Kelowna Church Rallies for Refugees

Posted By Katie Kowalchuk
June 6, 2017

In September 2015, the horror of the Syrian refugee crisis was captured in a single image of a young boy on a beach. Alan Kurdi, the boy in the photograph, was just three years old when he lost his life trying to flee to safety. The image became a touch point for many. For Kelowna pastor Mike Penninga, it was a call to action.

As he thought about how his church could get involved in the plight of refugees, one thing became clear. “Either we can cry against what’s wrong or we can be a part of the solution,” he told MCC. “People want to help. They just need to know where to direct their help. We decided that as a church we were not just going to sponsor a refugee family, but that we would be a church that sponsors refugee families.”

Penninga’s church, Kelowna Gospel Fellowship, a congregation of 750 people in Kelowna BC, raised the funds necessary to sponsor a refugee family and contacted MCC to be their sponsoring agent. Kelowna Gospel Fellowship was paired with a refugee family but at the last minute the family had to withdraw. The process of bringing refugees to Canada can be long and complex. By April of 2017 they were still waiting.

“We decided that as a church we were not just going to sponsor a refugee family, but that we would be a church that sponsors refugee families.” – Pastor Mike Penninga

As they waited, Penninga and his team wondered if there was something more the church could do to help. He invited MCC Advancement Director, Scott Campbell, to come and speak to the congregation.

That’s when they heard about MCC’s relief kit program.

Relief kits are 20L buckets packed with supplies that help families whose lives have been disrupted by violence or disaster. The kits contain towels, soap, combs, toothbrushes, laundry soap and other necessities. Each kit costs between $50-$75 to assemble. With the help of individuals and groups, last year MCC shipped over 14,000 relief kits to Jordan, Syria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Haiti, Honduras, Iraq, Lebanon, Ukraine and Serbia.

On April 23, 2017, Kelowna Gospel Fellowship launched a campaign to pack 150 relief kits – the same week they got word that the refugee family they are sponsoring will be arriving in Kelowna sometime this summer. As of today, Kelowna Gospel Fellowship has collected just over 200 relief kits!

Pastor Penninga said he was not surprised by his congregation’s generosity.

“We can do this,” he said. “It’s not overwhelming. We can be a part of a solution.”

A group from Kelowna Gospel Fellowship stands with their completed relief kits. (Photo/Mike Penninga)

If you, your church or group would like to host a relief kit drive, please contact Scott Campbell, Advancement Director at MCC BC at

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Stirring Hope

Posted By Katie Kowalchuk
March 3, 2017

A group of students at Trinity Western University is bridging the gap between life in refugee camps and life on campus.

Last summer, Jordan Koslowsky, a second-year International Studies student, came face to face with the realities of the refugee crisis on a trip to Israel.

“After a steep climb in the Middle Eastern heat, I stood on top of Mount Hermon,” he recounts. “Where I stood at that moment, gazing into Syria, Lebanon, and Israel, was nothing short of surreal. What I did not comprehend at that point was the lasting effect this experience would have on my life.”

He returned home with a passion for the people he met on his trip, particularly those in the Aida Refugee Camp, and a desire to do something about the realities they face each day. His dream? To sponsor a refugee family to come to Canada.

Fast forward to September, when Jordan began to share this dream, albeit tentatively, with those around him. “I almost fell out of my chair,” he says, when his professor Paul Rowe, Coordinator of Political and International Studies at TWU, affirmed that sponsoring a family was an attainable goal.

From there, Jordan reached out to friends, classmates, dorm mates, and members of TWU’s Social Justice Club to form a group that could bring this dream to life. Recently, I had the opportunity to meet with this bright young group of students.

The TRAC team (clockwise from top left): Carlos, Rachael, Johanna, Andrea, Emilio, Jordan, Connor and Aki.

Allow me to introduce you to the team. Johanna Alderliesten is a second-year Nursing student who has been working with newcomers to Canada through Settlement360. Carlos Alvaro, a second-year Media and Communications student, was eager to get behind Jordan’s vision. Connor Green is a third-year Human Kinetics student who wanted to do something tangible about the devastating headlines he saw. Aki Imasato, a third-year Business student, wanted to welcome others the way he had been welcomed from Japan. Fourth-year Rachael Penarroyo and second-year Andrea Rodriguez and Emilio Rodriguez International Studies students are active in TWU’s Social Justice Club and were looking to invest in a passion project.

Together, these eight individuals form TRAC, the Trinity Refugee Awareness Campaign. Their goal is to raise $34,000 to sponsor a family of six through MCC.

“We want to be ambitious, we want to challenge people,” Jordan says.Through this, TRAC also intends to raise awareness about the global refugee crisis on campus, as well as provide opportunities for all members of TWU’s community, including staff, faculty, alumni and supporters to get involved.

TRAC held a Kick-Off event on February 2, 2017.
TRAC held a Kick-Off event on February 2, 2017.

One unique aspect of this sponsorship is that many of the services that the newcomer family will need are available on campus. “We have scores of TWU students that are studying to be ESL teachers, and business students can teach them about banking and finances.” There’s also a medical clinic on campus, and many students who are eager to assist with food, housing, and getting the family settled.

The team recognizes that there is still a lot of work to be done and a lot of plans to be made, but their passion and energy for this project brings so much hope. “It’s so easy to highlight all the bad things that are happening in the world, but we want to stir hope in people,” says Jordan. “We want to remind them that they have the capacity to do something.”

Here at MCC BC, we’re working to provide you with the tools and resources you need to make a difference in the world. TRAC is a perfect example of the kind of project we want to help you accomplish, and we’re delighted that we get to walk alongside this team as they work to bring a family to Canada. To find out more about TRAC, visit their website here. While you’re at it, purchase a shirt or a sticker to show your support!

If you’re a young adult who wants to find tangible ways to respond to needs in the world, we invite you to join The Committee, a growing community of youth and young adults across British Columbia that are committed to doing more. Sign up for our e-mail and receive five new ways you can start doing more each month.