Dzaleka refugee camp is in the country of Malawi. A former detention centre for political prisoners, it is now home for over 54,000 refugees from countries such as DRC, Burundi, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Somalia. Through our partners, There is Hope Malawi, and Health Partners International of Canada, we have collaborated to bring humanitarian medical kits to the health clinic that serves the camp and the surrounding community – over 80,000 people.
Our executive director Laura Dobrowolski recently visited the camp and returned with many stories of beauty and hope.
Here is one reflection...
It was Sunday afternoon in the camp, and this small and festively decorated church was a gathering spot for youth from many churches within the camp. They came together for a friendly Bible Quiz competition (complete with prizes) and finished with some spoken word and musical numbers, demonstrating energy and talent, joy and creativity. It was a beautiful reflection of the life and community to be found in Dzaleka.
The church is at the core of so much here:
May you be encouraged, as I am, by the work of faith communities within refugee camps to restore hope. And may you sense the invitation, as I do, through the UNHCR’s Call to Faith Leaders to welcome the stranger.
WELCOMING THE STRANGER: AFFIRMATIONS FOR FAITH LEADERS
A core value of my faith is to welcome the stranger, the refugee, the internally displaced, the other. I shall treat him or her as I would like to be treated. I will challenge others, even leaders in my faith community, to do the same.
Together with faith leaders, faith-based organizations and communities of conscience around the world, I affirm:
I will welcome the stranger.
My faith teaches that compassion, mercy, love and hospitality are for everyone: the native born and the foreign born, the member of my community and the newcomer.
I will remember and remind members of my community that we are all considered “strangers” somewhere, that we should treat the stranger to our community as we would like to be treated, and challenge intolerance.
I will remember and remind others in my community that no one leaves his or her homeland without a reason: some flee because of persecution, violence or exploitation; others due to natural disaster; yet others out of love to provide better lives for their families.
I recognize that all persons are entitled to dignity and respect as human beings. All those in my country, including the stranger, are subject to its laws, and none should be subject to hostility or discrimination.
I acknowledge that welcoming the stranger sometimes takes courage, but the joys and the hopes of doing so outweigh the risks and the challenges. I will support others who exercise courage in welcoming the stranger.
I will offer the stranger hospitality, for this brings blessings upon the community, upon my family, upon the stranger and upon me.
I will respect and honor the reality that the stranger may be of a different faith or hold beliefs different from mine or other members of my community.
I will respect the right of the stranger to practice his or her own faith freely. I will seek to create space where he or she can freely worship.
I will speak of my own faith without demeaning or ridiculing the faith of others.
I will build bridges between the stranger and myself. Through my example, I will encourage others to do the same.
I will make an effort not only to welcome the stranger, but also to listen to him or her deeply, and to promote understanding and welcome in my community.
I will speak out for social justice for the stranger, just as I do for other members of my community.
Where I see hostility towards the stranger in my community, whether through words or deeds, I will not ignore it, but will instead endeavour to establish a dialogue and facilitate peace.
I will not keep silent when I see others, even leaders in my faith community, speaking ill of strangers, judging them without coming to know them, or when I see them being excluded, wronged or oppressed.
I will encourage my faith community to work with other faith communities and faith-based organizations to find better ways to assist the stranger.
I will welcome the stranger.
Written by Alison Witt, who co-leads the Prayer Pilgrimages with Sharon Schmidt.
I used to think prayer was boring.
Of course I knew prayer was important- but for me it was more in the same category as eating kale or going to the dentist. That category of ‘things I know are good to do but just don’t bring me delight’. Something changed along the way though and I can honestly say that prayer has brought me much delight over the past few years.
Participating in neighbourhood prayer walks, spending time in interactive prayer rooms, and going on silent retreats have all been part of helping me learn to pray in more creative and expansive ways. When I was a child I was taught that prayer is a ‘two-way conversation between you and God’. That sounded really attractive, yet for most of my life that simply wasn’t my experience. My prayer life was much more of a monologue involving me pouring out my heart to God (or at its worst reading through my shopping list of prayer requests.)
Slowly I am learning to listen. To pay attention. To hear what God is saying to me. And it is so energizing!
One of the prayer practices that has been particularly life-giving for me is prayer pilgrimage. Pilgrimage is going on a journey with a particular spiritual motivation. Not as a tourist who goes to consume, but rather going with a posture of listening to God and encountering Him along the way. A few years ago I was invited to go on a week-long pilgrimage to Iona, Scotland. I had a specific question I was taking with me and seeking God's direction about. The journey was filled with prayer, reflection, worship, beauty and many hilarious adventures. And in the midst of it, God spoke to me. It was so incredibly personal and meaningful.
