Photo: World Renew
Photo by World Renew

When we think of refugees, we may think of terms used on the news such as “foreigners” or “immigrants.” We may also remember the biblical call to “welcome the stranger.”

But if you ask Alice Van Stempvoort and others involved in sponsoring refugees as they come to Canada, the word that comes to mind may simply be “friend.”

“I value the friendships that the refugee families sponsored through my church have offered to me and have been blessed by them,” said Van Stempvoort, who is member of Grace CRC in Chatham, Ontario

Grace CRC, which is located in Chatham, Ontario, belongs to a Joint Refugee Group of four churches. So far this group has sponsored six refugee families through World Renew. The group’s most recent two refugee families have come from Myanmar.

Each sponsorship experience has been a new opportunity for volunteers like Van Stempvoort  to witness God’s hope and grace at work in the lives of these fellow image bearers of God.

“God uses people to change us.When you get to be involved with refugees, your world view enlarges and changes, if you are willing for that to happen.

“Some of the refugees have faith lives and prayer lives that have put me to shame. They have endured terrible things, and yet, they love and trust God. That's been a precious experience for our church,” she said.

A sponsorship agreement with Citizenship and Immigration Canada allows World Renew to connect refugee families with host churches that can help them with relocation to Canada.

Many of the church sponsorships with World Renew are called “Blended Visa Office-Referred” (BVOR) sponsorships. This is a cost-shared program whereby the government supports the family for six months and the churches are responsible for the other six months of the sponsorship year.

Churches sponsoring refugees assist them with a wide variety of activities from the moment they arrive in Canada. This may include greeting them at the airport and helping them find a place to live, as well as assisting with everyday life tasks, such as grocery shopping. Church members are also available to help the new Canadians with government documentation and budgeting.

In 2015, a total of 184 refugees came to Canada under the auspices of World Renew’s Refugee Sponsorship ministry.

Conflicts in Syria and Iraq continue to deepen the refugee crisis of today. Since January 2016, World Renew has sponsored a total of 105 refugees from Syria. World Renew also continues to respond to inquiries and requests from people fleeing many other countries, such as Myanmar, Pakistan, Eritrea and Sudan.

Willoughby CRC in Langley, B.C. is another church that has sponsored several refugee families with World Renew over the years.

In the 1990’s, the church sponsored refugees from Iran and Iraq. In 2013, they restarted their involvement in the refugee ministry when they sponsored a Burmese family from Myanmar. This sponsorship was followed by a sponsorship of two young women from Myanmar in 2015.

In January 2016, a Syrian family arrived and their church is currently helping them get settled into Canada. A family from Iraq is also expected to arrive within the next few months.

Willhouby CRC sponsored all of these families through the BVOR program.

“We feel this is a good approach to private sponsorship as it enables us to sponsor more families using available church funds,” said church member Eleanor McComb.

“Sponsoring is much more fun than I ever dreamt it would be! And there is lots of help from the congregation. Besides registering for English classes, and other services, we have them over for dinner on a regular basis, celebrate birthdays, etc. We have taken them on trips to surrounding areas...Stanley Park, Whistler. And we just have fun with them. They are our friends.”

April 10 is Refugee Sunday in Canada. On this day, many churches will be praying for refugees and praising God for the ways He is working through CRC members to welcome these brothers and sisters with hospitality and compassion.

World Renew has resources available to help your church lead a Refugee Sunday worship service, including a new slideshow presentation to present during an offering.

As you remember your brothers and sisters please prayerfully consider what role you can play in assisting them. Click below for more information about Refugee Sponsorship. You can also contact Rebecca Walker at 1-800-730-3490 (ext. 4232).