Wed 21 Oct
Refugee sponsorship through a child's eyes
The last time we sponsored a refugee family, I was about 12 years old. Our Chinese Baptist church in North York had sponsored four refugee families from Vietnam in the early 1980s. This church community was largely made up of newcomers helping newcomers. At that time, we were new immigrants from Hong Kong ourselves, having just arrived in Canada five or six years earlier.
I remember the sponsorship experience rather vividly: from the time the plight of the Vietnamese "boat people" hit the news, to when the need was called out during Sunday worship, even through to passionate prayer meetings for God to do something for these "boat people." I recall the moment we realized we were being called to fill this need, and the formation of a committee of adults who arranged for the families to arrive. I also remember being there to meet the families when they first landed, and helping them settle into their new life in Canada.
Once our Vietnamese families landed one after another, I remember visiting them downtown where our church initially rented places for them to live. We brought food, clothing, and other essentials to their homes. Later, we applied for the biggest apartment in Regent Park Ontario Housing for a large family with eight children, two parents and their grandmother. We helped them understand the Canadian system, find their way around the TTC, set up a bank account, go grocery shopping, look for employment, enroll in schools, find doctors, just to name a few. We also connected them with interpreters and registered them for ESL classes.
Out of all the refugee families my church sponsored, I remember the family with the eight kids the most. We played with the kids while the adults chatted about their new lives here in Canada. More than anything else, I remember how thankful the family was. We ate meals with them and listened to their stories of the horrors they had endured on their journey.
In reflecting on why I remember so much, I've come to a tentative conclusion that it is because we were involved as part of the community — even as kids. It was not because the adults did anything deliberate or went out of their way to get us involved. Back in those days, we just tagged along with our parents wherever they went. We were a one-car family, so essentially, we had to stay together most of the time since we rarely multi-tasked.
This time around, as we respond to this refugee crisis, I would love to be able to respond as a community with our children. In my mind, the most effective way is to teach and train our own kids to respond as we ourselves would respond. It does not need to be elaborate, complicated, or programmed. We could set up visits or play dates with the Syrian families. It could even be as simple as welcoming them to kidmax, should they like to join us. I am sure they would love to see their children playing in soccer games or attending other community activities. There are so many things we already do as parents that we can easily invite others to join in as well.
Within a year or so, our large Vietnamese family with eight kids was already on their feet and integrated into Canadian society. My parents told me a few years ago that they are doing well. I have not seen them since those days, but the graciousness and gentleness of the Vietnamese girls I used to play with left — and continues to leave — a deep impression in my mind.
Yvonne Shek is a follower of Jesus who attends The Meeting House Richmond Hill.