I spent one afternoon last week working as a volunteer in our local second hand store. As I looked around the tiny shop, I couldn’t help noticing how the face of our small community has changed. Like almost every other rural community across the Canadian prairie, the town we raised our children in, just a few short years ago, had one Chinese family running a restaurant. There was also a doctor of East Indian descent who originally hailed from Ghana. That was about it for multiculturalism. The rest of us could trace our ancestry to various parts of Europe, but that’s no longer the case. In the shop that afternoon, there was my friend, Karen, a temporary foreign worker from the Philippines and over there, a young Asian couple. I’m pretty sure they were Korean. Another Korean family lives kitty-corner from me. In the shop, there was also a young Mexican Mennonite man, one of many who have made this area home over the past few years, and two women from one of the nearby Hutterite colonies. I live around the corner from a family from South Africa and another family of newcomers bought the house at the end of our street. The wife is from Honduras and her husband, El Salvador. Yes, our community has changed. It has opened its arms and welcomed the world and I love it!
Now we’re faced with the current refugee crisis and our government’s decision to open our country’s doors to 25 000 Syrians. Sadly, many are responding in ignorance and fear.
There are fears, perhaps even legitimate fears, that terrorists may hide themselves in the masses and infiltrate our peaceful nation and fears that jobs may be lost to these newcomers, but as I watched the news last night and looked into the faces of the sixteen weary Syrians who arrived at the Calgary airport yesterday, I saw people, real people, some with fear in their own eyes. Imagine for a moment what they have been through, what they’ve sacrificed, what they’ve left behind to begin a new life in a new and very strange land. They are not here to make our lives worse, but to make their own lives better and in so doing, they can make our country richer if we give them the opportunity. Who are we, born in Canada through no effort of our own, and benefitting greatly from the hard work and sacrifice of those who came before us, who were themselves newcomers from foreign lands looking for a better life, to close our doors and our hearts to these whose very lives have been torn apart by the atrocities of war? Who do we think we are?
Sadly, I also see racism in the response of some of my fellow Canadians. Canadians like the elderly man working the till at Walmart yesterday, who, during a few moment’s conversation while checking and bagging our purchases, complained bitterly that he’d soon be out of work because “one hundred of those Syrians are coming to Camrose and they’re going to take jobs from all the good people!” Perhaps I should have asked him where his people came from. He certainly didn’t appear to be of First Nations descent!
Much of the fear stems from the fact that these newcomers are Muslims, descendants of Esau, betrayed and robbed of his birthright by his twin brother, our spiritual ancestor, Jacob (Genesis 25-27). They are Muslims, painted with the same brush as the extremists who behead Christians on the beaches of north Africa and who strap explosives to their bodies and blow themselves to smithereens in the public places of Paris, killing and maiming hundreds of innocent bystanders. Are these the Muslims who seek refuge in our country? I don’t think so! That’s like saying that all Chinese Canadians are like Vince Weiguang Li who beheaded a fellow passenger on a Greyhound bus on the way to Winnipeg in July 2008 and ate some of his flesh!
It would be naive to suggest that there won’t be any problems involved in opening our borders to such a huge influx of refugees and I join my voice with others in urging our government to use wisdom and diligence in choosing who will be allowed to come, but how much worse will the problems be if we greet these newcomers with fear and animosity instead of extending a hand of compassion? The government has promised intense and rigorous security checks of each person who arrives in Canada and there is every reason to believe that this current wave of refugees will face the same scrutiny and review as all those who have come before them. For more information on that process, you can go here. Our new Prime Minister has already delayed the December 31 deadline for allowing the 25 000 to enter the country in order to “get it right”. The three families that arrived in Calgary yesterday all escaped war-torn Syria a year ago and have been waiting in Lebanon for permission to come to Canada where they were greeted by family members already living there.
It is the response of some of my fellow Christ-followers that bothers me most of all. Yes, the Christian face of our country is rapidly changing, but if God has called us to reach the lost for Christ, how much easier will it be for us if they come to us? Not many of us can “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19) but we can reach out to the ones who move in next door to us with love and compassion and be the hands of Christ to them. It is not only immigrants of other faiths who are robbing our country of its Christian heritage, it is also those born and raised here who have become so self-sufficient and so self-centred that they see no need for a god of any kind and can only express hatred toward those they don’t understand or agree with.