The Alien within Your Gates
Canadian churches open doors to refugees
By Marijke Strong
The crisis is undeniable: today, more than 65 million people around the world have become refugees due to social instability and political violence. It is a greater number than at any other time in history, and half are children. Between 2015 and 2016, Canada welcomed 35,745 Syrian refugees and plans to welcome even more in 2017. Most of these men, women, and children have suffered unspeakable trauma and loss. Their jobs, their homes, and, in many cases, their families are gone. They are aliens within our gates. What is our Christian response?
As I have visited RCA churches across Canada I have discovered congregations answering that question faithfully and creatively.
“One point of contact led to another,” says Jim Moerman, pastor of Home Church Langley (RCA) in British Columbia. “We were put in touch with First CRC in Vancouver, which is next to a new refugee welcome center. They have a staff person who works with British Columbia Immigrant Services Society, so we invited her to come and speak with us. She explained the difference between financially sponsoring a refugee family and relationally supporting a government-sponsored family. We were ready to relationally support a family (which meant no cost to us) and the staff worker was eager to help. She trained our volunteers and helped us form a team. Now we’re waiting to be assigned a Syrian family through the BC Immigrant Services Society. That family will be arriving any day!”
Home Church is no stranger to refugee support. In 2008, the church sponsored a Karen (Burmese) family in a story that continues to this day. The family of 15 (including 13 children) quickly integrated into the life of the church and, Moerman says, they all went through many highs and lows together. Now the older children have steady jobs, and one has started university. Recently two of the children became Canadian citizens through the congregation’s assistance.
“It has made us a stronger church,” says Moerman. “It has made us a better church. More people-aware. It’s not just, ‘Are they like us?’ But we really see people all around us now. The family has also brought so many gifts to our community. They have given us opportunity to serve and be served.”
Westdale Reformed Church and Drayton Reformed Church in Ontario are also among those who are opening their doors to refugees. At Westdale, a very determined small group is spearheading the initiative. Drayton is sponsoring a family through World Renew.
With my Christmas tree just barely packed up, I can’t help thinking about the Nativity story, in which a displaced Middle-Eastern family was turned away from the inn and later fled to Egypt to avoid persecution. And I am proud to know that RCA congregations across Canada are opening their doors. Our churches are taking seriously the call of Leviticus 19: “When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God” (vv. 33-34). This theme is echoed in Deuteronomy 10, where God is described as the one “who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing” (v. 18). The implications for us as the people of God are clear: “You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (v. 19).
So how do we do it? I have to admit that when I think about supporting refugees, I immediately worry about my limited time and resources. Thankfully, there are many ways to respond to the crisis—enough to match every ability and availability. Here are a few (more can be found on the RCA refugee resource page:
- Pray. Include the refugee crisis on your personal, family, and congregational prayer list. Start with a prayer and discussion guide like “Stand alongside Syrian Refugees,” available through World Vision.
- Welcome. Sponsor a family through your congregation or through a network of friends and neighbours. World Renew offers an excellent sponsorship package with step-by-step instructions for Canadians.
- Give. Share your time, talents, and treasure to help refugees. For example, volunteer at an English as a Second Language (ESL) program or host one through your church. (See the sidebar for one church’s story.) Cook a meal for your local refugee welcome center. Or donate to the RCA refugee crisis fund at www.rca.org/refugee.
- Advocate and inform. Watch the news. Follow campaigns like #WeWelcomeRefugees or #BlessingNotBurden on social media. Increase your congregation’s awareness by watching our webinar series on the refugee crisis.
- Partner. Join with churches in your city or with other RCA congregations across Canada to meet refugee needs. Consider supporting RCA missionaries who work with refugees. Partner with World Renew Canada or World Relief Canada.
In the end, whatever our availability, our resources, or our social and political preferences, we are called to be a people who welcome others just as Christ welcomed us (Romans 15:7). If there are strangers within our gates, let us welcome them until they have become friends and citizens. Let us welcome the aliens until there are no aliens left.
Contact Marijke Strong, executive secretary of the Regional Synod of Canada (firstname.lastname@example.org or 905-527-8764), or Jennifer Lucking, RCA missionary (email@example.com), for more information on how you and your church can become involved in refugee support in Canada.
Marijke Strong is executive secretary of the Regional Synod of Canada.