It takes a village … The body of Christ at work through refugee sponsorship

Emily Fitch

Emily FitchAcross Niagara Diocese, refugee sponsorship groups learned that effective sponsorship requires great teamwork and unification. 

Two cases are St. Luke’s Burlington and St. George’s Guelph. 

In 2016, each parish welcomed a Syrian family — St. Luke’s sponsoring a family of six and St. George’s a family of five, including two-year-old triplets. 

St. Luke’s sponsor Janice Skafel shared: “It takes more than one person to help a refugee get settled in Canada. It takes a group of people, and this group of people have been amazing”.  Sponsorship was a collective effort involving clergy, parishioners, community partners, city staff and ecumenical connections, including Knox Presbyterian Church. 

Rector Stuart Pike said the partnership began in 2015. There was “a great desire among the community” to participate, which became evident at a jam-packed town hall meeting organized by Burlington’s mayor. 

Although St. Luke’s had the resources and capacity to undertake a sponsorship on their own, the parish welcomed the interest of other churches and community members, forming Burlington Downtown Refugee Alliance (BDRA).  

St. George’s received a similar response when they started in 2014. Parishioner Linda Tripp describes people’s eagerness: “At our initial meeting, I had people talking to me before I could even take my seat. It was wonderful to see, and our minister was hugely supportive”. 

The parish hosted a concert of classical music with ticket sales revenue all going towards the refugee fund. 

At St. Luke’s, fundraising efforts were largely thanks to children and youth. Students from an Oakville school donated several thousand dollars raised through a bake sale. A teenage parishioner organized a Walk for Refugees, attended by the region’s MP, MPP and mayor. 

These events build bridges between the parish and community, making for a stronger, more diverse team of volunteers. 

City staff and Burlington’s Fire Department helped with housing, storing furniture and moving in the family. 

Janice compared the incredible teamwork to parts of a body working together, referencing a common biblical metaphor used to describe the church. “Each one of us has a body with many parts, and these parts all have different uses. In the same way, we are many, but in Christ we are all one body … We all have different gifts, each of which came because of the grace God gave us.” (Romans 12:4, 6)

This passage was exemplified by St. Luke’s parishioners and volunteers coming together to help the refugee family. A nurse took care of health issues, a teacher registered the children in school and a bank employee helped with finances. 

At St. George’s, Linda found sponsorship had a similar effect: “What you see happening in the church is people capturing a vision”. 

She describes seeing the parish come alive with a new energy among people, young and old. “People really saw the potential to actually do something tangible. The number of people that came forward to volunteer and came out to all the meetings, I really felt that there was a movement of the Holy Spirit that it is possible – you might not change the world, but you can change the life of somebody in the world. For me as a Christian, there was such a profoundly spiritual element to it that we were being the hands and feet of Jesus, who himself had been a refugee.”

When asked why others should get involved in sponsorship, Linda shared this quote: “When we have so much, we should make our table longer, and not our fences higher”. 

By sponsoring refugees, parishes share the abundance in their hearts and communities with those who are most in need, reaching out as the arms of Christ to welcome the stranger. 

April 4th is Refugee Rights Day, an opportunity to learn about advances made in the protection of refugee rights in Canada and the threats to those rights. You can find more information at: ccrweb.ca/en/refugee-rights-day.