Neighbourhood Church senior pastor James Toews

Neighbourhood Church senior pastor James Toews

Group of Nanaimo churches sponsor African refugees

NANAIMO – Nearly a dozen churches in Nanaimo worked together to help sponsor a refugee family from Eritrea.

Nearly a dozen churches in Nanaimo have come together to sponsor a refugee family from the African nation of Eritrea.

Over the last few months, Neighbourhood Church in the city’s north end has been leading the efforts to bring a 24-year-old mother and her two daughters, ages two and five, as well as her 54-year-old mother to the Harbour City.

Neighbourhood Church senior pastor James Toews said they are expecting the family to arrive in Nanaimo within the coming days.

“We were given notice of four- to six-week arrival about four weeks ago,” Toews said. “So they could be here at any moment now.”

Toews, whose mother came to Canada as a refugee in 1928, said the idea to sponsor a refugee began shortly after seeing the photos of Alan Kurdi, the Syrian boy who washed up ashore on a Turkish beach earlier this year.

“That single image was the catalyst here,” Toews said.

The church has been working with Mennonite Central Committee, a non-profit organization of Anabaptist churches that help Canadian groups sponsor UN-approved refugees, and has received support from Christ Community Church, Compass Church, Departure Bay Baptist, Generations Church, Hammond Bay Baptist, Light of Christ, Maranatha Foursquare Gospel Church, Nanaimo Alliance Church, Nanaimo Nazarene and New Horizons.

In October, few Syrian refugees had been approved. There was also a need to sponsor families from other nations, according to Toews, who said that picking a family to sponsor was difficult.

“We got 35 pages of applicants … and it felt very daunting to choose,” Toews said.

With much of the focus on refugees from Syria, little attention has been given to refugees from other countries like Eritrea, where political policies, such as forced conscription, have resulted in roughly 5,000 people leaving the country each month ,according to the UN. Human Rights Watch describes the country as “among the most closed countries in the world; human rights conditions remain dismal.”

“There are people who have been living in refugee camps for over 20 years,” Toews said.

To date, the churches have raised $18,117 and are only a few thousand short of their target of $20,750. Neighbourhood Church associate pastor Travis Barbour said the support from individuals in the community as well as the other churches has been overwhelming.

“It is hard to put into words how meaningful it is,” Barbour said. “It is meaningful for many reasons because it has brought our church together and it is meaningful because it has brought churches of Nanaimo and it is meaningful because it has brought the city of Nanaimo together.”

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