|Posted by jeffdoucette on December 21, 2015 at 5:45 AM|
In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’
And Mary said,
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour
Dear Teame and Amine,
We have not yet had the chance to meet…nor have we even had the chance to talk and hear one another’s voice. Yet already I can feel a connection to you…I feel as if I already know you in some small way.
You do not know me, nor our group that will sponsor you as family. You only know that someone in some far away land has agreed to help you at this point in your life journey.
I know little of your story. I know you are brothers and that your life has not been easy and you have made the choice to leave your home, your family, your way of life and your country. I know that because of political and religious persecution you do not feel safe and you made the life changing decision to leave the familiar, the known. I hear that you were small business owners and probably had familiar people who came to you…people who might have been your family, your neighborhood friends or people visiting where you lived. I wonder what you might have sold. My wife and I love to shop at small local shops. And then your life changed
I know that your country was Eritera, nestled in the Horn of Africa between Ethiopia and Sudan. I know your country went through political upheaval and that there was much corruption with the new government and that you no longer felt safe there. I cannot even begin to understand what it must be like not to feel a sense of safety in one’s life.
I think a lot about what you must be wondering. Like who has sponsored you…and why? I wonder about the emotion you must have felt when you got the news from the Visa Office. Were you happy? Excited? Relieved? Sad? Afraid?
Let me tell you a bit about our group. We are made up of two Christian churches in Canada that are part of the United Church of Canada. Our names are Dunbarton-Fairport church and Pickering Village church. Pickering Village United is a neighboring Church and we have begun a wonderful friendship with them. And guess what…we teamed up with the local Mosque called the Pickering Islamic Center. Our church and their church have been great friends for more than 10 years at least and we work on common projects. They are a wonderful, peaceful loving Muslim community that reach out to people in need. I am actually going to have lunch with their community after church today.
So why are we helping to sponsor you? The simple answer is that this is what we do. We respond to people in need and with great love and great generosity. As Christians and followers of Jesus, we try and imitate him and his life story and live by his teachings. His teachings were brought down to one simple command: “Love God and Love neighbor” and we believe we cannot love God truly if we first cannot love our neighbor…even if we have never met that neighbor.
For us neighbor has been in those who come to the local food bank we donate to. They might be living on an isolated First Nation reserves hundreds of miles away. They might come into homeless shelters for men or women or children or into VAW shelters. They might come pregnant or having children been born seeking help. They might be gay, lesbian or transgender and have been rejected by their family or church. They might be people who are living with addictions or are family trying to cope. They might be young children living on the Autism spectrum who come to our respite program or who are part of our church family. They may be people living with differing abilities, people who are grieving, who are survivors of abuse. They may be people who live in poverty or are displaced and come in needing our help. They may be living with mental illness. We do our best to respond with great love because we believe they are neighbor even if we do not know them.
This morning we are reading a story from our bible between Mary and Elizabeth, two cousins who were both pregnant with significant babies. One would be called John the Baptist and the other would be known as Jesus. When Mary found out she was pregnant with Jesus she went to be with her cousin and found her to be with child also. There must have been much laughter as they shared their stories with one another and yet both knew their children would be part of a greater story affecting many people. I love to think that Mary was not a meek and mild person thinking she had no other choice. I love to think that Mary smiled a mischievous smile when she said yes to the angel to give birth to Jesus. The song Mary sang became a defiant song of hope against political and religious oppression that would bring hope to a world in despair.
And the incredible part of this story was that Jesus was born a refugee. His parents Mary and Joseph gave birth in a place that was not his home and they found out the local political power wanted him dead and tried to find him. They had to travel through foreign countries for their lives until they found safety and peace.
And this is why we want to help you. We want you, like Mary to sing a song of defiant hope in the midst of your own political and religious persecution. We are helping you as a refugee family because Jesus was part of a refugee family. We are not the biggest church, nor the most well known church, nor the most popular church…but we are a church that loves. And as part of that gospel commitment to love we have been working very hard to make our church a space safe for all people. Out of our desire to love as Jesus asked us to do we have pledged to welcome everyone regardless of their age, race, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity, differing attributes and abilities both physical and mental, cultural identity or economic circumstance. I do not mean only our church space…but wherever we go as church we make a safe space.
We do want you to know that we are not sure if you are Muslim or Christian or practice any faith, nor did we ask. That is not our business but your own journey. We have no expectations of you to become part of our church family. We only wanted you to know why we said yes to help you begin a new life.
We imagine that this is not your first choice to come to Canada. We are sure your first choice is to be able to live in peace and safety in your home country of Eritera…but this is not possible. So we hope you will find a home in Canada and this wonderful community called Pickering.
I hear you may speak fluent English…but you will hear strange words such as “Double Double”…”Blue Jays”…”Maple Leafs”…the “X” and “some cold eh?” but before long you will find your place. And my dream for you is that you will know you are loved, and you are welcome and you are safe. And most importantly you are no longer a refugee…you are a Canadian. May you breathe out and breathe in the love we have for you.
Mary and Elizabeth would both find out their children would be a gift stirring love inside them. I thank you for stirring LOVE in us…for reminding us of the refugee story we will tell this week on Christmas Eve. Like Mary and Elizabeth who are pregnant in the Scriptures this morning…you are pregnant with possibilities. We are midwives, here to help you give birth to your hopes and dreams. And we do so with great love and respect.
And so I await with great hope and excitement and joy the words “They have a flight and will be here soon”. We wish you a safe journey to us and know many people are excited to help you make home...oh yes and one more thing…because I can never say this enough. You are so loved!
Rev. Jeff, pastor of this wonderful church family I call
Dunbarton-Fairport United Church in Pickering, ON.