Monday, 23 November 2015

Canada didn't flinch then and it shouldn't now

I only had to re-read a few stories written by family members about the first few days in Canada to be reminded of the sacrifices made by their sponsors. A name here, a reference there - all but a mere mention of the men and women who laid down their self interests to sponsor immigrants 'fleeing' from a country. My grandparents, like many of the 100,000 or so Dutch immigrants who made their way to Canada in the early 1950's, in a sense, fled a country where opportunity and hope for a better future were practically non-existent in post WWII Europe. Theirs wasn't a flight from death and despair like today's Syrian refugees, theirs was a flight toward a brighter future - they were in a broader sense: economic refugees. Their home had suffered the ravages of war and oppression; brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, aunts and uncles had died at the hands of the Nazi regime; they experienced starvation and deprivation; and their cities and villages were erased from the face of this world by a madman who believed in a Third Reich. After the dust had settled and victory won, the survivors needed sponsors to make a fresh start in strange home on a new continent.

On board 'The Veendam' (1952) -
 my Dad is on the far right.
We don't think of the sponsors as heroes. Unfortunately, they are the forgotten. The memories of sponsors continue to evaporate with every immigrant's death. Yet - it was the sponsorship of immigrants that made it possible for new beginnings to take root. Without sponsors, my grandfather's dream of owning his own farm would not have been fulfilled. Without sponsors, hundreds of thousands of immigrants in generations past could not have made a new start. Like it or not, I'm willing to suggest many of my readers have benefitted one way or another from the sponsorship of strangers.

So, why are many Canadians raising red flags about refugee settlement? Have we learned nothing from history? Are we embracing protectionism and fanning the flames of xenophobia? The likelihood of bringing a terrorist among the refugees is similar to the risk of bringing in Nazi sympathizers, and those guilty of committing atrocities against the Jewish people. It did happen - ex-Nazi soldiers and those who denied the Holocaust were among the boatloads of economic refugees. But, Canada didn't flinch. While it's true that not all sponsorship stories are lined with butterfly kisses many stories do reflect the unselfishness that most of the sponsors possessed.

If we choose to ignore the political or economic refugee, we choose to hoard our wealth. We are hoarding the wealth of Canada that the sponsors of our immigrant families chose to share, if we deny the same to the Syrian, Iraqi, Palestinian, or Sudanese refugee. Look back in history, and to more recent times, to the refugees from Hungary, Vietnam, Serbia, Croatia, Kosovo, and Somalia. Have all these people committed atrocities or perpetrated violence in their new homes? I'm willing to go out on a limb and say no more so than the 'natural-born' Canadian.

If the children of immigrants who made Canada their home deny entry to political refugees by choosing not to sponsor, we forsake those who welcomed our 'parents'. We forsake the sponsors who lined up along the ports of Halifax, who met the 'refugees' at the end of Pier 21, and who waited for the immigrants to clear customs and security.

But, it's much more than forsaking the memory of our sponsors. If you believe that you were rescued from slavery into a land flowing with milk and honey i.e. slavery from death and sin into eternal life, then welcoming the foreigner, stranger, and alien within our collective walls isn't an option. It's a command. In fact, if your truly believe that you were rescued from sin and are now alive in Christ, love for the foreigner, alien, and refugee will be a natural outpouring of your gratitude for God's free gift of salvation in Jesus Christ. Remember - God's love didn't end with simply sponsorship. He met us at the cross, picked us up, and paid the ultimate price so we could live.

Ours is a nation flowing with milk and honey...wine and cheese...beer and wings. Share the wealth and don't flinch now, Canada!

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