New toolkit will help churches reach out to refugees and be revitalized

“Like oil in an olive press, the pressure of the times can create a pure oil, a purer, deeper sense of what it means to be church,” said Mary Jo Leddy, paraphrasing Augustine’s City of God.

Leddy, founder of Romero House, a ministry to welcome refugees in Toronto, was speaking in March to a packed room of refugee sponsors, refugees and church members about current refugee policy in Canada and the power of relationships with refugees to revitalize the church, especially in communities where this ministry occurs.

The group was gathered for the launch of a new refugee workshop and online toolkit called “Journey with Me” produced by several Christian Reformed agencies and other refugee ministries.

Leddy opened the morning by speaking about the change in refugee policy and public attitudes towards refugees in recent years. “What refugees most need is for this country to be good, decent, just,” she said. She told of the beginning of Romero House, when the neighbours surrounding the house expressed fears that the presence of refugee claimants in the neighbourhood would raise crime rates and decrease property values. But when the neighbours and Romero House residents began to come together around potlucks and helping neighbours, the neighbourhood became more close-knit than before the refugees moved in. Similarly, Leddy said, it will take refugees to remind us of who we are called to be as the Church.

The 80 attendees then participated in the Journey with Me workshop, facilitated by Jeanette Romkema of The Lighthouse and Humberto Lopes of the Office of Race Relations. The interactive 90-minute workshop helps participants imagine the challenges refugees face in Canada today by using true stories of refugees. (The workshop is available free of cost on the Christian Reformed Centre for Public Dialogue’s website:

‘This one’s yours’
Part of the workshop sent participants into Scripture to learn about what the Bible has to say about welcoming the stranger. In response to 1 John 4:18, Jean Kooger of Covenant CRC (St. Catharines) observed, “It strikes me that in our culture of fear towards refugees and immigrants, this verse is telling us that love is the opposite of that fear.” Jean and her husband John have been active in refugee sponsorship for 35 years. Speaking about the beginning of their work with refugees, John said, “When [Leddy] talks about ‘getting the call,’ I get teared up because it was like getting cuffed up the side of the head – God was saying, ‘This one’s yours.’”

Nell DeBoer of Willowdale CRC said, “I well remember when we came to Canada and what that felt like.” She shared the story of her family’s arrival in Lindsay, Ontario from the Netherlands and “how much it meant” when someone offered her father a job, and the local United church welcomed them with used skates for the children.

“The longer I do this work, the more I see the connections between human trafficking and so many other issues like refugees,” said participant Michelle Brock of Hope for the Sold, an organization that works against human trafficking.

As the group talked about how to put what they had learned into practice, Victoria Shipmaker of Spring Garden Baptist Church (Toronto) commented, “Part of my role is to remember this when I go to vote.”

Leddy closed her lecture with a re-telling of the Parable of the Good Samaritan. “Churches nowadays sometimes feel more like the man on the side of the road,” she said, “and it is the refugee who says to the Church, ‘I need you to get up.’”

 A Prayer for Refugees
Almighty and merciful God,
whose Son became a refugee
and had no place to call his own;
look with mercy on those who today
are fleeing from danger,
homeless and hungry.
Bless those who work to bring them relief;
inspire generosity and compassion in all our hearts;
and guide the nations of the world toward that day
when all will rejoice in your Kingdom of justice
and of peace.
We pray this,
In the name of our God who shares divinity with us,
In the name of our God who shares humanity with us,
In the name of our God who unsettles and inspires us,
We give our praise and thanks. Amen.
From A Prayer for Refugees. The first two stanzas of the prayer are from


  • Danielle Steenwyk-Rowaan

    Danielle Steenwyk-Rowaan is a Host Connector with Open Homes Hamilton, a Christian ministry that supports refugee claimants by offering home-based hospitality in Hamilton, Ontario.

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