arrive in three weeks!

On March 22, after 26 hours of travel, the mom, dad, and two-year-old daughter arrived. A small group from the congregation (in order to not overwhelm them) met them at the airport along with their family, and after all the hugs, kisses, and tears, they were driven to their brother’s home where they spent the night in anticipation of their own residence.

The family loves their new home. Members of the committee are thankful to the Lord for giving them the will and the wherewithal to see this mission through. The first hurdle is cleared, and they look forward to the challenges and joys of the year ahead.


John Robins Sr. is a member of St. James Lutheran Church in Winnipeg.

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