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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