I’ve come to understand that it’s not so much about the length of time - pilgrimages can be a week, a month, a year… or even just one day. It’s about the intention and the posture with which you are approaching your trip. Since prayer is at the centre of what we do at IAFR Canada we have been experimenting with ways to build pilgrimage into our ongoing ministry. Some of our team already went on an international prayer pilgrimage to the Mexican-Guatemalan border but we wondered if there are some strategic places right here in Canada where God might want us to go and pray.
Border crossings are a liminal space- a place where life and death decisions are made and life altering actions occur. The Fort Erie- Buffalo border is one of the main official entry points for refugee claimants entering Canada. It is also a symbolic place that represents all the other unofficial, and official crossing points along the very extensive Canada-US border. We sensed that this is a place God was leading us to go and pray. So in early June we invited a group of pastors and ministry leaders to join us on a day-long prayer pilgrimage to the Peace Bridge in Fort Erie.
One of the pastors who joined us was Jesse Hill from Philpott Church in Hamilton. He said “The prayer pilgrimage was a great opportunity to encounter a hidden side of the refugee experience, and to pray about how the Lord might be at work among refugees in my own community. It was both refreshing and eye-opening”.
These day-long pilgrimages are filled with learning about the experiences of refugee claimants, and learning about listening prayer, which have become two of my favourite things. So I guess it's no surprise that these pilgrimages to the border bring me great delight. (For the record, I am also experiencing much delight in eating fresh kale from my garden, but I still avoid going to the dentist.)
IAFR Canada anticipates hosting day-long prayer pilgrimages to the CAN-US border twice a year, fall and late spring. If you know a church leader who might want to join us on a future prayer pilgrimage, please let us know!
One year can make an incredible difference. We had the chance to talk to IAFR Canada team-member Insaf Safou about her recent trip to connect with Loving Hands Lebanon one year after its launch.
“One of the elderly ladies at Loving Hands is our “ironing lady”, said Insaf. "She prepares everything for packaging. When she first joined the team, she was often quite depressed. Her circumstances are very difficult. Now, there is a smile on her face. Her situation has not changed, but she has!”
Loving Hands Lebanon recently celebrated one year of operation as a social enterprise, teaching sewing skills to women. It’s one of many critically-needed programs Beirut Nazarene Church offers to refugees and the community, in partnership with IAFR Canada. In the process of creating a way for women to support their families economically they have also created a community of women who care for one another.
If you walked into the workshop, you would find a mix of refugees and local residents, Muslims and Christians all working, laughing and eating together. Daily devotional times have helped ground this team in God’s love for them. During a recent conference for women’s ministry leaders, which included the Loving Hands staff, one woman shared that she really loved her first overnight experience of gathering for worship, teaching and prayer.
Loving Hands launched with the facilitation of Insaf Safou, the oversight of Beirut Nazarene Church, and the wisdom generously shared by Hopeful Hands Erbil, founded in 2017 by a local team led by Insaf.
The local team formed quickly, bursting with creativity that soon produced bed sheets, bags, decor and clothing. All their raw materials come from Lebanon, supporting the local economy with their buy local, made local approach.
In addition, a storefront has recently been rented to display and sell the beautiful, expertly made products that Loving Hands is creating. Profits from the sales of their handiwork become the paycheques for the Loving Hands staff.
At a time when the Lebanese economy is really suffering, Loving Hands is helping refugees in Beirut not just survive, but also recover from forced displacement. They truly have accomplished so much in just one year.
This is the door to Beirut Nazarene Church's STEP program, a school for Syrian refugee children that helps prepare students for an eventual transition to the public education system. Your compassionate generosity helps us partner with this program.
The following story is written by Caroline, the school's director.
Lana* is a 7 year old Syrian girl. She has 5 sisters. Her mom works as a hairdresser at home to meet the needs of the family.
Last month there was a fire in their apartment building and the mother reached out to us, sharing her fear and sending us pictures of the blackened building. Fortunately, nobody was injured, and their own apartment was undamaged.
We came to know this family when they joined our STEP educational program in October 2020. As refugees, the girls had never been to school, so finding an educational program that could help them catch up was essential for Lana’s parents. Lana and her sisters walk to school each day from their home nearby.
Lana loves school a lot. She and her sisters are smart and fast learners. When classes were paused for the two-week Christmas break, her mother sent us a video of the girls crying hard. They could not wait for school to start again!
Although last year was not a normal year due to COVID shutdowns, they were able to continue studying from home through supported online teaching. We are happy to report that Lana and each of her sisters have successfully passed to another grade level!
