Choose Welcome

New Canadians grateful for a ‘year with no bombs'

On Sept. 20 at Bethany Community Church in St. Catharines, Ont., many voices spoke compellingly about one theme: Choose Welcome. Presented in partnership with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and World Renew, as well as other Christian organizations, the evening featured several presenters, including author Ann Voskamp, who spoke about her journey with refugee sponsorship. 

An opening video by Crossing Borders highlighted the stories of newcomers who had been caught up in war, displacement and the trauma of becoming refugees. One girl commented that she had grown up in war, but didn’t know it actually had a name. She had to look up the word war to discover its meaning. A young man talked about all that had been stolen from him and his family, but he acknowledged that the one thing that was most precious to them – their lives – hadn’t been stolen.

At the video’s conclusion, 14 newcomers to Canada – a Crossing Borders Team made up of students from Waterloo Collegiate Institute in Waterloo, Ont. – walked on stage and dramatically expressed their hatred of war, finishing their presentation by declaring: “It is time to put an end to the war machine! We will all work for peace!”

Children of God
Moses Moini, MCC Ontario Refugee Program Coordinator, said that since 1978 when Canada’s Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program was established, Canadians have repeatedly stepped forward to sponsor refugees. He encouraged the audience to see a son or daughter of God behind every refugee profile, and to become involved in private refugee sponsorship.

There are more forcibly displaced people in the world today than at any time in history, Kaylee Perez, Refugee Sponsorship and Settlement Associate of MCC Ontario, shared with the audience. According to the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR), 25.4 million refugees live in the world today. Less than one percent have a chance to resettle in a new country. Perez pointed to the merits of Canada’s Blended Visa Office Referred Program, a program that matches refugees, already cleared for resettlement by the UNHCR, with private sponsors in Canada. The private sponsors financially support the refugees for six months and the government is responsible for the other six months of the one-year commitment. The private sponsors also offer emotional and social support to the refugees.

Hoda Al-Obaidi, Program Assistant for Refugee Resettlement at Canadian Lutheran World Relief, shared her story of fleeing her beloved Iraq as an eight-year-old in 2003. Hoda and her family were victims of United States President George Bush’s Shock and Awe campaign, initiated because of the perceived threat of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. Hoda and her family fled to Syria and then to Jordan. Later, the family was accepted for resettlement in Canada. Urging the audience to choose welcome, she said, “Often we don’t care until something forces us to care.” 
Ann Voskamp rounded out the evening of passionate voices by sharing stories of her family’s sponsorship of Syrian refugees. She highlighted the privileges and joys of private refugee sponsorship. 

One year after Voskamp’s sponsored family arrived – “One year of no bombs! One year of not eating grass to survive!” – the children were enrolled in school. Now the girl is dreaming of becoming a doctor and has stopped asking Voskamp if she is going to die from an exploding bomb. The mother has established her own business, and began teaching 20 women how to prepare shawarma, a traditional Syrian food.

Voskamp challenged the audience with penetrating questions: “Why not have some compassion and let them in? Why build higher gates when we can set out more plates?” 

In our current global refugee crisis, Voskamp asserted, we can’t claim neutrality when we belong to the kingdom of God. Christians embrace “a theology that is expressed in our hospitality,” she said. Since heaven came down to earth to let us in, we are compelled to choose welcome. In a world where many people feel like “human nothings,” she said, people of compassion are showing up. “We will breathe hope!” she added.

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