desert roadThis letter is to bring your attention to the Refugee Sponsorship Initiative that we are undertaking as an Association and to answer some of the many questions you may have. It will provide you with the background information of how we got to now, clarify what a Sponsorship Agreement Holder is, and bring you up-to-date with where the AGC is at in this process today.

Background: How We Got to Now

In early 2015, the AGC (represented by Bill Fietje) was invited to a meeting hosted by the EFC with the Minister of Immigration, Chris Alexander, to discuss details of the government’s plan for Syrian Refugees and the role the church in Canada was requested to fill. The Minister hoped that churches in Canada would play a major role in that resettlement plan. Out of that meeting, the EFC drafted a Statement of Intent outlining the tremendous need facing us today, and the clarity of scriptures that speak of God’s compassion for the vulnerable, the needy and the oppressed. The final paragraph of that Statement reads as follows:

At our National Board meeting in February, 2015 our president reported, “We need to identify someone in our Association who would have a passion for this ministry and will oversee it on our behalf. This is too large a task for our current staff. The Executive has agreed to sign the “Statement of Intent” from the EFC.”

Fast-forward to the end of April, and our western region Conference in Black Diamond when Bill again included this initiative in his report to Conference, outlining the crisis as it stands today, and the desire of the AGC to be involved. Tim Davis, our pastor in Victoria, BC spoke to Bill saying that God seemed to be laying the present Syrian/Iraqi crisis on his heart. Perhaps there was some way for him to be involved? As Bill gave his report, Tim’s wife Susan also felt a tug on her heart. Perhaps this was something they could do.

Tim and Susan watched and waited through the summer to see if God was calling them. Neither has experience in this field, and the job of resourcing and training others to resettle refugees in their communities is daunting. However as time went along, there was no “stop” from God while the passion to help and be involved only grew. By God’s grace and with His enabling, they chose to serve.

In September 2015, the AGC signed a renewable one-year Denominational Partnership Agreement between:

  • the Christian & Missionary Alliance in Canada,
  • the AGC
  • the FEBC (Fellowship of Evangelical Baptist Churches), and
  • the EMCC (Evangelical Missionary Church of Canada

The C&MA has been a Sponsorship Agreement Holder (SAH) with Citizenship and Immigration Canada since February 2012, and they have experience assisting local congregations with sponsorship applications and resettlement plans. This agreement allows the AGC, FEBC and EMCC to work under the umbrella of the C&MA’s Sponsorship Agreement which means our churches could begin the process of sponsoring refugees right away. 

What is a Sponsorship Agreement Holder (SAH)?

A sponsorship agreement holder (SAH) is an organization that has signed a sponsorship agreement with the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism which allows them to participate in the resettlement of refugees through the Private Sponsorship of Refugees (PSR) Program. A sponsorship agreement is a legal agreement between a corporation and the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism. After signing the agreement, the corporation becomes a Sponsorship Agreement Holder (SAH).

Currently, there are 95 SAHs across Canada. SAHs differ in composition, type and organizational structure. In general, they have the following traits:

• They are incorporated organizations.
• They can be religious, ethno-cultural or humanitarian organizations.
• They have signed a sponsorship agreement with the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism (or delegate) to facilitate the sponsorship process.
• They are responsible for managing sponsorships submitted under their agreement.
• They have the prerogative to identify refugees whom they would like to sponsor.
• They can initiate sponsor-referred cases (e.g., specific refugees or refugee families in need of resettlement are brought to the attention of the SAH through overseas contacts or through friends or relatives in Canada).
• They can authorize Constituent Groups (CG) to sponsor under their agreement. SAHs have the right to set their own criteria to recognize a CG and manage their agreement. They may have many CGs across Canada or only a few in a specific region or area.
• They are responsible for training and information sharing with their Constituent Groups.
• They may undertake sponsorships on an ongoing basis.
• Some have national agreements while others are regional.
• They work with the local Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) office in their community.
• They or their authorized CG is located in the community where the refugee is expected to settle.

What are the responsibilities of a SAH?

