Thinking Out Loud

September 11, 2017

Two Communities Converge to Rescue Each Other

Sometime after lunch yesterday, I carried the book out to the backyard with the intention of reading, at best, three chapters. By late last night I had devoured all 192 pages in just two sittings.

All Saints: The Surprising True Story of How Refugees From Burma Brought Life to a Dying Church by Michael Spurlock and Jeanette Windle (Bethany House) is not my usual read. But reading a friend’s review and remembering I had been sent a copy spurred me to take another look.

The publisher, Bethany House, is home to some of the best Christian fiction available, and to read the first two paragraphs of their description is to imagine you’re reading about someone’s fictional story. Things like this just don’t usually happen. But if God places the right Episcopal priest in the right parish at the right time, anything is possible. It is the stuff movies are made of.

And a movie was. All Saints (the movie) released at the end of August, and in something you don’t see every day, the original contact with the movie producer is included in the story.

A Karen family wedding at All Saints (from the website of Over My Shoulder Foundation; click image to link)

The books subtitle (above) has conveyed much of what you need to know: Life changes for a young man in his first pastorate — a financially crippled parish which has just endured a painful church split — when three “scouts” from among a group of Burmese refugees living in Tennessee show up only because the church is the same denomination as what they experienced in their homeland, copies of their translation of the Book of Common Prayer in hand; there to check out the orthodoxy of the church. As the story progresses, the groups go through the growing pains of integrating, and then the pastor gets a vision of turning the church’s acreage into a farm. 

The story unfolds switching back and forth between the story of Pastor Michael Spurlock and his wife Aimee in the U.S. and the story of Ye Win (and others) among the Karen [kah-REHN] dealing with a less comfortable life in what is now Myanmar. The manner in which Ye Win’s little band of refugees converge with this Tennessee church is certainly the stuff of fiction, not real life. But remarkably, it happens.

This is a textbook case study on the assimilation of minority groups and refugees into North American churches. Not every story will read as this one, but it’s an excellent example of a pastor, a bishop, and a small group of parishioners being open to the possibility that God is doing something among them. Something worth writing about. Or making a movie.

Read more: Washington Post movie review.

A copy of the book was provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

All Saints Episcopal Church of Smyrna, Tennessee (image from Over My Shoulder Foundation, click to link)



March 29, 2016

Where Are Canada’s Refugee Families?

Better Together Project

Canadian churches, civic groups and even wealthy patrons are asking, “Whatever happened to our refugee families?”

What’s more, these groups have collected donations of furniture, appliances, bedding, linens, coats, and more. They’ve raised the minimum $32,000 – $40,000 (CDN) needed to implement the project. They had volunteers standing by to teach the newcomers about North American life and to help them learn English. In many cases, they’ve rented apartments or made other financial commitments to secure property.

And now the Canadian government has pulled the rug out from under them.

The Globe and Mail reported:

Sponsors who responded to the government’s call to help Syrians are now being told waiting times for the arrival of the refugees they sponsored will be months longer than they expected.

As the government returns to a normal processing pace after hitting its goal of resettling 25,000 Syrians by the end of February, private sponsorship groups are frustrated by the increasing waiting times for resettling the newcomers. During the height of the government’s efforts to resettle 25,000 Syrians, all Syrian refugee applications were given priority and arrived within a few months of their application being received. Now, sponsors are being told they may not meet the refugees they sponsored until 2017.

Temporary processing centres established in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon to handle the 25,000 Syrian refugees are now closed and regional missions are in charge of processing, according to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC)…

…The IRCC recognized some sponsors’ disappointment that the expedited process is not continuing, but said the “accelerated pace of recent months could not be sustained indefinitely.” The department also confirmed that Syrian applications will no longer be prioritized, meaning the refugees won’t arrive as soon as some sponsors expected.

“Private sponsorship applications that are submitted now are not expected to arrive this year as current application inventory already exceeds the high target that has been set,” said the department in a statement…

The Toronto Star reported:

The latest revelation that Ottawa has quietly stopped making it a priority to process Syrian sponsorship applications at its central processing centre in Winnipeg is another kick to the stomach of the private sponsors who responded to the government’s call for support and now feel abandoned.

“The government looked good in those photo ops after they made the 25,000 target in February. Now, they no longer care about the other sponsors and have left us in the cold,” said Thomas Vincent, whose group in Collingwood has been waiting for the arrival of three Syrian families since December and now worries for further delays.

