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'It was a privilege to accompany this family on their journey'

June 28, 2017
The Al Mahmoud Al Hamoud Family arrive in Canada

The Al Mahmoud Al Hamoud Family arrive in Canada

From June 19-30, we will be sharing stories of Christian Reformed churches and individuals across the United States and Canada who have opened their hearts and homes to those fleeing from war and persecution. The following is the latest story in this series.

Ancaster (Ontario) and Meadowlands CRCs - One snowy Sunday morning in 2016, pictures and video clips of a newly-arrived Syrian family were shown to a waiting congregation. This wasn’t the first family to be sponsored by the Christian Reformed Church in Ancaster, Ont., but it was the first in many years. 

Through the dedicated work of Gerald Vanderwillik, Ancaster CRC had helped many families during the 1980’s and 90’s. In all, Vanderwillik helped more than 640 individuals come to Canada. But after a negative experience with one refugee family, Ancaster CRC’s involvement with refugee settlement ceased for nearly two decades.

Then in September 2015, as media coverage highlighted the refugee crisis in the Middle East, members Nell Vanturennout and Sara Woods felt they needed to do something and approached their church elders.

The church council agreed and proceeded cautiously, asking many questions and ensuring that all Safe Church and Plan to Protect requirements were met.

During that time, nearby Meadowlands Christian Reformed Church also expressed interest in refugee sponsorship so a joint Refugee Settlement Committee was formed.

The two churches decided to pursue a “blended support sponsorship agreement.” This means that one-third of the funds needed to support a refugee family would be provided by the Canadian government and two-thirds by the sponsoring churches.

By the end of 2015, the committee had raised the funds they would need for sponsorship. They received a family profile and used this to prepare a list of household items the family would need. Woods put bulletin announcements in the two church bulletins to request donations.  

“There was an overwhelming generosity in furniture and household goods….  We really did not need to buy too much,” said Vanturennout. “It is amazing how God's hand of blessing was so evident when one looks back.”  

In February, 2016, the committee welcomed the Al Mahmoud Al Hamoud family to Canada – a father, expectant mother and three children.

The first weeks were very busy, from applying to health programs, enrolling in school and language courses, having medical check-ups, and introducing the family to the city’s public libraries, parks, programs, public transportation routes and shopping.  They also took the time to have fun, including an introduction to a Canadian winter activity: sledding. 

Those first weeks and the following months brought challenges, including dealing with government reporting and communication, finding suitable living arrangements, and helping the family with all the paperwork while adjusting to life in Canada.

“It takes a lot out of you but it is so rewarding,” said Vanturennout. “It was a privilege to accompany this family on their journey and see them blossom.”

While the sponsorship requirements are now fulfilled, members of the team continue to meet with the family to help with English lessons. The two churches have also decided to continue their refugee sponsorship ministry.  Both are now preparing for the arrival of new families.