While our secular culture today likes to leave the baby Jesus at the manger and go shopping on Boxing Day, for the Church, the night in the stable is but a stop on a long and dangerous journey. No sooner is the Christ Child born then his life is in danger; his family must flee.
Sponsoring refugees and welcoming newcomers to Canada continues to be a big part of our work as a diocese. In 2023, we welcomed dozens of individuals and families to Vancouver Island. Many of them were applicants we sponsored two and three years ago, and who are finally here and getting settled. There are many more who are still waiting. I ask you prayers for their safety and for Jibril Mohamed in his work as Refugee Coordinator.
The future of refugee ministry in this diocese is still unclear. We are currently working with the other dioceses in our ecclesiastical province to talk about ways we might share this work and achieve some efficiencies of scale. In January, the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF) and the primate are convening a meeting of all 15 dioceses across the country who sponsor refugees. Recent government changes to the agreements structuring this work have affected us all. The federal government is increasingly downloading the responsibility of resettling individuals onto “private sponsorship” agreements, while at the same time, making it more difficult for non-profits and faith groups to do this work.
In the meantime, the number of refugees and internally displaced people in our world continues to grow. At the end of 2022, 108.4 million people were estimated to be refugees; 40 per cent of them are children. The bombings of refugee camps in Gaza are a stark reminder of the instability and danger that so many there live with.
As we begin a new year, I invite you to take the time to write to your Member of Parliament to express your concern about the future of refugee sponsorship in Canada. Over the next three years, the government plans to significantly reduce the number of its sponsored refugees. At the same time, it is hoping that private sponsorship holders will be able to increase their capacity, despite increased and unfunded administrative and financial burdens from greater regulation. More and more, organizations like ours — as dedicated as we are — are having to step back and reassess our ability to do this kind of work.
It is time for all of us to come to the table and work together to answer the call of the world’s refugees and to ensure that all children of God live in safety. In that spirit, here is a poem by Ann Weems entitled The Refugees, that I would like to share with you:
Into the wild and painful cold of the starless winter night
came the refugees, slowly making their way to the border.
The man, stooped from age or anxiety,
hurried his small family through the wind.
Bearded and dark, his skin rough and cracked from the cold,
his frame looming large in spite of the slumped shoulders;
He looked like a man who could take care of whatever
came at them from the dark.
Unless of course there were too many of them,
One man he could handle, two, even … but a border patrol…,
they wouldn’t have a chance.
His eyes, black and alert,
darted from side to side, then over his shoulder,
then back again forward.
Had they been seen?
Had they been heard?
Every rustle of the wind, every sigh from the child,
sent terror though his chest.
Was this the way?
Even the stars had been unkind—
had hidden themselves in the ink of night
so that the man could not read their way,
Only the wind … was it enough?
Only the wind and his innate sense of direction …
What kind of cruel judgement that would be,
to wander in circles through the night?
Or to safely make their way to the border,
only to find the authorities waiting for them?
He glanced at the young woman, his bride.
No more than a child herself,
she nuzzled the newborn, kissing his neck.
she looked up caught his eye and smiled.
Oh how the homelessness had taken its toll on her!
Her eyes were red, Her young face was lined,
her lovely hair matted from inattention.
her clothes stained from milk and baby,
her hands chapped from the raw wind of winter.
She’d hardly had time to recover from childbirth
when word had come that they were hunted,
and they fled with only a little bread,
and the remaining wine,
and a very small portion of cheese.
Suddenly, the child began to make small noises,
the man drew his breath in sharply:
the woman quietly put the child to breast.
Fear … long dread-filled moments….
Huddled the family stood still in the long silence.
At last the man breathed deeply again,
reassured they had not been heard.
and into the night continued
Mary, Joseph and the Babe.
(The Refugees by Ann Weems, from her book Kneeling in Bethlehem: Poetry for Advent and Christmas, Westminster John Knox Press, 2004)