Cloverdale could soon be home to a refugee family, thanks to a group that’s spearheading Pacific Community Church’s efforts to resettle one family as refugee sponsors.
Teunis Schouten is part of a core group of members who are committed to helping the newcomers adjust to their new surroundings in Canada – from helping them find somewhere to live to pointing them towards local immigrant services and assisting with job searches.
It’s a commitment the group is determined to make.
“There are so many people on the run from their governments, or where they’re being tortured or persecuted or fearing for their lives,” Schouten said. “Why wouldn’t we open up our doors and try to make a difference for at least one family?”
As sponsors, the group will need to have at least $40,000 – enough money to support a family of four for one year in Surrey, B.C., with a year-long objective of seeing them though to becoming financially independent.
Pacific is part of the Christian and Missionary Alliance of Canada, which has been actively encouraging member churches to become involved with refugee sponsorships. The CMAC is a Sponsorship Agreement Holder with Citizen and Immigration Canada, meaning Pacific is able to sponsor a family from a list of pre-screened refugees who qualify to come to Canada.
Privately-sponsored refugees will form a large portion of the 25,000 Syrians the federal government has planned to resettle by February 2016.
Priority one is appealing to the wider Cloverdale community for available housing in the immediate area for two to six weeks, along with financial donations, ideally by Dec. 15 so the next step in the process can get underway as soon as possible.
“We’re hoping to have those funds ready before Christmas,” he said.
The group doesn’t expect to raise all $40,000 needed but would prefer to be at least part way to that goal.
“Once we have a threshold of funds, we will be confident that we can do this,” he said. “Forty-thousand dollars is already tight in Surrey for a family of four.”
Like so many people around the world, Schouten was heartsick at images of the mounting Syrian refugee crisis in Europe, particularly that of the lifeless body of toddler Alan Kurdi, who drowned along with his brother and mother on a perilous journey on a small open boat to Greece in September.
“I felt helpless,” said Schouten, an immigrant who made his own journey to Canada in 1994 from the Netherlands at the age of 23, and who realized he wasn’t able to sit idly by without trying to do something to help.
As a family, the Schoutens have decided to forgo expensive Christmas presents, and instead focus on helping refugees.
When told there would be “no $200 Lego set” under the Christmas tree this year, his boys, aged 8 and 10, said, “No problem.” They didn’t need to be persuaded to spend that money on someone else who really needs it.
“We have essentially everything we need in this part of the world. Why not make it a ‘heart gift’?” he explained. “Something that goes from one human heart to another human heart?”
Although the church will be the refugee resettlement sponsor, the group is not looking to specifically relocate Christians. A majority of the refugees from Syria are Muslim.
“It’s about a humanitarian effort,” he said, adding the church is looking to sponsor any family seeking to come to Canada, no matter what troubles have forced them to leave their home behind.
It’s also not known if the family will be from Syria or from another country. Schouten says various estimates put the number of refugees worldwide at nearly 20 million – with 25 percent of those being victims displaced by the Syrian crisis.
The group is inviting the wider community to help out, and be part of a local response to a global issue.
“I’d love to see other churches, and other faith communities start rallying, or perhaps do their own thing,” he added.
Note: For now, donations of household items are not being accepted.
For more information visit www.pacificcommunity.ca/ministries/refugee-sponsorship-effort or email firstname.lastname@example.org