For St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Winnipeg, MB, sponsoring a refugee family is a tangible response to Christ’s call to help and welcome the stranger.
“In the New Testament we hear the commandment to practice hospitality and be welcoming to the stranger,” says Pastor Bjoern Meinhardt. “We are called to provide for those in need who are less fortunate—this is a piece of solidarity that grows out of our faith.”
The idea of sponsoring a refugee family emerged following last year’s North American Lutheran Church Convocation, which included discussions around the theme of persecution facing Christians in other parts of the world. At the same time, the Canadian government announced the goal of bringing 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada.
These two instances prompted discussion among church council members as to the possibility of sponsoring a refugee family. After learning about the requirements in terms of resources, timeline and support, the idea was presented to the congregation. Through discussion, the congregation discerned together that this was a project they would like to undertake.
Working with Canadian Lutheran World Relief (CLWR), the congregation began the sponsorship process through the Blended Visa Office-Referred (BVOR) Program. This program is a partnership between the Government of Canada and a private group such as a congregation. Through the BVOR Program, the Canadian government covers up to six months of financial support. The private sponsorship group provides an additional six months of financial support and up to a year of social and emotional support.
As a Sponsorship Agreement Holder with the Government of Canada, CLWR is able to assist churches who are interested in sponsoring refugees. Since January 2016, 309 refugees have arrived in Canada with the help of 108 sponsor groups.
“I think [CLWR’s] ministry is wonderful in many ways, including as a resource to help with groups, congregations and Lutherans, who are wanting to be involved in refugee sponsorship,” says Tom Lurvey, a retired pastor and member of the refugee family caregivers group at St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church. “The resources, information and help [CLWR] gave with the whole process is fabulous.”
In August, the church welcomed a refugee family of four from Eritrea. Their arrival in Winnipeg is the start of a new life for them and the start of a new part of the refugee sponsorship process for the church.
The early days after a refugee’s arrival in Canada are spent helping acclimate them to their new home, ensuring paperwork is filled out so they can access services, and connecting them with members of the community.
“We help with everyday situations—what is clear to us is not always clear to newcomers,” explains Meinhardt. “Our goal is to assist them in a way that they are comfortable in making their next steps little by little.”
Those next steps include assisting the children as they begin schooling and helping the family enhance their English language skills. The church is grateful for the support of volunteers from the Eritrean community in Winnipeg who are helping the family settle and functioning as interpreters.
It’s an exciting time for both the family and the congregation.
“We’re starting to get to know the family. They’re delightful people who are delighted to be here,” says Lurvey. “They’re grateful and eager to get settled and established.”
“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” Hebrews 13:2
Is your congregation interested in refugee sponsorship? Click here for more information.
St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church is also happy to answer questions from congregations that would like to explore the possibility of sponsoring refugees.