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‘We could just trust God to provide what we needed’

June 20, 2017
The Ikomoelo family is welcomed at Pearson Airport in Toronto, Ontario.

The Ikomoelo family is welcomed at Pearson Airport in Toronto, Ontario.

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.

Faith CRC, Burlington, Ontario -- Stepping through the doors at Pearson International Airport in March 2016, the Ikomoelo family felt safe for the first time in decades.

As they were welcomed by members of the refugee team from Faith Christian Reformed Church in Burlington, Ontario, and two men from the Congolese community in nearby Hamilton, they knew they were in good hands. 

While the church’s refugee resettlement team had awaited their arrival for 4-1/2 months, the Ikomoelo family had been waiting for more than 17 years. 

In the fall of 2015, when news about the Syrian refugee crisis had come to the forefront, members at Faith CRC wanted to help. Their pastor, Kevin DeRaaf, announced from the pulpit one Sunday that the church was ready to support those interested in forming a refugee settlement team.

“I felt that I absolutely had to do something,” said Kerri VanLuik, a member at Faith CRC. “I had to respond in a tangible way.” 

They had a kick-off meeting shortly afterward and a team formed: Dorothy Heidbuurt, John Pham, Marjorie Schaafsma, Rob and Pam Stel, Kerri VanLuik, Alyssa Woudstra and Dianne Zomer. 

They began with the intention to sponsor a Syrian family, but learned of the immense need in other areas of the world as well. Knowing how many people were displaced across the world made the decision of which family to choose difficult. 

After spending time praying for guidance, the team agreed on a family who were in a refugee camp in Tanzania after fleeing the devastation of civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Across the ocean in that crowded camp, the Ikomoelo family was also praying, praying that they would be sponsored by a Christian community. 

As they waited for the family to arrive, several other individuals became part of this journey. A member of the Congolese community in Hamilton came to share his personal experiences at a dessert social fundraiser. His story was very moving and made the struggles of those who fled the DRC after war broke out in 1996. 

“His story put a face to what was going on there” said VanLuik.  He also came to welcome the family at the airport, leading scripture and prayer in their native tongue. 

Shortly afterward, they connected with Oliver Mweneake, who also came to Canada after fleeing DRC and living in a refugee camp for many years. Mweneake published the book Still With Us, which gave valuable insight into the story of the family they were sponsoring.  He asked to meet the family once they arrived. 

On the day that Mweneake came to visit, the Ikomoelo children ran towards him screaming with joy. He was a familiar face from the refugee camp, as he had lived just a few tents down from the Ikomoelos. Prior to the war, they also lived just a few kilometres from each other in DRC.

These connections deepened the team’s trust in God’s love and provision, Pham said. “God put the pieces in place for us and we just had to walk the path.”

“It really felt that God provided. He already had this all figured out and we could just trust God to provide what we needed,” added VanLuik. 

While the first weeks were exhausting, there was always someone available to help. There was a learning curve for both the team and family. The team had focused on physical needs, but hadn’t prepared as much for emotional needs – for example, a need to communicate with loved ones back in Africa. 

For Andre and Dometina Ikomoelo and their children the changes involved learning to use many things that were foreign to them after living for so many years in a refugee camp. 

“We had to teach them how to use keys, turn a light on, and use a seatbelt,” explained Woudstra. When Dometina first saw what a microwave did, she just laughed and laughed. Those first weeks were full of new experiences.

In May, Faith church celebrated a special “Congolese Sunday.” The sanctuary was packed with members and visiting Congolese families singing and dancing to glorify God. It was a time of great rejoicing for the family and the congregation. 

 “It was a common goal that bound us together,” said Zomer. The Ikomoelo family chose to become members at Faith CRC and continue to adjust to life in Canada. Andre is working at a local carpentry shop and he and Dometina are attending English classes. Women from Faith taught Dometina and her daughter Lea to knit and sew. All four children are doing well in school and learning English quickly.

“That’s really the big part of the story – that once we gave them a bit of a boost, they took over,” said Rob Stel, commenting on how they have really become part of the Faith church community. He said the team looks forward to hearing more of family’s story as language barriers diminish. 

It’s a story that’s still unfolding.

New Street Christian Reformed Church in Burlington also wanted to sponsor a refugee family. When they heard that the Ikomoelos have four older children still living in refugee camps in Africa, they felt this was an answer to prayer. They are working with World Renew to sponsor one of Andre and Dometina’s adult children and their family.

—Krista Dam-VandeKuyt