When an organization signs a sponsorship agreement, it becomes fully accountable for the responsibilities that are detailed in the sponsorship agreement. These include:

1. Providing basic financial support (e.g., for housing and food) and care for the sponsored refugee during the sponsorship period (generally a period of one year), or until the sponsored refugee no longer requires assistance, whichever comes first;
2. Pre-screening of sponsorship applications to determine whether they meet Canada’s sponsorship eligibility and admissibility criteria;
3. Being responsible for the selection and authorization of CGs;
4. Ensuring it has sufficient resources and expertise to carry out its responsibilities;
5. Remaining jointly or solely liable when the SAH or CG has signed a sponsorship undertaking;
6. Providing organizational assistance, advice, information and support to its CGs;
7. Being responsible for the monitoring of its CGs;
8. Advising CIC of any changes in the signing authority of the organization; and
9. Submitting an annual report to CIC.

What settlement assistance is required from a SAH?

At the outset of the sponsorship process, a SAH has an obligation to provide a settlement plan that outlines the settlement assistance it will offer to the sponsored refugee(s). During the sponsorship period, a SAH through the efforts of their Constituent Groups (for us, this will be our local churches) undertakes to:

1. Welcome the refugees at the airport, and provide an orientation to life in Canada;
2. Provide suitable accommodation, basic furniture and other household essentials;
3. Provide food, clothing, local transportation costs and other basic necessities of life; and
4. Help the refugees:

• Complete any required forms, including health insurance, social insurance and child tax benefits;
• Learn English or French (e.g., help with getting into an English-as-a-second-language or French-as-a-second-language class, provide tutoring);
• Understand the rights and responsibilities of permanent residents;
• Find a job and make friends;
• Learn about and access services that are available in the community;
• Register children in school and guide them in dealings with the school system;
• Locate a family physician and dentist; and
• Become independent.

A SAH is expected to prepare a settlement plan that outlines, in as much detail as possible, how it will divide the responsibilities of settling the newcomers; who will provide money; which in-kind support is available; and what the back-up plan is in case the original settlement plan does not work out.

Where we are at today (December 8, 2015)

Our application has been completed, signed by our President, Bill Fietje, and has been sent off. It can take 4 – 6 months to be approved.

Tim and Susan have built a website and set up a Facebook page to keep our people informed, and to provide resources for those looking to sponsor a refugee (family) in their community.

www.agcrsi.org
AGC Refugee Sponsorship Initiative (Facebook page)

Tim and Susan are learning like crazy! The C&MA have oodles of documents and resources that they are giving us to ‘rebrand’ with our own logos. We are accumulating very practical and useful material for helping our churches in their efforts to sponsor a family in their community. Citizenship & Immigration Canada also have an entire Refugee Sponsorship Training Program that Tim & Susan are taking as segments are offered.

There have been 8 AGC churches thus far who have contacted the C&MA to make initial inquiries regarding sponsorship. We are in close communication with C&MA, so that once our SAH is in place, the transfer of responsibility for those groups back to us should be seamless.

In order to accommodate the workload of 4 denominations under one SAH ‘umbrella’ C&MA are looking to hire a Program Assistant to field initial inquires and to explain the policy and procedures related to refugee sponsorship, to resource local churches as needed, and much, much more. As part of the Partnership Agreement we signed with the C&MA in September, we will cost-share this position for one year.

A Final Word

We find ourselves living in a time of unparalleled upheaval, displacement and movement of people groups. Unfortunately, the violence, conflict and persecution at the root of this mobility is also unparalleled. As God’s people scattered throughout the world, we are perfectly situated to provide relief for hurting people made vulnerable by circumstances of injustice & violence. It may seem that larger cities and centers of population have more to offer new families to Canada. In fact, our small towns are rich in the most important ingredients: caring relationships, strong community, healthy living, and many opportunities for a good life in a new country.

We pray for God’s blessing on you as you serve Him where you are. We pray your hands and heart will be strengthened as you equip God’s people for works of service, we pray your mind will be renewed by God’s Spirit and stayed on His promises, and we pray that God’s splendor will be displayed in you as you live a life of freedom in Christ!

Tim and Susan Davis
Co-Chairs AGC Refugee Sponsorship Initiative