“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’”
Often, to be a refugee is to be unwelcome. Unsafe at home, refugees are portrayed as a problem to be dealt with, rather than people to be cared for. They are seen as social pariahs—burdens on society. Other nations guard their borders against them, build walls to keep them out and relegate them to open air prisons even if they make it across. They are at risk of violence, hunger, calamity and disease. On top of external threats, grief, fear, anxiety and trauma are constant companions. It is a hard life and even those who make it through continue to bear the scars—physical and emotional—of their experiences. Their stories are complicated, their journeys often more so, and there are few happy endings. We are called to be merciful because the world isn’t, which is why this story stands out.
As refugees, Chantale and her family—three boys and a girl—have been through it all. They’ve been displaced, attacked and had their family members murdered. Fleeing Congo on foot, they lost their homeland and their community, arriving in Tanzania only to be rejected and sent to live in a Kenyan refugee camp for over six years. The youngest of the four only knows life in the refugee camp, having fled when he was just a toddler.
After such a long wait, it could be easy to give up and resign oneself to life in the camp. Instead, they persisted in trying to find a new home and managed to connect with Julaine Palmer through her involvement in the New Canadian Centre in Peterborough. Fortunately for Chantale’s family, Julaine is a member of Gilmour Memorial Baptist Church, a church with a history of sponsoring refugees, beginning in 2015 with a young woman and a family from Iraq. An ongoing passion for this church, in November 2016, the congregation voted to sponsor Chantale’s family. At the time, Immigration Canada was advising that the processing time for their arrival would be approximately 68 months, which meant that they could possibly arrive as late as 2021.
After so many struggles for the family, by the grace of God something finally went more smoothly than expected. The applications for Chantale’s family were processed with miraculous speed. Last June, Immigration Canada processed all five family members in a single day! After some medical checkups, their flights were booked to arrive December 20.
And so, at the crack of dawn, just before Christmas, a joyful band of people from Gilmour Memorial Baptist Church gathered at the international arrivals gate at Pearson Airport in Toronto. Canadian flags in hand and dressed in red, they were anticipating the family’s arrival. After a long wait and a few false starts, the doors opened—and there was much rejoicing.
A little bleary-eyed from the long journey, the family was warmly welcomed and provided with warm coats. Before long they were off to their new home in Peterborough.
The family is now in their new home and welcomed into a church family. Far from the conflict they escaped, and the refugee camp that was home for six years, they are finally safe. Even so, they have challenges ahead. Adjusting to life in Canada isn’t without its struggles. Learning the language, fitting in, heading to school, finding work and developing a sense of belonging are challenging. And for anyone who has fled from violence, there are echoes of trauma that need to heal. While it will take time, they now have a community to support them, care for them and provide for them as they end one journey and begin another.
But that’s not all! Gilmour Memorial is already anticipating the arrival of another family of three from Syria, who will be arriving in the first week of February. Despite the housing shortages in Peterborough, they were able to find an apartment for them as well, and are now rising to the challenge of supporting two families at the same time—something they could never have predicted given the estimated processing times.
Gilmour Memorial Baptist Church has invited in the stranger, giving them a home and a community that genuinely cares for them. And in extending mercy, they have welcomed Jesus himself.
If your church would like to learn more about sponsoring refugees, go to baptist.ca/refugees.