“… and open your homes to strangers.” Romans 12:13
The experience of fleeing war and revolution, as well as being newcomers to Canada, is central to the 20th-century history of most families in our congregation. Whether they came directly from Russia/Ukraine or from Germany, or by way of South America or Mexico, here they were “United” with their Mennonite brothers and sisters and that helped them assimilate into Canadian society.
The resettlement of northern European Mennonites in North and South America was facilitated by Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), an international organization of peace, relief and development “in the name of Christ”.
Now MCC is recognized as a Sponsorship Agreement Holder with the Canadian government and provides assistance with paperwork and training when Mennonite churches seek to welcome other newcomers to Canada.
Through MCC, our church sponsored a Vietnamese family in the late 1970s/early 1980s. A generation later, the present Sponsorship and Settlement Committee was formed in response to a crisis of displacement in Colombia. Members of our church helped resettle two families from that country in 2003 and 2007. In 2013, we celebrated the arrival of a family group from Iraq. Currently, we are involved with an extended family from Syria, some of whom arrived in 2016, with the others following in 2018.
Refugee sponsorship is fun and rewarding, but also a lot of work. There are always going to be setbacks and the process will not go smoothly, yet it is the kind of work that can inspire passion and a vision for what is possible when people want to make something happen. On a practical level, successful integration depends on a number of factors, such as: job opportunities, location of housing, health, education, and availability of transportation.
The need for refugee sponsors is great, and MCC is always ready to help match churches with families who are already pre-approved by the Canadian government* and ready to travel within just a few months. The budget for newcomer support amounts to about $24,000/family for the one-year commitment. (Donations to the church “refugee fund” are properly receipted for income tax purposes, and expenses are accounted for in our year-end report.) Regarding social support, the greatest need when newcomers arrive is for volunteer drivers (for everything from shopping to medical appointments), and after that, for employment assistance.
The Sponsorship & Settlement Committee itself is not static; it forms anew for each new sponsorship and then dissolves, with some members continuing from one project to another while others retire. Expressions of interest in joining the next group of participants are welcome, as are financial contributions to the cause.
* Please note that, as things stand at the time of writing (Nov 2018), Niagara United Mennonite Church can only apply to sponsor refugees who have already been approved for resettlement by a Canadian visa office abroad and are on a list that is available to us through MCC.
– written by Greta Wiens
To contribute financially to our refugee sponsorship and settlement, please click here.
To contact our Sponsorship & Settlement Committee (Refugee Affairs), please click here.