I have a special announcement from the leadership teams of Westheights church.

As you know, our world is experiencing a refugee crisis.  Millions of people are fleeing Syria seeking safety and refuge elsewhere.  We have seen these in the past.  You may remember the Vietnamese boat people and humanitarian challenge facing our world in the 1980’s.

The world is being asked to help with this refugee crisis.

Rick Cober Bauman, of Mennonite Central Committee, sent out an email last week saying that this is the largest humanitarian effort that Mennonite Central Committee has ever faced.  My wife Kim works at Mennonite Central Committee so I hear every night about the challenges Mennonite Central Committee is facing in order to help with this refugee crisis.

Karl Cober, who is chair of Westheights Church’s Missions Committee, sent out an email asking a group of us, what can Westheights do to help?  That is the right response for our church, and for each of us as individuals, to this crisis.  What can we do to help? I asked a number of people, including the church board to brainstorm about what we should do.

Obviously, we should pray.  Pray that God will intervene in nations and bring safety and hope for these millions of people who have been cast out from their homes and land.  The Syrians want to go back to their own land, they do not want to go to other countries.  We should pray for that.  Practically, we can give financially to humanitarian relief efforts.  And there are matching funds being made available through the Canadian government.  I will just mention that those matching funds are for humanitarian relief but not settlement.   You may want to give financially.  If you do, Mennonite Central Committee is a fantastic way to give your funds and you will receive the matching funds for your donations through Mennonite Central Committee.

By the way, if you would like to give to MCC, there are at least three people in our church who work there and can answer your questions: Kim Lester, Michelle Brenneman and Heather Gallian. As well, there are many in our church who volunteer at MCC in various capacities including Katie Buchnea, Tim Lee, Gerd Warkus, and the Westview House Church. I don’t know if you realize it or not but the BIC, the Mennonite Brethren and the Mennonite church partnered together many years ago to start MCC.  It is a world class organization for helping with relief and development.  All kinds of people are giving their money through MCC and it is our initiative as anabaptists that started it and sustains it.  

Rudi OkotThis crisis requires humanitarian relief but it also will require that people and organizations and churches commit to being refugee settlement sponsors.  Giving is important but refugee settlement partners will play a significant part in solving this crisis.  Westheights church has done refugee settlement in the past.  Westheights sponsored people to come from Vietnam and settle in Canada a number of years ago.  We also sponsored and settled an extended and large family (the Okots) in Canada from south Sudan.  I did not plan this but this week MCC released a letter about the work of one of their employees.  I put the letter in your mail file.  It is the story of Rudi Okot.  We put one in every mailfile because Rudy was just a young boy when he came to Canada thanks to our church.  He is now going out to work for MCC.  It is very inspiring story and he tells of the role of our church.

We understand both the joy and cost of what is involved in refugee settlement.

There are two significant things to consider in refugee settlement.  There is a financial cost and there is a time cost.  We as a church would have to raise the cost of a settlement for a family and that cost would be about $30,000.  (So if you are thinking about giving to Mennonite Central Commitment keep in mind, IF, and that is a big ‘IF’ at this point, we were to go forward with a refugee settlement we would be coming to our church and asking for funds of $30,000.)  We do not have that in our budget.  We would have to raise the funds.  If we were to create a “Syrian Settlement Team”, they would need to raise about $30,000 in funds from our church.  Just keep that in mind if you are giving to the need.  If you hold off a couple of weeks I don’t think that is a problem to the overall effort.  Truthfully, I know this is urgent on the news, but in terms of actual refugee relief, we are still just the beginning and there is going to be ongoing needs for months and years ahead.  if you hold off for a couple of weeks, then you may have the option to give to a Westheights refugee settlement if that is something you would like to do.  If nothing develops, then you can go ahead and give through Mennonite Central Committee or whoever you may choose. 

However, truthfully, the money is not my largest concern.  I know that you are a very generous congregation.  I appreciate your generosity and do not take it for granted.  

The money is not my largest concern because you are very generous people.  However, I know that you are also very busy and overscheduled and overstressed.  You often tell me.  The challenge of refugee settlement is also the time cost.  It is a large time commitment.

But cost is not a reason to not do this.

I simply want us to listen to Jesus when He said, always count the cost. So we want to know if there is interest in refugee settlement for a Syrian family.  If there is interest, then we would create a “Syrian Settlement Team.”  Obviously this is not the responsibility of staff; they have enough to do.  We would need a volunteer team of at least a dozen people and a couple of those people would need to be key leaders of the effort.  To repeat, we need at least a dozen people and at least two key leaders. There would be many resources to assist this team, in particular MCC who are encouraging as many churches as possible to sponsor Syrian refugees, so they would not be without help.

I hope I have been clear. If you have any questions, talk to me after church and I will be glad to answer any of your questions.

Talk to me after church or fire me an email at toddlester@westheights.org if you are interested in being on a “Syrian Settlement Team,” and based on the response from the congregation we will decide how to proceed.

Thank you for your consideration and prayers.