CALGARY, AB (December 15, 2015) — Kensington Commons Covenant Church recently welcomed the Syrian refugee family it is sponsoring, and a group started by members of Hope Community Covenant Church in nearby Strathmore is preparing to receive another family.
Kensington welcomed the family of six, including four children, at the airport on December 1.
The church had become more intentional in following the Syria conflict about a year ago and began working with the government to increase funding for receiving refugees this past summer. In September, they submitted their application to sponsor a family.
“It seemed like an obvious expression of the Christian commission to care for the vulnerable and a participation in the larger Canadian commitment to help those in need,” said pastor Jeremy Duncan.
The United Nations Refugee Agency puts the number of refugees at more than four million.
The Canadian government reports that as of today it has received 196 Syrian refugees and expects to receive another 25,000.
The church has been working with the Mennonite Central Committee to be matched to a family. The MCC is one of the organizations that has an agreement with the government to help facilitate the process of government-approved refugee candidates.
The church has committed to provide social and financial supports to the family for at least a year.
“Syria is a middle-income country and so the West is not completely alien to the family, but they have been living in a refugee camp for a couple years and adapting to Canadian culture and practice will be a challenge,” Duncan said. “We are working to connect them with the Syrian community in the city and to appropriate Muslim faith communities to help with cultural adaptation. Language and workplace skills are a high priority as well.”
The church has made a financial commitment of approximately $25,000 to $30,000 to help resettle the family over the next 12 months, Duncan said.
“We are already looking into the possibility of sponsoring a second family, knowing that Canada has committed to bring in 25,000 Syrians for 2015 and an additional 10,000 for 2016,” Duncan said.
In Strathmore, the group Hope for Syria is preparing to welcome a family of seven refugees who have spent at least the past two years in a refugee camp, said Sally Carlson, Hope Community’s pastor of mission and ministries.
Church member Shelby Dwyer came up with the idea to raise funds to support a family and enlisted the aid of Carlson and pastor Glenn Peterson with the goal of becoming a broader community group.
In a segment broadcast by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Dwyer told the interviewer, “When you actually take a minute to picture what your life would actually be like if bombs were being dropped on your town and you had no choice to flee with nothing but the clothing on your back—I want to make a difference and I thought other people would as well.”
When word of the effort spread, some Strathmore residents raised concerns so the church hosted an open forum in September that was attended by about 60 people, some of whom voiced strong words of opposition. But others expressed their support and joined Hope for Syria.
In response to the lengthy TV broadcast and the forum, more individuals, businesses, and organizations also pledged their support. Several schools have held fundraisers. So far, the group has raised roughly $60,000, with the church committing a majority of the support.
Like Kensington Commons, Hope for Syria has worked through the MCC to connect the group with the family, which includes three generations. “They thought that would be an ideal fit for our small community because it can be a bit isolating when you go into a place and there is no one else who speaks your language,” said Carlson, who noted that one of the family members speaks some English.
Hope for Syria has been connecting organizations to develop various support services. They include the Syrian Women’s Club, located in Calgary.
Hope for Syria secured rental property for the family in the last several days, said Carlson, who expressed relief that it had been found in time for their arrival.
That date is uncertain. “They told us it could be in the next few days or it might be several months,” Carlson said.
Final visa approval and the availability of government-charted planes to fly the family and other refugees from Lebanon will determine when the family arrives. Carlson said the family has gone through an extensive vetting process during the more than two years they have been in the refugee camp.
The Strathmore community has suffered an economic downturn due to a struggling oil industry, which has led to layoffs. “A lot of the pushback has been why aren’t we helping our own before bringing people from across the ocean,” said Carlson
She added, “We’ve been made aware of needs we have here that we wouldn’t have otherwise known about. It’s been an eye-opener.”
The church is now looking at ways it can increase its participation with others in the community to help provide support to local residents.