Recently we were exposed to the shocking photo of lifeless Alan Shenu wash up on the shores of Turkey; a young Syrian boy whose family fled their home as refugees because of civil war. Since the unrest began in Syria in the Spring of 2011, there have been over 11 million Syrians displaced and over 4 million refugees in the surrounding countries.
The C&MA in Canada has been working on this crisis for three years by supporting relief efforts in several Middle East countries and by encouraging our churches to engage in refugee sponsorship. We are encouraged that even before the photo of little Alan and the massive movement of Syrian refugees last week, fifteen of our churches were already in the process of sponsoring refugees. Another 35 of our churches are in dialogue with us about the process; many are at the point of forming teams who will lead a sponsorship resettlement.
Here are some highlights of initiatives we have been and continue to be involved with:
- We have been a Sponsorship Agreement Holder (SAH) with Citizenship and Immigration Canada since February 2012, encouraging Alliance churches to engage in refugee sponsorship.
- We have supported Syrian refugee relief in Lebanon, Jordan, and with the Alliance church in Damascus over the last 2 ½ years.
- Joanne Beach traveled to Lebanon and Jordan in December 2013 to visit refugees both in and outside the camps that local Alliance churches have been ministering to. Read her blog post here.
- As a SAH, we are part of the Canadian SAH Association and have been working through this network to advocate on behalf of refugees.
- We partnered with Lorna Dueck’s Context show last fall on the “Terror in Iraq and Syria” episode. The C&MA was the contact organization for viewers to call who were interested in refugee sponsorship. View the episode here.
- Dave Hearn traveled to Iraq in October 2014 and subsequently made a video to encourage churches to respond with radical hospitality to the displaced impacted by the crises in the Middle East. View the video here. (His challenge comes at the 2:50 point in the video.)
- In May 2015, Dave Hearn participated with other denominational presidents, who are part of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC), in a meeting with Citizenship and Immigration in Ottawa to encourage the Government of Canada to accept more Syrian refugees. They also committed to assist their local churches with sponsorship.
- As a result of the EFC initiative, we will be serving as the umbrella SAH for three other denominations in order that their local churches can engage in sponsorship immediately while they go through the application process of becoming a SAH.
- We have added the Refugee Sponsorship section on the new C&MA website.
- We have established a Refugee Fund so people can donate to a sponsorship resettlement. This fund is a safety reserve for sponsoring groups to apply for unexpected financial emergencies outside of the resettlement budget.
- We have promoted refugee sponsorship through a variety of the Alliance Justice and Compassion social media sites.
So, as you can see, we have been addressing this issue for some time, but we are grateful that the events of last week have created a sense of urgency which has inspired many inquiries about refugee sponsorship and how churches can respond.
Okay, My Church Wants to Respond. What can I do?
- Pray for the millions of refugees and for relief efforts of churches and aid agencies in the Middle East and Europe, and for churches in Canada assisting refugees in resettlement.
- Provide funds to the C&MA Syria Emergency Relief Fund. Donations to this fund will be used to provide relief for refugees in the Middle East and Europe. We will be participating in the Canadian government’s matching program where for every dollar donated by individual Canadians until December 31, 2015 the government will set aside one dollar for their Syria Emergency Relief Fund.
- Provide funds to the C&MA Refugee Fund to assist churches in Canada that are sponsoring refugees.
- Participate in refugee sponsorship. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for an information package.
- Partner with a church that is sponsoring a refugee family. Email email@example.com for a list of participating churches in your area.