Recently I had the privilege of meeting Rev. Arthur Salim again after more than 19 years. In 1997, he and his family were rescued from certain death through refugee sponsorship facilitated by World Renew and Bethel Christian Reformed Church in Waterdown, Ontario. Pastor Salim now has his own congregation in Brampton and his son is also preparing for the ministry. At the time of his rescue, his family had fled their home and was hiding in another part of Pakistan while sponsorship details were being put into place, including the necessary approval from the Canadian Embassy in Pakistan.
That was then. The truth is that the situation for Christians in Pakistan has deteriorated even more now. A number of Pakistani Christians have made it to Canada after having their homes and neighbourhood churches burned down. Their persecution was obvious and urgent. Yet many more have fled Pakistan with no hope of return – looking for safe haven in any refugee camp they can find. Pastor Salim has personally visited hundreds of Christian Pakistani families who are at this very moment trying to survive in refugee camps in Malaysia, Thailand and Sri Lanka. During my tenure with World Renew Cambodia (2008-2013), I became close friends with two Pakistani Christian families, also unable to live in their homeland.
In recent conversations with Pastor Salim, I can’t help but feel that we as a Christian community are neglecting our Pakistani brothers and sisters. What I mean is that we are passing them by much like the victim on the side of the road depicted in the parable of the Good Samaritan. By leaving the response to someone else, are we not ignoring them, as the Levite and the priest did? Their need is urgent and we can no longer walk on by.
While I am sincerely grateful for the large number of CRC churches in the process of helping or sponsoring Syrian refugees, I am urging for a greater focus and response in the face of the needs of our brothers and sisters in the faith. Some Christian Syrian refugees are currently being processed to settle in Canada. Though I do believe we should have an open process, it appears that the Christian refugees are having a much more difficult time in camps and in the refugee selection process. Secular groups and governments are showing preference for non-Christians. In addition, the Muslim-Canadian community here in Canada is pushing hard to help Muslim refugees only.
Therefore, we make the case that Christian churches who are beginning the sponsorship process now should favour sponsoring Christian refugees. The apostle Paul encourages us to do so in his letter to the Galatian church: “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Gal. 6:10).
Pastor Salim and I share a vision: we dream of Christian refugees who have fled persecution forming Christian communities across Canada connected with locally-established churches and working together effectively to bring the gospel to their Muslim neighbours. We would like to see local groups or small churches in every community in Canada where there is a concentration of Muslims. Pakistani Christians know Islam very well. They know the errors and the misunderstandings in Islamic teaching and many speak their language. They know the talking points and the uncertainties that Muslims face daily because of their religion’s system and practices.
Please consider if your church could sponsor a Christian family from a refugee camp in Malaysia, Thailand or Sri Lanka. Help us build a strong Christian presence among resettled refugees in Canada. Many refugees in their home countries do not have the freedom to explore a Christian faith. Here they have the opportunity; there is greater openness and desire to know more about Jesus. Many of us are in a position to help overseas Christians; this will not only save lives but may help, in future, save souls on Canadian soil.
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