This presentation was given at Diocesan Synod, May 28th 2011. The
presentation was part of a synod theme intended to help synod delegates
make the connection between the local churches with the wider world.
Sue [Moxley] invited me to give a short presentation this morning,
describing how the experience of refugee sponsorship has impacted our
September 30th, 2010 our sponsorship group "Partners for
Refugees" greeted the Al-Ali family at Halifax airport. The arrival
of the Al Ali family, Jamal and his wife Kawla and their two young adult
daughters Ruah and As'ma came after a long and difficult stay at a United
Nations Refugee camp in Syria.
arrival at the airport as their sponsors came as the result of a very
different kind of journey. What was required was a commitment of one year
and funding of just over $26,000 over the course of that year. Our Parish
Council initially, tepidly, agreed to participate. Six months later we
found ourselves at the airport greeting this family from the other side of
the planet. We were there as members of "Partners for Refugees"
staffed mostly by people from St. James and St. Mark's, Gottingen St.
(they had done this before). Funding and other tangible support came from
a consortium of parishes from Chebucto, Ft. Sackville, and eventually
Dartmouth Regions together with our diocese and The Primate's Fund. When
we arrived at the airport we were in the company of people from the other
sponsorship groups. They had already sponsored other members of the
Al-Ali's extended family. We were joined as well by members of that
extended family. There is time this morning to recount only a few of
moments of our transformative journey as sponsors
the outset a member of our Parish Council encouraged us to raise funds for
sponsorship by appealing directly to parishioners. He supported his
suggestion by immediately declaring how much of his own money he would
contribute. He was invited to make an appeal directly to members of the
parish at both of our services the following Sunday. Within a week we had
over seven thousand dollars in hand.
faithful member of our parish volunteered to chair Partners. As the work
has unfolded we have discovered in her a depth of commitment, and wealth
of experience with social services, and leadership abilities that have
proven invaluable. How could we have not known this about her before?
found out that the Halifax Immigration Settlement and Integration Service
or ISIS is in our neighborhood literally on our doorstep.
met members of the Middle Eastern Community who were elicited to help with
translation and cultural issues. Thus was opened up to us a whole new
level of awareness about the Middle Eastern community who are such a
significant part of our city.
have gotten to know and work with other Anglicans like those from St.
Mark's, and learned things from them.
of Partners heard first hand about the terror and loss that are part of
the lives of so many dislocated people.
Christmas Eve the Al Ali family asked to attend a church service. A couple
from our parish that has spent a lot of time with them agreed to bring
them (They had been to St. James once prior, but after church for coffee
hour). It being Christmas I made the usual invitation that those who are
baptized are welcome to receive communion if they wish. That of course was
lost on people who did not speak much English and in the midst of the
liturgical chaos of the Christmas family service. As the distribution of
communion began, one of the Al Ali family members asked their hosts about
what we were doing. They explained that we believe that the bread and wine
represent the body and blood of Jesus. The members of the refugee family
were determined to come up for communion. They had to compromise of
course. They could not receive the wine because of their Islamic beliefs;
but neither could they see themselves refraining from participating in
what we their sponsors appeared to be offering them. It wasn't about
making them Anglicans. It was about how they and we tried to find a way to
celebrate the common ground we were now standing upon. It was a kind of
Book of Acts moment in which people from two distinct groups try to
navigate different backgrounds with theological smoothing after the fact.
years ago our Parish Council invited The Rev. David Hart from Bedford
United Church to give a presentation on congregational development. One of
the many experiences David shared with us was "take on an outreach
project that is almost too big to handle". This project has validated
chairperson notes: "I can honestly say that stepping up to help Chair
the group has been a blessing. Not only have I enjoyed meeting the family
and feeling like a good steward of the parish by assisting this family
that had to live in desperate conditions but also it provided me the
opportunity to get to know many members of St. James that I only knew
"to see" at church. I felt like this opportunity has helped
forge great relationships with others who attend St. James. I am proud to
tell others about the work that PFR are doing and what a benefit it is to
our [sponsored family]".
member of the couple who took the Al Ali family to church shared this:
"Working with Al-Ali family has been a
very rewarding experience for both [of us]. Being able to help in some
small way with a family who have through no fault of their own have lost
everything, their home and country and have lost physical contact with
other family members. Helping them settle in Halifax makes you appreciate
what you have even more."
one of our members from St. Mark's states: "Several
parishioners have joined KAIROS as a result of their familiarity now with
the Palestinian/Israeli conflict and will be involved as we work for a
just resolution to this very serious issue. They attend local meetings and
lectures to spread accurate and valid information to the Canadian
have been challenges. There have been frustrations on both sides dealing
with cultural barriers and culture shock. There are some who feel that
refugees are lucky to have been sponsored to come to a country like
Canada. However as this article on the Iraq war from American National
Public Radio states, the circumstances that create refugees are often not
well understood here.
the United States invaded Iraq ….it didn't set out to deepen the Sunni-Shia
divide in the Islamic world. But that may be one of the most important
outcomes of the war. American leaders told the nation and the world that
the Iraqis would view the United States as liberators, not occupiers, that
the war would be over quickly, and that Iraq would return to peace. Those
rosy predictions did not take into account the frequently violent and
tragic history of Iraq, especially the aspirations of Iraq's often
brutalized Shiite majority, says Augustus Norton, professor of Middle East
history at Boston University."
are learning now that while the Canadian government did not publicly
support the Invasion of Iraq, the government of the day did lend military
support to the effort covertly. Our country was not an open participant in
the coalition of the willing--just an active behind the scenes secret
admirer of it. In actual fact, the Al Ali-family had to flee Iraq because
of the social destabilization caused by the Invasion. As ethnic
Palestinian Sunni Muslims they became targets for deadly violence when
Sadam was toppled. People like the Al-ali family are here in part because
of the policies in which our country has been complicit. Luck has little
to do with it.
favorite biblical writer from all of sacred scripture is the prophet
Isaiah. Isaiah is essentially good news. St. Luke certainly thought so. He
casts the preaching of Jesus and the character of Jesus' disciples against
the standard of Isaiah's proclamation.
Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because he has anointed me….to bring
good news to the oppressed…to proclaim the year of the Lord's Favour."
sponsorship has enabled we the sponsors to incarnate Isaiah's word of good
news. We have helped other people in need participate in a measure of
jubilee. We have helped free others from a kind of captivity.
Isaiah was writing for, to, and about victims. For Isaiah the exiles of
ancient Israel not only receive good news, but as oppressed people they
would herald it for others. So there is, I think, is a parallel layer of
application of Isaiah for those of us who involved in refugee sponsorship.
It is refugees, folks like the Al-Ali family, who have been anointed by
God. They have come to Canada and our to community to bring us good news
about the possibility of social justice. They have given us an opportunity
to be released from the captivity of our Country's mistakes in the
international community. They have given us an opportunity to do what
Jesus has asked us to do, and in so doing they have afforded us an
opportunity to participate in Jubilee not as mere givers. Our sponsorship
of this family has made us recipients and beneficiaries of what is at the
core of our own religious heritage as disciples of Jesus.
Rod Gillis, Diocesan Synod 2011