I saw a quote recently, posted on Facebook that read, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping’ (Fred Rogers).” We see a lot of scary things in the news lately and it’s tempting to give way to fear, to focus on the negative and to see the threats rather than the opportunities. However, the church not only has an opportunity, but a call to be those ‘helpers’ – to be the ones who people will see responding in times of crisis.
In 2014, the figures released by the UNHCR (The United High Commissioner for Refugees) revealed that there were 59.5 million forcibly displaced people in the world. 51% of the refugee population are children under the age of 18. In Syria, 7.6 million people have been displaced making it the largest displaced population worldwide. The figures reveal that this year has seen the largest increase of displaced people in a single year.
“We are witnessing a paradigm change, an unchecked slide into an era in which the scale of global forced displacement as well as the response required is now clearly dwarfing anything seen before”. (AntÓnio Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees)
The past two years, the theme of the ESL Cooperative networking breakfast has related to hospitality and welcoming the “stranger” or the “other” in our midst. The tendency of people is to fear those who are different, to fear the stranger and to move away and distance ourselves. The church’s call, however, is to move in the other direction – to move in close, to embrace and to show love and care. Deuteronomy 10:19 states, “You are to love the foreigner, because you were foreigners…”. Jesus provides us with the greatest example as one who left His place in heaven and experienced what it is like to become a foreigner on this earth. He urges us to “welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you”, Romans 15:7. Matthew 25:35 states, “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”. This year the Canadian government took in 25,000 refugees in response to the crisis in Syria. As the world is coming to us, how do we respond as helpers? How can we create a space where a stranger becomes a friend? What can the church do?
There are many ways to respond to the call to demonstrate hospitality and to welcome others into our community. I think it starts with welcoming each other and working together. I joined Cooperative ESL Ministries a couple of years ago. I was drawn to the vision of seeing “churches as key leaders in welcoming and integrating newcomers to Canada”. I believe the church has a unique role to play in meeting needs and embracing newcomers beyond what government programs and settlement services are able to do.
The mission of the Cooperative is to “empower churches to reach out in love to immigrants and internationals in our communities”. My background is in English teaching and teacher training. I recognize that ESL is one of the key ways to meet a very real and immediate need of newcomers; however, the Cooperative focuses on a number of other ways to reach out and empower churches and we are always looking for new opportunities to partner and support churches in this endeavour. Currently, we provide our annual training event ROWE (Reaching Out with English) to train volunteers to teach English. We also offer training workshops in the area of cross-cultural communications, we provide support for churches who want to start ESL programs, and we host networking breakfasts and training events in order to create opportunities of connection for others working to support newcomers. We would love to hear about what your church is already doing to support and work with newcomers and discover ways in which we might be able to support you, partner with you, or help to foster further opportunities to reach out to newcomers.
Right now, we are excited about the opportunities ahead but we need others to join in with the vision. First and foremost we need your prayers. As a non-profit we need finances to support the ongoing operational costs, but we also need your skills and contributions. If you or someone you know might be interested in joining our team through partnering or board membership, we’d love to chat with you. Send us an email or give us a call and we’d love to take you for coffee and share more about the vision, mission and opportunities available at CESLM.
figures on refugees http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/06/refugees-global-peace-index/396122/ (retrieved August 31st, 2016)
http://www.unhcr.org/556725e69.html (retrieved August 31st, 2016)