Rebecca Kaplan shared her experience of Home-Hosting a refugee with Open Homes Hamilton, speaking at the No Room Storytelling Evening in Hamilton, May 14, 2022.
It's been amazing to hear this evening how some experts are literally changing the landscape of this city to be more accommodating. It also makes it a tough act to follow because I am not an expert on anything that would put me up here.
But in my life, I seem to reflect on the same question a lot: “How did I get myself here?”
I guess in this case it was because of an email I received.
On September 15th of this past year, in the middle of a busy day, in the busiest season for both my husband and myself, since we both work in schools, I received an email from Danielle at Open Homes that basically went like this.
"Hey Rebecca, we have a possible guest. He's a 24 year old African Muslim man who doesn't speak English, only Arabic and French. Are you interested?"
Are we interested? Cue reflective question: “How did I get myself here?”
To give you a bit of background, we were new Open Homes Hamilton Hosts.
We had been involved with Open Homes for the past few years as church point people. We weren't even Hosts yet. We hadn't finished filling out the paperwork when Danielle emailed us, so this was a very new ball game for us.
I grew up in a bigger family. I grew up in Burlington. Everything I learned about hospitality I learned from my mother. And we always had company. As teenagers we were allowed to pack our backyard so full of friends. I got to witness my parents set an example for taking people in under all sorts of circumstances, from friends who needed a place, family who needed an in-between, and more foster kids than I can name.
My husband was raised with a much quieter outlook on life. It was actually quite the opposite of how I grew up, so my husband is the best guy. And after 15 years with me and all my wild ideas, he wasn't fazed by the email that I forwarded him that day.
We both had lots of questions.
Do we even have room? We don't have a huge house. We have a 2 1/2 story. You know? East of downtown Hamilton- do we physically have room?
What would it look like having a Muslim man in our Christian home? Do I need to be making better dinners? Do I need to make more time to sit down and entertain? Do I even have time for that with work and kids?
We have 4 kids, all are under 12. They are loud and untidy. They occasionally use the upper floors of our house for a full contact basketball game. Can they make room?
Do our daughters have room in their lives? They're six and seven, and was this too weird or too uncomfortable for them? Some of our people thought so.
Would he approve of our lifestyle?
We have a dog and a cat. Would he approve of those?
Would he approve of our family roles when they looked so culturally different to what he was used to? Why would he want to enter into a house as crazy as ours? Why would anyone?
We held our questions close and responded to Danielle's email less than an hour later: “We're in.”
And I'll never forget what it felt like to answer the door that day. We tidied up our house. We read our kids the riot act about misbehaving when we have guests over.
And there stood Danielle at our door with a young man slightly shorter than me, coming with not much more than a backpack. A man who didn't seem to be old enough to leave everything familiar to him and end up in a country so full of unknowns. How on earth did he get himself here? A man who we later found out had never been away from his family and had not eaten a meal at a table with a woman or even used a fork.
Did we have room for this?
Over the next few weeks, all our questions slowly got answered.
We did have room. Not a lot, but enough. We opt for our kids to share a room instead of everyone having their own. So we had a spare room that we used on and off for an office. It was easily converted to a bedroom on short notice.
Moussa made such an effort to be helpful in our house. A Muslim man could be comfortable in a Christian home with a Christian family. We made the decision when Moussa was with us to only buy halal meat so we didn't have to cook twice. As we chatted, we learned more about how Moussa came to be in Canada.
Our kids had room. They quickly got used to another person thoughtfully asking how their day was, just in order to practice English. They shared all their kids' books, which were easier for Moussa to read while learning. Our youngest daughter Zoe had one more person at the table to draw unicorns with. (Once we explained the difference between a unicorn and a rhinoceros to somebody who had never even heard of a unicorn.) Our Julia had an expert teacher to help her learn her French numbers which were practiced for hours and hours over multiple board games.
Nick and I adjusted to having another adult in the house. Our friends, family and church community showed up almost every day to welcome our friend and help us to feel like we weren't carrying the weight of hosting on our own. It was all wonderful and glorious and nothing ever felt uncomfortable or wrong. Just kidding.
There were moments.
There are many moments, moments where we had to reset our expectations.
Moments, like when our oldest son trying to be polite, introduced his friends and their parents at the door by saying, "This is Moussa my refugee." They just know how to make it awkward.
We knew our kids were so proud of what we were doing and as a family we found so many ways to teach along the way. There were moments when I wondered how to explain our cultural norms without sounding rude myself. Situations like having friends over, or trying to politely indicate that we were trying to have a more private conversation.
