This work often contains difficult stories, situations and heart-stopping narratives. So the moments that capture hope, joy and life particularly stand out as memorable.
This week I had the privilege of submitting a sponsorship application for a family that fled their home country in December 2012. They arrived in what they hoped would be a safe country, only to find new threats, and to have suddenly become refugees.
It is difficult for us to imagine what that would be like. Perhaps the first few choices are simple: to leave your home or be killed ... and not just you, but your spouse ... your children. It makes good sense to leave. Falsely accused, it is impossible to present your side of the story. No one in authority will listen. You are on the wrong side. So you move to a new town, perhaps in a new province. Maybe stay with some relatives for a few weeks.
But then the threats follow you. We will kill you. We will burn down your house. You do not deserve to live. Relatives ask you to leave; understandably. They don't want to endanger their own family... So now, where to go? Another town? Perhaps stay with a pastor?
Even here, hundreds of miles from 'home' the threats come again. A lawyer, a pastor, your own family advise the best thing to do will be to leave and go to a new country. The UNHCR is there. They will find you a new home.
Perhaps that too although painful, is a fairly simple decision. Clearly it is not safe to live in what has been your home for generations. But a new country? A new home? A safe home? I expect although painful and unplanned, I would buy the ticket and look forward to a better future.
But the UNHCR doesn't find a new home. In fact, although there are physical scars, and documented police reports, and death certificates of family members already killed, the UNHCR declares your claim of having a well-founded fear of persecution is not credible. They say, "Go back. You'll be fine." Unbelievable.
For others the story is a little more hopeful. For others the UNHCR will say, "Yes. We can see you are in danger. You are a refugee. But we do not have a new country for you to go to. There is no room."
For this particular family, their children were 5 and 6 when they fled. Today those children are 12 and 13. That is alot of school to miss. That is a long time to live in a 12 x 12 room, hoping on the rare occasions you go out that the police don't ask to see your Visa. Even with Refugee Status, people are arrested and sent to the Immigration Detention Centre, notorious for its inhumane conditions.
And this week, because one of our AGC churches said "yes," we were able to submit a sponsorship application for their family. This family and I messaged frequently through the final stage of assembling all their supporting documents. Finally it was completed and submitted to IRCC. I copied the refugees and sponsors on that email. That was when the following exchange occured:
Refugee: Good evening sister. How are you doing? I received cc emailed today from you. I just want to understand them.
Me: Sure. How can I help?
Refugee: Did you send to embassy for sponsorship?
Me: Sponsorship applications are sent to the Resettlement Operations Centre in Ottawa ... and I explained the process.
Refugee: So we are in the line?
Refugee: Did you send them our forms and picture?
Refugee: Woa. So finally the dream comes true.
Me:(I feel the weight of the moment, but can't find words that don't sound trite so resort to the sparkly heart and full teeth smiley emoticons...)
Refugee: I don't know how to react about it, but it's very generous. Thank you very much sister for all your efforts, love and care towards us.
Me: There is still a long time of waiting ahead. The posted wait time for your visa office is 30 months.
And then this was the line that will be forever seared in my memory...
Refugee: I know about the wait but it is a hope that we are in the program and will live a normal life with our children.
After all the injustices, after all the fear, waiting and uncertainty, there is hope. Hope that is still quite likely almost 3 years away from reality - 3 more years of living in a room far too small for 3 adults and 3 children (A new baby was born last year!), 3 more years to dodge immigration police, 3 more years of lost schooling - and yet, their love for Jesus, their trust in their Heavenly Father, and their FAITH shine through the darkness of their circumstances.
I have seen a gem in the ugliness of injustice. I have seen the beauty of a suffering heart trusting God. These are blessings that invigorate and empower the work of compassion. Materialism loses its lustre. Complacency is seen for the lie that it is. I can only imagine the LIFE that would be experienced if all God's people woke up to the opportunities that are literally at our fingertips and simply said, "Yes."