In November 2014, at the EFC’s annual President’s Day gathering, denominational leaders gathered from across Canada and voiced their deep concern for the displacement and forced migration of millions of Syrian refugees fleeing unimaginable horrors of war and the cruelty of ISIS.
Many of these leaders, burdened to act, were already taking steps to enlist their individual denominations and churches in Middle Eastern refugee sponsorship. They also recognized the importance of a unified Canadian evangelical voice, and requested the EFC draw up a joint “Statement of Intent” for Middle Eastern refugee sponsorship that communicated to Canadians and the Canadian government their collective commitment to action.
This statement was hand-delivered by EFC President Bruce Clemenger, along with a number of denominational leaders, on April 21, 2015 to the minister of immigration at the time, Chris Alexander.
Since November 2015, things have moved at quite an accelerated pace. Canada has seen the arrival of 39,671 refugees from the Middle East. Government and settlement agencies significantly increased available staffing and hours to process and welcome our new neighbours by the deadlines promised, as did evangelical churches.
Broken down by categories, here are the total number of Syrian refugees who have arrived in Canada since November 2015, according to government sources:
|Government Assisted Refugees (GARs)
|Blended visa office-referred refugees (BVORs)
|Privately sponsored refugees (PSRs)
For churches, it was an organic task to open their hearts and pockets to those in need. Church communities came with a built-in and ready ability to welcome, provide resources, community, emotional support, and to help stabilize these traumatized families in their new homes. This experience – of welcome into community – is very different from that of many Government Sponsored Refugees, and the relationships established are likely to continue far beyond the official one-year commitment sponsors make to their refugees. They often become part of the church “family”.
So exactly how many refugees were sponsored by Canadian evangelical churches since 2015?
These totals, reported by denominations affiliated with the EFC, represent refugees who have already arrived in Canada from Syria and the Middle East in the years 2015, 2016 and so far in 2017. The table also includes the applications submitted so far in 2017 and expected to arrive this year:
The denominations that signed the Statement of Intent represent about five per cent of Canadians. We estimate the number of refugees sponsored by evangelical churches represents 19 per cent of all Blended Visa office-referred and Privately Sponsored Syrian Refugees who came to Canada between November 2015 and January 2, 2017. Proportionately, that is almost three times as many as our numbers – demonstrating our concern and commitment to help. A substantial number of these were within the Private Sponsorship Program.
Canadian evangelical churches have been a significant part of the Canadian Middle Eastern refugee sponsorship story, helping to provide new homes and lives to many displaced individuals, and, importantly, the often-overlooked but essential element of “community”.
While we applaud the fact that Canada fulfilled its initial commitment for 2015/16 for Syrian Refugee sponsorship, we are eager to know what is ahead in 2017. As of January 2, 2017, there are 17,912 refugee resettlement applications (individuals) still in process, and another 1,993 with finalized applications are still waiting to make the trip to Canada. Evangelical churches have already submitted 957 applications for this coming year, and it is only January.
As evangelical Christians, we have every reason to be proud of how we have answered the call to welcome sojourners, strangers and foreigners (Leviticus 19:34, Deuteronomy 10:19). Moreover, as Canadians, we can celebrate the fact that our Private Sponsorship Program is one that other world leaders are looking to as a model.
However, there is still much work to do. According to the UNHCR, the total number of registered Syrians who are listed as “persons of concern” is a staggering 4,863,684 (updated 19 Jan 2017).
As the one-year commitment of support ends for many of the initial 25,000 Syrian refugees who arrived early in 2016, many are asking if we have done enough to help our new neighbours prepare for independent life in Canada. Regardless of the official commitment of one year, we know many churches will continue to support these families and individuals as needed.
And what about you? Maybe one of these practical ideas might inspire you:
- Ask your local church, refugee sponsorship leader, or denomination what is most needed, and volunteer to gather needed items.
- Take a Syrian or Iraqi family member for coffee, or if there are children, invite them for a play date. Besides the sense of welcome, these moments will help them in their efforts to learn English.
- If they are struggling to learn English, volunteer to teach.
- Arrange for a “meal exchange.” One meal at your house where you cook your favourite meal and one at theirs where they share theirs.
- Find out what kind of work they are seeking, and help find applicable available employment.
- Finally, write to your local Member of Parliament and the Department of Immigration, Citizenship and Refugees. Thank them for all they have done so far, and encourage them to continue to increase the numbers for approved sponsorship.
Regardless of political, ethnic, and religious differences, and of the challenges that can come with them, we welcome. We remember how we too were once “foreigners in a foreign land.” Many of us have our own family stories of immigration, only a generation or two back. We have not forgotten.
And what of our “spiritual immigration”? We all were strangers to a father-hearted God who, regardless the difference and distance between us rescued us from peril and unconditionally welcomed us in our need.
It is because of our Father God we continue to answer the call to welcome.
This is the first in a series of three posts in our One Year Later Series.
Author: Anita Levesque