AS THEY SPONSOR
Ready to embrace
Timberlea Baptist Church,
HOUSE KEYS are the only remains of Basheer Ali’s home in
He fled the city in September
2014 with two of his four children. He had no idea those keys
would hang as a decoration on
the living room wall of a Halifax
apartment, dangling between a
world map and a vertically
hanging Canadian flag.
When he, his wife and their
children – three girls and a boy
ranging in age from five to 13
– arrived in Montreal this past
February, they thought their
final destination was Saint
John, N.B. Rerouted to Halifax,
the greater shock was finding
people at the airport to welcome them, ready to bring
them to a furnished apartment.
They thought they were
“basically going to be led to a
hotel room, and it was just
going to be lonely,” admits
Nareen Haj Ali, Basheer’s
wife. Holding back joyful tears
at the airport was difficult.
Their already arduous jour-
ney included the added strain
of illness. Basheer, Nareen, and
two of their daughters Viyan
and Zeen, moved to Gaziantep,
Turkey in May 2014. The girls
needed dialysis, treatment
made inaccessible by the con-
flict. (An uncle in Syria cared
for daughter Noujen and son
Dlir.) The girls didn’t improve.
Basheer returned for his other
children. In September Kobani
was raided, his home destroyed.
In Turkey Basheer considered
paying smugglers and risking
the sea passage to Europe.
Canada’s offer – a paid, safe
flight – “was destiny,” says
Not just for them, but also
for Timberlea Baptist Church,
a small Halifax congregation.
Timberlea had welcomed
their first Syrian family on
January 1, the first refugees
they’d ever sponsored. The
experience had been over-
whelmingly positive. Under
the blended visa referred pro-
gram, both the government
and church would pay for six
months of the family’s expens-
es. The congregation, with
fewer than 70 official mem-
bers, raised the equivalent of a
Thousands of Canadian churches responded to the plight of Syrian refugees by becoming private sponsors for the first ime. Here are three stories. “The popular retelling of the Christmas story [in 2015] was ‘Jesus was a refugee,’ ” says Bryce Ashlin-Mayo, senior
pastor of Westlife Alliance Church in Calgary, one of many churches
that sponsored refugees as a result of the Syrian crisis. We love
refugees, say many Christians, because a Refugee first loved us.
Sponsorship groups arose in the thousands in the face of the Syrian
refugee crisis. Sponsor groups pledged to formally support refugees for
a year. They raised tens of thousands of dollars, furnished apartments,
found English classes and then welcomed their assigned refugees to
their new life in Canada.
And as churches are discovering, that’s just the beginning of the joys
and the struggles of sponsoring refugees.
BY MEAGAN GILLMORE
From top: The Ali children enjoying some play time outside; the Alis
received a warm welcome from Timberlea Baptist Church, Halifax.