Video course helps churches ready a trauma-friendly welcome for refugees

24 May 2022
What should Canadian church communities do to welcome newcomers from Ukraine? Trauma care, especially for children, is the first major task, says Brian Stiller, a global ambassador for the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA).

“You live 50 days in a subway as a bomb shelter and you don't see sun for 50 days,” he says. “That's going to have a searing effect on your mind and spirit.”

One way the WEA is addressing trauma care is through its Peace and Reconciliation Network, coordinated in North America by Phil Wagler of Kelowna, B.C. He recently partnered with Ontario trauma therapist and professor Brenton Diaz to produce a seven-session video course called Trauma-Friendly Church. It concludes with a Zoom Q&A on May 31.

The course aims to teach Canadian church communities both the spiritual and practical dimensions of communal trauma care, with an eye toward equipping them to welcome refugees fleeing violent crises. Wagler and Diaz hope to refine the course and offer it again in a few months, but the most recent course videos are still available. For more information or to access the videos, send a message at

The number of refugees coming from Ukraine to Canada is uncertain, although it may eventually number in the hundred thousands, according to Immigration Minister Sean Fraser.

Effective trauma care for such refugees should be a high priority for churches, says Wagler. Recalling similar crises in Rwanda and elsewhere, he’s concerned about the collective effect of “hatred and bitterness” that understandably “settles into the soul of the people.” And he’s convinced that since the invasion of Ukraine is a “communal trauma,” an effective trauma response needs be communal as well. This is where churches come in.

He’s careful to note that while church members indeed need to learn the practical skills of trauma response, that training depends on a deeper foundation. “It’s both a skill thing, but it’s actually a heart work,” he explains. “It’s already having shifted the heart, and in some degree, [shifting to] a deeper, broader theology that understands the shalom of God, the kingdom of God” that enables church families to welcome refugees well.

Diaz, who taught in Ukraine in 2018 in the aftermath of the Donbas and Crimea conflict, emphasizes the psychological effects of violent conflict. In the first video of the course, he reminds viewers that even though refugees “come to Canada, where it’s safe, we’re not in a wartime setting here,” they often feel “like every day that they are still in that war back home.”

Later in the video, Diaz raises the question the course will lead people through: “How do we speak God’s love and healing into their lives, and create a setting where they can heal?”

Wagler gives a manageable, practical example of how his own Kelowna church is seeking to answer that question – committed mentor families, especially for refugees who don’t already have relationship networks in Canada to rely on.

“Being a mentor basically means be a friend to help somebody figure out the landscape,” he explains. “Have them over for dinner. Just answer questions. Have some fun. You don’t have to be an expert.”
Author: Matthew Neugebauer is a summer intern at the EFC

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