There was one moment where I tried to be open-minded and make this African dish called Fufu, which Moussa talked about frequently. I searched for recipes, went out and bought cassava and went back to the kitchen having no idea really what I was doing and boy did I get that one wrong! We sat at the table that night looking at the bowl of oddly textured tasteless green goo. And despite my sheer embarrassment in my failure, we all had a wild laugh.
About seven weeks into Moussa's stay with us, I was half-unexpectedly scheduled for surgery. It would require three months of recovery. No stairs, walking, doing anything, no cooking, cleaning, working, entertaining, and no doing what we had been trying to do to make Moussa feel comfortable for the last two months. We wondered if we still had room. What would this mean for us and for Moussa and for our kids? For our own sanity.
And that's when the tables turned on us.
I remember coming home from my surgery that day, unable to even put a sentence together.
Moussa came out with my husband and had to carry me inside. This Muslim stranger turned family member who had very little physical interaction with women, other than his own family, was helping to carry me inside my own house. Between Moussa and my husband and also our family and friends, I had around the clock care, enough adult supervision for our kids, enough help with housework. And enough of everything we needed in that season.
I was no longer making room.
I was no longer hosting.
I was being hosted.
I was being hosted in my own home by this person who accepted a less than perfect situation devoid of any of his cultural norms, who had to set aside his own comforts to care for me.
And boy was I humbled by that.
Almost seven weeks after that Moussa announced that it was time to go. I could not believe that four months had come and gone. We had just gotten so comfortable with having Moussa around that we didn't feel ready. We didn't feel ready!
We needed to remind ourselves that we had committed to just a short-term home-stay. We forgot about the long-term implications of having someone stay with us. We never could have imagined saying, "Sure, we have room!" and allowing a stranger turned family member to have such a profound impact on our life and our family.
We questioned and worried as Moussa looked for housing, approaching the conversations as any overbearing mother would. We sat around the dinner table that night listening to him read us a heartfelt letter that he wrote, thanking us and letting us know he would visit lots. I felt in those moments that we should have been the ones saying thank you. And he does visit lots. Our kids said you're welcome and Nick and I both cried that night.
Nick returned the next day from moving his things into his apartment, and we sat in the quietness of our house that felt a little empty despite still being so full of children. Over the following days and weeks our kids reminded us that they missed their friend, too. We got to talk about what it meant to Host. What it meant to welcome people who are from different circumstances.
We got to reflect on the questions we had in the beginning.
What did it mean to have room?
Did we have room?
Did a busy, loud, sometimes messy, English-speaking Christian family of 6 plus a dog and a cat have room in our lives to welcome a 24 year old Arabic French speaking Muslim man into our home? Our lives and our chaos.
As we learned through four wild months, that went way too fast, our answer was a resounding yes.
An Interview With Benson Ocen - Founder/Director of I Live Again Uganda
Interviewer-Tricia DeBoer, Partner Representative
I Live Again Uganda (ILA) is celebrating its 14th anniversary on the 25th of March. Fourteen years of developing an extraordinarily successful program that helps people who’ve been traumatized find restoration and healing.
This interview with Benson unwraps ILA’s fabulous dreams for The Potter's House, a project in which IAFR Canada is both a thrilled and grateful partner.
How did I Live Again Uganda begin?
I Live Again Uganda began because of the war in northern Uganda, where many children were abducted and forced to become soldiers. They returned back to their families with a lot of trauma. Every person in northern Uganda became a victim of trauma, because of the war.
After surviving the war, we needed to help give people hope, healing and identity through trauma counseling. So in 2008, the Lord birthed in us a call to start this ministry. I Live Again is a way to restore life back to the people who had lost hope.
The Lord's Resistance Army insurgency, the war that you have referred to, that lasted for more than 20 years. The war is over now. Do you think that it still affects the region and the people today?
Yes, the war is over. But the effect of war still continues because of the trauma. It will live on in the lives of people for decades. Today we see many children that are ages 16, 17, 18 - they were born in the Internally Displaced People camps.
The effect of separation of families still continues. So in a nutshell, I'm saying the effect of war is still evident in the lifestyle of the people of northern Uganda.
Tell me a little bit about the moment that you chose to start I Live Again Uganda. What was that moment? What was that idea?
It started through a clinical psychologist from Australia, who came and did two years of research on mental health and post-traumatic stress disorder. I was part of the research team. The research was published in the British Journal for Clinical Psychology with evidence that people in northern Uganda are traumatized.
After two years, the research was done, but we still had millions of traumatized people in northern Uganda. Over 1.2 million people were affected in northern Uganda, because of the war. It was at that moment that I sat and I thought, "Will it just end like that? Something must happen."
