The next issue of mosaic magazine features an encouraging story by Paul Carline of a small church taking on the big challenge of sponsoring a refugee family.
THE SYRIA/IRAQ CRISIS IS HUGE. Canadian Baptist churches plan to resettle 100 refugee families (not so huge, but very significant for us and the families).
In February I’d just emailed CBM, saying Atlantic Baptists would take responsibility for 50 of those families, when my phone rang. It was a leader from Paradise Baptist Church outside Bridgetown, Nova Scotia. (If the province is the only one of those locations you recognize, just picture rural.) “We’ve never done anything like this before,” he said, “We’re a church of 30 people struggling to maintain a building, but we’re quite sure God wants us to sponsor Syrian refugees.”
That’s when I sort of wondered if we were on to something.
Three weeks later, 24 people from nine churches crowded into a living room in Paradise to hear my presentation. One of those churches joined Paradise’s effort and several others have embarked on their own sponsorship journeys.
That’s when I strongly suspected we were on to something.
Last month the refugee team met and selected a family – an Iraqi mother with five daughters. They only speak Arabic, and are Muslim. A house has already been rented for them in Bridgetown. The landlady was thrilled. She was one of five daughters. “Five girls again! I can’t believe it!”
Inquiries about English language instruction led the team to the local school and to the resource teacher who had TESOL training. “You won’t believe this,” he said, “But for two months I’ve been wondering how I could ever help Iraqi children caught in this conflict. Look at my computer.” His desktop was a picture of Iraqi children.
He’s insisting on helping the mother with language too.
Last week, a team member was raking grass at the rented house. During a conversation with a neighbour, she shared that the church was sponsoring an Iraqi family. “Do they speak Arabic?” he asked. “Because I do. I’ve lived in Iran and call Kuwait home.” A translator lives next door!
That’s when I knew we were on to something – a God thing.
Ephesians 1:4-5 says that God also met once and arbitrarily picked people to rescue, redeem and be in relationship with. “He chose us in him before the creation of the world… In love, he predestined us to be adopted as his children.”
There’s something exhilarating about choosing and committing yourself to someone (or six) for better or for worse. Relationships fuel life. “We’re so pumped!!” the team told me right after selecting their family.
But will the excitement last? I’ve learned a thing or two about sponsorship and adoption. What’s thrilling for the in-control group and parents is traumatic for the refugees and orphans. All the major changes they’ve recently experienced have been bad and this newest transplant promises to be just as uncomfortable and incompatible.
Imagine that urban Iraqi family in the little town of Paradise – shock. I remember my adopted youngest son’s face when he first came home to us – terror.
The only hope of success in either endeavour (and even then it’s not guaranteed) is if the sponsoring hosts or the adopting parents begin to absorb the trauma, carry the hurt and actually start hurting. When the Paradise team call me sometime after the big arrival, they are more likely to say, “We’re in pain” than “We’re pumped.”
And that’s when I will be convinced that we are indeed on to a God thing and that there’s hope.
Ephesians 1 goes on to say that in Christ we have redemption. Redemption has two parts: release – we are set free from bondage and given a new life – and ransom – someone has to pay a very high price for that new life. How high a price did God pay for us? “In him we have redemption by his blood.” And this was no reluctant afterthought or hidden fee. For when we were chosen, Jesus became the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world (Rev 13:8).
There are more of the 100 families to sponsor and this must be our motivation – thankfulness. We were refugees and orphans, harassed and homeless, and God, at great cost, committed himself to us and brought us into his family forever. With grateful, worry-free obedience we can get in on this God-thing and confidently wait to hear him say, Welcome to Paradise!
You can also read this recent CBC news article about New Brunswick churches helping sponsor Syrian families.