by Debra Fieguth
The biggest refugee crisis since the end of World War Two has led to a huge outpouring of compassion. Canadian church organizations continue to be inundated with queries and offers to help Syrian refugees.
“It’s been non-stop,” says Serena Richardson, justice and compassion coordinator for the Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada. “It’s been really amazing.”
The C&MA was already active in refugee work. The denomination began in 2014 to encourage some of its 450 churches to sponsor those fleeing the Syrian conflict.
Like many evangelical denominations, the C&MA is a Sponsorship Agreement Holder (SAH), meaning it has an agreement with the federal government allowing it, primarily through local churches, to sponsor refugees.
Mennonite Central Committee and its five regional offices also have their hands full responding to requests from their affiliated churches. National migration and resettlement program coordinator Brian Dyck says the offices are accustomed to getting only occasional queries about sponsoring refugees. Now they get up to 10 a day. “And that’s the case in all the provincial offices.”
The wake-up call has also sparked an awareness of refugees from other parts of the world. In addition to bringing Syrians, church groups are also sponsoring people from Eritrea, Congo, Burma and other countries that have had protracted conflicts.
“People feel like they’re being called to minister rather than responding to a crisis,” says Dyck.
Canadian Mennonites have a long history with displaced peoples. Many came to Canada themselves as refugees from Europe in the 1920s and 1940s. And when the wave of Indochinese “boat people” arrived in 1979-80, MCC sponsored some 6,000 of them.
The C&MA has now hired additional staff to coordinate sponsorship in an umbrella arrangement with three other denominations: Associated Gospel Church of Canada, Fellowship of Evangelical Baptist Churches in Canada, and the Evangelical Missionary Church of Canada.
The attention the current crisis has gotten is an opportunity to reach out to those in need, whether Christians or Muslims, says Richardson. “God has shaken up the world and given us the chance to demonstrate his love and kindness.”
Besides sponsoring people to come to Canada, a long process that requires dedication and hard work, Canadian Evangelicals are also helping with the more immediate needs of food and other basic assistance to refugees overseas, especially in Lebanon and Jordan.
Some of the organizations working overseas to alleviate hunger and provide shelter are Canadian Foodgrains Bank, World Vision Canada, Samaritan’s Purse, and Food for the Hungry.
Debra Fieguth is a senior writer for Faith Today, and refugee co-ordinator for the Anglican Diocese of Ontario. This article will appear in the Jan/Feb issue of Faith Today, Canada’s Christian magazine. Buy three subscriptions of Faith Today for the price of one, now until Christmas.