Home At Last

Posted By Katie Kowalchuk
September 5, 2017

Where would you go if you couldn’t go home?

What would you take with you if you had to run?

When Rena and Rafi Banonazarian packed up their two sons and fled Alleppo for Lebanon they thought they would be gone for a couple of months. They packed a few clothes and their important papers but there wasn’t time or space to pack anything special. It’s been almost three years since they last saw their home.

For many people in British Columbia the war is Syria is something we see on the news, and in photographs of faraway places. For Rena and her family, the war was happening right in front of them.  One morning as Rena was walking her two boys to school she saw a woman and her son killed just a few feet up the road from where they were standing.  She knew it was time to go.

The family didn’t have passports so they took a bus to Lebanon. In Lebanon they were away from the violence but life was hard. They shared a single room with six other people. The boys were not in school. There was no work.

After two years in Lebanon, Rafi met a man who said he knew someone who could help. He said there was a chance the family could come to Canada and gave Rafi a phone number. When they called, the woman on the other end of the line said she worked with Armenian Family Support Services. She asked a lot of questions and said she would be in touch.

A couple of months later, the call came. The lady from Armenian Family Services reached out to MCC BC where Jennifer Mpungu and the team from MCC’s Migration & Resettlement Program took over the case. They helped sort out all of the paperwork and connected the family with New Life Christian Reformed Church in Abbotsford—who were willing to sponsor them.  A few months later another call came. The family was scheduled for an interview, and medical exams and then they were on a plane flying to Toronto, and then two days later, to Vancouver.

Rena remembers crying on the flight.

Her husband asked her, “Do you know what we are doing?” and she remembers telling him,  “It’s okay just trust God. God is going to help us.”

They were met at the airport by a team from New Life Church who welcomed them to Canada with open arms. The church found a rental home for them and filled it with everything the family needed to start a new life. Rena remembers standing in the empty apartment as person after person from the church showed up with things for their home, from furniture to clothes to dishes.  “There was nothing,” she said. “And everyone gave us something. They were very kind.”

Now the family has been living in Abbotsford for a year and a half. The boys are back in school after missing two years while they were in Lebanon. Rafi and Rena are both working and they are building a life for their family and they are doing what they can to help other refugees come to Canada.  “Canada gives you the chance,” Rena said. “If you work hard you can do anything. Everything.”

The Banonazarian Family (MCC Photo/Luke Tilley)
The Banonazarian Family (MCC Photo/Luke Tilley)

The Banonazarian family have found a new life in Canada. There are thousands of other families just like them, living in makeshift conditions and looking for a way out. Canada’s generous refugee program offers sanctuary but takes the work of many hands to make the move to Canada a reality. MCC’s Refugee sponsorship program works directly with churches, community organizers, and the government to help bring these families to Canada.

The program seeks to share God’s love with refugees and newcomers in the areas of sponsorship, family reunification, settlement, and integration into Canadian society. MCC BC also assists refugees by working with churches to sponsor refugees to come to Canada, and through our refugee office in Vancouver that assists refugee claimants (asylum seekers already in Canada).

Your church can help bring refugees from crisis to community. Sponsoring a refugee family is a one-year commitment and MCC BC is here to help every step of the way. To learn more go to https://mcccanada.ca/refugeeresponse

Growing Community in Prince George

Posted By Katie Kowalchuk
July 4, 2017

A garden in Prince George is helping a whole community take root.

In 2015 MCC received an incredible gift of two apartment buildings located in Prince George. MCC Legacy Trust was established to manage and operate the properties and MCC BC, along with Westwood church, and other community partners, came together to create a safe, sustainable community for people who struggle to find financially accessible housing.

The residents are a mix of students, seniors and young families, all looking for a place to call home. The apartments—119 in Park Village and 131 in Pine Glen—are being renovated by MCC Legacy Trust and an MCC staff member works on site to develop community programming that lives out the mission of MCC: caring for the whole person, making peace, and building strong, long-term relationships.

As MCC BC started to engage with the residents of these two buildings, one of the main concerns they faced was how isolated many of the residents were. As MCC Community Coordinator, Andrew Ardell, explained, “Because the rental units are month to month, there’s a lot of isolation and lots of transient people. There was nothing that united the community together because people just kept to themselves.”

After seeing the success of community gardens in other locations, Ardell talked to the residents about the possibility of building one at Park Village. He wanted to be sure that it was something they wanted to do and wasn’t something that was done to them. The garden was a communal effort from how it looked to what was planted. Several local businesses came on board with volunteers and supplies, and kids from the neighbourhood painted wooden animals that were attached to the sides of the garden boxes.

Children painted wooden animals to decorate the sides of the garden boxes. (MCC Photo/Andrew Ardell)
Children painted wooden animals to decorate the sides of the garden boxes. (MCC Photo/Andrew Ardell)

The garden is in a space about 40’ x 20’ with cherry trees, blueberries, strawberries, and six 8’ x 4’ garden boxes filled with herbs and every kind of vegetable that will grow in Prince George. Residents rotate watering duties. The families get to keep what they have grown and some of the food will be shared at a harvest party in the fall.

“Now people have ownership of where they live. They are looking after their apartments more, they’re picking up the garbage when they walk by because they’re working to grow this garden.” – Andrew Ardell

The garden also promotes healthy eating and there’s an after school program where kids are involved with taking care of the plants and learning about gardening, patience, and how things grow.

Before the garden was built many residents did not know their own neighbors. Now Ardell sees seniors going over to each other’s houses because they met in the garden. Parents often bring their kids to see what is growing and it has become a meeting place that unites the wider community around Park Village.

MCC always works to help empower the individual and Ardell says he has seen this happening firsthand in Prince George. “Now people have ownership of where they live. They are looking after their apartments more, they’re picking up the garbage when they walk by because they’re working to grow this garden.”

Working in the garden together has also built up a rapport between the residents and Ardell and others who work in the community, which has helped connect residents to other programs and resources.

Residents gathered together to plant the garden on a sunny day in June. (MCC Photo/Andrew Ardell)

There are already plans for the garden to continue next year and it may expand to a second garden at the Pine Glen building as even more families want to participate.

The needs around the world are great, but we can make a difference. The innovative donation of revenue-generating assets is one more way you can respond to a world longing to be in right relationship with God, one another, and creation. We invite you to visit mcclegacy.ca to learn more about the work of MCC Legacy Trust.

If you’d like to learn more about starting a community garden in your area, you can connect with Andrew Ardell at andrewardell@mccbc.ca.