“I get the same question every day: ‘Where are the Syrian refugee families that we are sponsoring?’ We have to say to them, ‘We don’t know.’ It looks silly on us.”

Earlier in March, the Canadian Refugee Sponsorship Agreement Holders Association — whose members connect interested community and faith groups with refugees awaiting resettlement abroad — was told by the immigration department that Syrian applications are no longer a priority.

And worse, Syrian applications submitted by the agreement holders since January are now going to be counted toward the annual caps imposed on them by the immigration department. Every year, each agreement holder can submit only a limited number of sponsorship applications; this means they now have fewer spots for non-Syrian refugees awaiting resettlement to Canada…

…“We have organized for months, have all the volunteers, services, resources in place to sponsor our families, and no one can tell us whether it will be one month, six months or a year to obtain our families,” said Vincent.

“Totally unacceptable and an utter waste of our time, money, energy and resources. We have responded to this refugee crisis as humanitarian, and our desire to do the right and compassionate thing. And we sit waiting, while our federal bureaucracy drops the ball.”

However, a letter to the Vancouver Sun suggests that the writer was told the opposite; that their non-Syrian family wasn’t coming because only Syrians were being admitted:

Last November, our parish joined another to raise funds to sponsor a Middle East refugee family. A family of five: two parents and three children under 10 years from Mosul, Iraq, was selected for us.

The family was in the “greatest need” category which often includes Christians and other non-Muslim minorities who cannot be accommodated in UN camps because their safety cannot be guaranteed. This family and many others live in overcrowded camps in Jordan.

The king of Jordan had made pleas to the world to help.

A minimum $45,000 for private sponsorship for people in the greatest need was raised (versus $25,000 for government sponsorship). An apartment was found and secured. Groups were formed for welcoming, orientation, language training etc. We even had a photo of the family.

Last month we learned this family was no longer our sponsored family. The Canadian government had decided that only Syrian refugees could be sponsored. This family had hope in us. They have been let down. So have we.

How can our government be so callous and change its policy in the middle of the process? Is the refugee issue only about meeting the quota, deadline, political correctness, and photo ops?

One such sponsoring project was headed by the former mayor of Toronto, John Sewell, CITY-TV news reported late Thursday,

“Nobody knows when their family is going to arrive,” Sewell told CityNews. “There’s a lot of sponsorship groups in Toronto that have raised their money and have houses and apartments all ready to go. There’s no families.”

“They’ve cut back all temporary staff in Jordan and Lebanon and Turkey so they can’t process them and they’ve taken all the temporary staff out of Winnipeg so they can’t process them.”

On top of closing those processing centres, the government has implemented caps on the number of privately-sponsored refugee applications for this year. That cap is not just for Syria but for all refugees entering this country. It’s a policy decision that wasn’t announced with any level of fanfare and one that wasn’t acknowledged by the Prime Minister even when he was pressed on the issue Thursday.

But the report contains a video which shows the Prime Minister sidestepping the question even earlier that day. Clearly the plan was to bury this in a part of the news cycle where journalists shut down for the Good Friday long weekend.

The CITY piece ends:

Many groups have already rented homes for their sponsored families and have only just learned they’ll sit empty for at least another eight months.

The government publicity gambit — the story details coming together only late in the day Thursday — seems to have worked. A story that should have received more coverage has yet to appear from the country’s national broadcaster, CBC News. When I mentioned this change to people over the past few days, without exception, everyone I spoke to was unaware of this development.

better-together-logo-72dpiFor this writer, it’s partly personal. A group of churches in our community (later joined by some civic groups) decided to commit to seven families under the umbrella of The Better Together Partnership. At the combined Good Friday service, the final balance of the $250,000 (CDN) needed was raised. That’s a rather large sum of money for small-town churches who, if they had known where this was going, might have diverted those funds to another project.

Two families have already arrived.

I feel bad for them as well. We’re not exactly at the center of the earth here, so having been told there will be seven families altogether, it’s not fair for them either to know that our government — so benevolent towards them just a few weeks ago — is now effectively shutting down the process for the time being. They were probably anticipating a micro-community with a common history and stories to share.

The story happened so quickly and quietly that one of the co-chairs of our project here seemed unaware of it when I mentioned it on Saturday night. I was rather hoping she would have heard it from someone else by that point.

This just isn’t fair to anyone.

This is politics at its worst.

We’ve all been lied to.





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