What is God calling us to do about the Syrian refugee crisis?
That important question has been preoccupying the cathedral’s Missions Committee since September when we saw heart-breaking images of Syrian refugees fleeing a cruel civil war. Bishop Edwards issued a call to action, asking every congregation to respond in some way.
We have prayed about it. We know Jesus was a refugee himself. His family fled to Egypt ahead of Herod’s soldiers. We know the Bible tells us to love our neighbours — and our enemies. Jesus tells us to welcome strangers. Paul urges us to offer hospitality to sojourners.
As a committee, we think it is right to open our hearts to help Syrian or Iraqi refugees. It’s what we ourselves would want if a catastrophe struck our country, and we were fleeing bombs destroying our families, homes, businesses, our hopes and dreams.
But what to do? First, globally.
Through the weekly notices, we have been urging you to donate to the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund. PWRDF has been assisting refugees for decades. They have offered food, water, shelter, health care and counselling to families who escaped to Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon.
Since September, PWRDF has received $170,000 for its work overseas. Until the end of December, the federal government will match donations dollar for dollar. The Missions Committee has sent money from our own budget. We urge you to do the same if you can. A cold winter is coming, and the refugees in those camps need your help more than ever.
Second, locally. The committee has been fact-finding. We’ve been reading sponsorship handbooks, monitoring the media and talking to people. We’ve attended meetings of the Refugees Welcome organization and the Multicultural Association of Fredericton. We have spoken with actual refugees who are living in New Brunswick.
The main message they had for us was this: Yes, there are millions in United Nations refugee camps waiting for a miracle. But they are not numbers. They are people, and fully half of them are children. They are in a state of limbo – they can’t find meaningful work or go to school or build a future. All they want is a chance to be productive and get their lives back, in a peaceful place.
We have contacted other local churches — Baptist, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, United — to find out what they’re doing. Some are already raising money to sponsor a refugee family; some are studying the options, costs and risks; and some are struggling to combat fear and prejudice.
This is especially true since the massacres in Paris. But the people waiting in UN refugee camps are Muslim families fleeing conflict, not jihadists looking for more violence. They will undergo stringent security screening and health screening at the camps before they are approved, and again when they reach our shores.
We will count on the authorities to scrutinize thoroughly. And we refuse to live in fear. God is in control, and we have faith, trust and hope in Him.
If we want to get involved as a congregation, there are numerous options. Sponsoring a refugee family privately is a challenging, costly, slow process (probably a year) for any one congregation. It requires establishing a separate committee of about 10 to do considerable paper work and fund-raising and to arrange for accommodations, furnishings and resettlement assistance as the family transitions to life in Canada.
It’s very hands-on, and we would be responsible for them for one year. The cost to look after a family of four, for example, is about $28,000.
It would be quicker, easier and less expensive if we partner with an experienced organization which is already a Sponsorship Agreement Holder with the federal government. The Atlantic Baptist Convention has told Bishop Edwards that Anglican parishes can apply under the Baptist sponsorship agreement.
The workload of raising money, dealing with logistics, getting the family into school and language classes, would be shared. A family could be here within three months of application. And there’s a way to arrange it so that the federal government would pay half of that $28,000 annual cost for a family of four.
Our archdeaconry has asked if any area parishes are interested. We have talked with St. Margaret’s Anglican church which is looking for other parishes to help them sponsor a family. They think an alliance with the Baptists, using its sponsorship agreement, is probably the way to go. We have met local Baptist pastors who welcome an ecumenical approach, as does our bishop.
On the other hand, we could forgo sponsorship and wait to see whether a cohort of refugees arrives at Camp Argonaut soon. We could help those people. The Multicultural Association is already offering training courses for volunteers, and it needs interpreters, housing, furniture, clothing, jobs and friends for the families who will stay in our area.
In addition, those families will have relatives back in the camps who did not ride the first wave. Some will be seeking sponsors to bring specific family members here. It makes sense to reunite a family, but it’s another challenging, costly, slow process. And Ottawa does not share the annual cost with sponsors.
So, given all the options, what is God calling us to do about the Syrian refugee crisis? Pray? Give to PWRDF? Partner with other Christians to sponsor a family? Wait to see what’s needed if people come to Camp Argonaut? Rescue somebody’s cousins later? None of the above? All of the above?
The Missions Committee really needs to know what you think. What are your ideas, recommendations, concerns? We especially cannot proceed down the sponsorship road, alone or with a Christian partner, without knowing that the church is unified in its response.
Will enough people be eager to serve on committees, give money, donate their time, offer goods and services, and stand alongside these newcomers as friends and mentors over the long haul? With no strings attached?
Some members of the Missions Committee are here. Would you please stand? (ID them) Please share your questions and thoughts with us after the service today. Or, there’s some bright yellow paper and pens in a basket at the back so that you can leave comments. Your feedback is really important so that the dean and members of Bishop and Chapter can make an informed decision about what to do.
Now I will close with a brief prayer for refugees that our committee has been using. It’s borrowed from the Church of England. Let us pray.
God of compassion,
whose own son experienced life as a refugee,
we remember those fleeing from danger,
hungry and afraid, with nowhere to call home.
God, we ask for them warmth, security, food and peace.
God of hope,
we thank you for those who are working to bring relief and
comfort to those displaced,
showing glimpses of grace in the darkness of despair.
God, give them strength.
God of justice,
guide the nations and the leaders of the world towards peace,
stir hearts to be generous and compassionate.
God, help us to play our part in bringing about the change
that we want to see. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Christ Church Cathedral Missions Committee – 22 November 2015