Christmas in a new land

“When will the snow melt?” asked Phillip Weah anxiously, bewildered by two snowstorms in a week – the first two snowstorms in this Liberian refugee’s life.

“Oh, around Easter,” he was told, but it wasn’t the answer he expected or wanted to hear.

Cold, snowy days are taken for granted by longtime Canadians, but newcomers find the weather amazing. On the positive side, Phillip is seeing outdoor Christmas trees and the exteriors of houses brightly lit for the festive season. This, too, he finds astonishingly beautiful.

He is proud to show off his Christmas tree – another first – to visitors to the family’s cosy apartment. The cathedral congregation donated an artificial tree, all the lights and several boxes of beautiful ornaments.

Philip, Esher and Catherine

READY FOR CHRISTMAS – Phillip Weah visits his wife, Esther Gmah, daily in hospital. Daughter Catherine, holding a cheerful teddy bear, told her about the decorated Christmas tree which she is eager to see. She hopes to be home for the holidays.

Catherine Gmah, Phillip’s step-daughter, squealed with delight when she saw the tree and enjoyed decorating it. She caught on quickly. “Not enough,” she announced, pointing to a shortfall of the sparkly garland, which was soon remedied.

It’s fun to see her smile. This year has been full of upheaval. In July the family left a refugee camp in the Ivory Coast to fly to Canada where a warm welcome awaited from several parishes in the diocesan archdeaconry of Fredericton. Still, everything was new, different and often difficult for them.

Currently, Phillip is attending English classes daily at the multicultural association. Thanks to help from church volunteers, he has learned to buy groceries with a debit card and to ride the bus around the city. He was proud to earn some money by raking leaves a number of times at Christ Church Parish Church.

Catherine is attending Fredericton High School, where she is concentrating on learning to read and write. She loves music and joined an African dance group at the multicultural association. Unlike most teenagers, she does all the cooking for the family as well as most of the laundry and some of the cleaning.

Philip and Catherine

MERRY CHRISTMAS – Phillip Weah and Catherine Gmah pose proudly after decorating their first Canadian Christmas tree. The tree, lights, ornaments, Santa hats and the teddy bear were donated by members of the cathedral congregation.

Her older brother, Arene, is also attending FHS, but has had trouble adjusting to schedules, structure, appointments and rules, all of which were unknown to him while living in a refugee camp. He is receiving counselling.

Their mother, Esther, has had the toughest time. In poor health when she arrived in Canada, she has been hospitalized since September, undergoing treatment for numerous infections. Not having Esther at home has been hard on the whole family, but she has made good progress lately. It is hoped that she will be discharged in time for Christmas and can start English classes next year although ongoing physiotherapy will be part of her schedule, too.

Phillip, whose father was a pastor, has worshipped at St. Margaret’s, St. Mary’s York, Parish Church and the Cathedral so far, but he says that he and Esther want to visit all the churches that have helped them financially and prayerfully. A man of deep faith, he is more than grateful for the chance to come to Canada which can offer many more opportunities to his family than the refugee camp.

Please keep them in your prayers this Christmas and in 2017 as they transition towards independence, and please know that they pray for all the people in the parishes helping them.

Ann Deveau


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