This year marked a major milestone for World Renew’s Private Sponsorship of Refugees program―40 years of welcoming of refugees to Canada.
As this historic year came to a close, partnering church communities gathered together this fall at events across Canada―along
with many refugee families―to celebrate God’s faithfulness. Sharing in food, fellowship, and worship, these events were an opportunity to reflect on the lives touched over the last 40 years by this special program. It was also a chance for refugees to say “thank you” to their sponsors and to share the stories of their journeys to Canada.
In Hamilton, Ontario, celebrations were held at Hamilton Christian District High School and involved four churches from Guelph, Cambridge, Ancaster, and Flamborough. When asked why it was important to commemorate the anniversary with a special event, Rick DeGraaf, a member of Maranatha CRC in Cambridge and a member of the event’s organizing committee, responded, “It not only allowed us [as sponsors] to give thanks… but more importantly it allowed the families we brought in to be able to say thank you in a special way: making treats, telling their stories―meeting the faces of the community that brought them here.”
For Nathaniel Madakiwe, who is co-sponsoring his brother along with members from Ancaster CRC, sponsorship is a powerful force for hope in the midst of the suffering of millions of refugees around the world.
“The Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program is a beacon of light [for those] of us who have families affected by fear of persecution… [These] celebrations stand as a reminder to be grateful [for] the hearts of love [who] assist those who live in fear of persecution or [those who lose their] livelihoods because of war,” he shared.
The event held at Maranatha CRC in Lethbridge was in late October with Pastor Kenneth VanderPloeg delivering a special message. When reflecting on the anniversary of the initial agreement with the Canadian government, allowing the private sponsorship of refugees, VanderPloeg shared his own memories from that time. “It’s amazing that this agreement has been in place for 40 years. Personally, it meant that I came home from Dordt College the summer of ’79 to discover that my bed was gone. It had been donated to the Vietnamese family in High River,” VanderPloeg jokingly remarked. On a more serious note, VanderPloeg saw the event as a way of standing in solidarity with refugees searching for a home, and to help raise awareness about the need for more sponsors.
A celebration held at Hope Community Church in Surrey, BC, was organized and attended by at least 11 local CRC churches in the area. The outpouring of support and interest was far more than any of the organizers could have imagined. As one organizer, Dena Nicolai, Chaplain and Refugee Support Mobilizer with the CRC, explained, “The week of the event, RSVPs kept pouring in, and we suddenly had almost double the number of people we had anticipated―a kind of ‘beautiful chaos’.”
The most memorable moment of the evening for Nicolai were the stories shared by both sponsors and those who came as refugees. One speech from a man who had come to Canada in 1979 from Vietnam was particularly poignant.
As Nicolai said, “When he spoke to the audience, he looked around the room at people from all over the world and he told them, ‘No matter where you’re from―Syria, Iraq, Vietnam or somewhere else, we are all in search of peace.’ It was an important moment of solidarity in the midst of many different cultures, countries, stories, and backgrounds.”
These events encompassed many different people from many different cultures, all sharing their stories of hope and gratitude and giving thanks to God. As Dena Nicolai eloquently described it: “It was also wonderful to gather together… to share table fellowship with one another with delicious food provided by attendees from Burma, Iraq, Syria, the Congo, Iran, and more: a glimpse of the feast in the Kingdom of God.” World Renew is deeply grateful for all those involved in celebrating this special 40th anniversary this past year―and for all the partnering church communities who extend the love of Christ to refugees searching for a new life.