Our Refugee Sponsorship Project is Concluded - June 2020
At the time of our prior reflection (posted below), we were awaiting arrival of the Alyousef family’s eldest son, Mohammed. In January 2017 we had submitted an application for family re-unification through the One-Year Window program implemented by IRCC. On May 29, 2019, we welcomed Mohammad and witnessed the joyful reunification of the family who by this time had been apart for three and a half years. We were blessed and honoured to be part of this family celebration and overwhelmed by the gratitude expressed. The Refugee Sponsorship Committee proceeded with the official sponsorship of Mohammed for a one year period, providing support with his financial and settlement needs.
From the outset of this Refugee Sponsorship Project in the Fall of 2015, the outpouring of support made us confident that the people of St Peter’s and of Sudbury would respond with generosity and grace and that through this sponsorship journey we would come to better understand ‘hospitality’. Christine Pohl, author of Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition reminds us that hospitality is a practice and a way of life and that “offering welcome is basic to Christian identity and practice.” She suggests that historically “hospitality addressed the physical needs of strangers for food, shelter, and protection, but also included recognition of their worth and common humanity,” and that most importantly “Hospitality is a lens through which we can read and understand much of the gospel, and a practice by which we can welcome Jesus himself.”
This committee has now met its official obligation for Refugee Sponsorship under the IRCC-Blended Visa Office Referred (BVOR) Program for our initial sponsorship of the Alyousef Family, and the second sponsorship of their son Mohammed. As of the committee’s final meeting on June 5, 2020, the St. Peter’s Refugee Sponsorship Project has been concluded and the committee disbanded. As committee members, active volunteers, and a congregation we have been blessed to offer hospitality and have witnessed that “Grace enters with the stranger.” Importantly, our involvement has deeply reinforced our understanding of the human experience and reaffirmed that the world over – we all laugh, cry, have fears and joys. We all want safe shelter, healthy food, opportunity for education and employment, and hope for the future. We all yearn to be united with family and feel part of a community. There is no “other.” We are all connected. Supporting an individual family’s efforts to settle in Sudbury may not seem like enough in the face of the world’s overwhelming needs. But through this experience, we at St. Peter’s have grown to be a more tolerant and empathic people who understand and have tasted the power of collective action. We have learned that, strengthened in faith and guided by God’s grace, small things, like the sponsorship of one family, can make an important difference to a family, to ourselves, to a community, and to the world.
The St. Peter’s Refugee Sponsorship Committee wishes to thank St. Peter’s United Church Mission and Service Committee, the Church Council, Reverend Dawn Vaneyk and the Congregation of St. Peter’s United Church for the initial approval to engage in a refugee sponsorship project, and their ongoing support. Throughout the process the committee has valued the energy, enthusiasm and dedication of the many people who helped to ensure the success of the project through contribution of funds and practical support.
The Alyousef family members continue to adjust to their life in Canada as they pursue educational, employment and social opportunities, and work towards attaining their Canadian Citizenship. They are deeply grateful for the generous hospitality they have received – it is a testament to your welcome that they regard St. Peter’s as “their church”.
Reflections and Looking Forward - 2018
Since the arrival of the Alyousef family in December 2016, St. Peter’s Refugee Sponsorship Committee has been active in supporting their settlement. During this time the family have developed their English language skills and settled into daily routines and life in the Sudbury community. As with any significant project or journey, there have been periods of great excitement, joy and jubilation, and also brief periods of fatigue and frustration. During this journey we have observed the coming together of our St. Peter’s community, the St. Mark’s congregation, and our Sudbury community who have supported this committee in fulfilling the obligations of sponsorship. We are grateful to the many people who have given of their time, talents and treasures to provide a home to these strangers whom we now call family.
Although our one year commitment has been fulfilled, the St. Peter’s Refugee Sponsorship Committee continues to be active in an informal way, providing ongoing support to the Alyousef family, and in a formal manner while supporting re-unification of the Alyousef’s other son. Upon his arrival, we will continue to meet the formal sponsorship agreement for him, for a one year period. An application was made for this family re-unification early in 2017. Although he has met all criteria it is unknown as to when his admission to Canada will occur. The Alyousefs are no longer our “project”, but they are our extended family and so we share in their successes and struggles and have concern for their future. Members of the sponsorship committee and supporters continue to provide ongoing support, encouragement and friendship.
Through this sponsorship we have been blessed by a multitude of memories which remind us of the incredible gifts we have been given and the importance of sharing these gifts with others. Our lives have been enriched by our friendship with the Alyousefs as they have welcomed us to share in their daily lives and in their cultural and religious celebrations.
Gillian Schell and Kevin Reed
Co-Chairpersons, St. Peter’s Refugee Sponsorship Committee
Committee and Activities History
Committee photo left to right: Amy Hallman Grout, Carol Wighton, Judy Niesing, Kevin Reed (co-chair), Gillian Schell (co-chair), and Shirley Taylor.
In September 2015, a Refugee Sponsorship Committee was formed of members of St. Peter’s concerned with the ever growing refugee crisis in Syria and surrounding countries. We started by exploring the possibility of our congregation sponsoring a Syrian refugee family. Once we determined that it could be done, we divided up the tasks and began working on making it a reality. After official approval from our Church Council at the end of November 2015, a presentation was made to the congregation to lay out our plans and support was requested.
The response was wonderful. Along with our congregation, we have the support of community groups and schools and have received two grants. In mid 2016, with generous monetary and in kind support, we reached our fundraising goal and have furnished a town house for our family. We were very excited to receive word about the designating of our family from Syria - the Alyousefs - in November 2016.
Update – December 2016
Church members greet the Alyousef family at the Sudbury airport
THE ARRIVAL OF THE ALYOUSEF FAMILY
Recently, the St. Peter’s Refugee Sponsorship Committee received confirmation of a match for their sponsored family - the Alyousef family of 8 from Syria. We were excited to announce that they would arrive at the Sudbury airport on Wednesday December 7, 2016 at 9:25 am.
On December 7, a group from the St. Peter’s refugee sponsorship committee and our church community welcomed the family, along with representatives of other refugee families and support groups. The family is settled in their townhouse in New Sudbury and orientation and school arrangements are being completed. The family is very happy to be in Sudbury and we look forward to further contacts as the settling process is completed. An account of the welcome can be found at http://www.thesudburystar.com/2016/12/07/new-syrian-family-arrives .
Thanks to the generosity of St. Peter’s congregation and the Sudbury community, the Alyousef’s house is now comfortably equipped and their closets are full of winter clothing and footwear. We are enormously grateful to all of you who helped us to welcome the family and to ensure that their needs are met. At this time, please do not bring any more donations of clothing or household items to the church. Thank you again for your warmth and generosity.