And at that moment I said, "God help me." God talked to me clearly saying, "There must be restoration in the life of the people." He gave me the name "I Live Again" from what I learned from the research.
Today, I Live Again Uganda is starting to expand and is building The Potter's House. What is the vision of this project and how was it inspired?
I Live Again Uganda realized that the need for mental health is overwhelming across the entire globe. There is a rise in trauma because of war, because of natural disasters, the increase in refugee displacement- over 82 million people have been displaced from their own country because of different factors. One or two people cannot go across all these countries to help in the healing of trauma.
The idea of The Potter's House came through prayer when the Lord spoke to us, of a place where people can come together, learn and go and help in different places around the world. It would make expansion in bringing healing to victims of trauma easier. So, The Potter's House idea came to help people come do training in trauma counseling and to learn from one another. To ask and understand what has worked in different countries.
Sometimes, when helping trauma victims, frontline workers can become traumatized. So, we also wanted to think of how we can bring frontline workers together, to receive refreshment, get more training, get their own healing and be ready to go back and serve again.
How did you come up with the name The Potter's House?
It was through a gathering of ILA staff. We were at the land that the Lord had given us. We were dreaming about the land and wondering if we should build a school to help children. Or should we do vocational training or maybe an Agricultural Training Center? What would it be? We kept dreaming. But the Lord spoke to us and asked us, "Is that My desire or your own desire?"
So, we went to prayer, and as we were praying together, the Lord spoke to us through the words in Jeremiah. The Lord told Jeremiah to go to The Potter's House. Then He asked Jeremiah, "What do you see?" Jeremiah explained how he saw the mud that was being formed in the hands of the potter. The Lord spoke to us clearly and told us that we are people who have been victims of trauma. But God Himself would mold us to make us new again. He showed us that pottery is very much therapeutic.
God said, "This place shall be a place of encounter, a place that can be called The Potter's House, a place for remolding us to be a better person and become who we are called to be."
What do you mean by it being "a place of encounter"? What does that phrase mean?
A place of encounter is a place where you would encounter healing, you will encounter hope and you will encounter your identity in God.
Who do you hope will come to The Potter's House?
I hope the people who will join us at The Potter's House would be
So how far along is The Potter's House in being built? Where are things at?
Clearing the land: We are in the process of clearing the land. It's currently the dry season here in northern Uganda, which is the best season to do that.
The roads: The district engineer has come and put together the information we need to hire excavators, bulldozers and trucks in order to build the road network. We are excited about that.
Water: We have already worked through an engineering company that will help us in drilling water or a well on site. We are excited about that too!
So after that, what's next?
Buildings: After that, the construction of the training centre, a sports centre and the security houses would begin.
Soccer field: Uganda is known for soccer or football. In building a good soccer field we can easily engage with young people and the surrounding community of The Potter's House site. It's important to us that we not only support those that are coming to us - but also the community around us. We are so excited about the football pitch that will be put there!
How do you feel The Potter's House will impact the world?
The Potter's House will have a global impact. It will bring information concerning trauma and mental health to the world. The training would bring people from across the Great Lakes Region of Africa: South Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, DR Congo, Rwanda and the neighbouring countries. They will come together and learn and they will go back to their countries and bring impact. They will be transformed and bring healing and bring hope to their community. That is very, very key.
Beyond that, The Potter's House will be a hub where people will come from different parts of the world to share what has worked in their perspective of cultures in their countries and what did not work, and how we can come together in the mental health challenge that is huge in the world today.
What difference does the partnership with IAFR Canada make to you and to the dreams you have for The Potter's House?
Our partnership with IAFR is very important to us. We cannot and do not want to do what we do alone. The Body of Christ is so important.
There are things that IAFR can do to bring the vision of the Potter's House to fruition that we cannot do. The role IAFR plays in sharing this vision, helping and inviting others to join us, networking and praying and encouraging is important.
We have a heart and calling to bring healing and hope to the nations through Trauma Counseling. We simply cannot do what we do without our friends at IAFR Canada.
Do you have any further comments about The Potter's House you'd like to share?
Anything left for me to say would be to request people to
Help us see that this land is developed. I desire to see the will of the Lord in this place. I know that at the right time the right people will come and join hands to see that The Potter's House is erected for the glory of the Lord.
Our phone has been ringing off the hook all month.
And that is just today!
Our existing shelter systems are just not working. Toronto has the largest homeless shelter system in Canada, yet all of their city run shelters are full to capacity and turning people away in droves. The refugee-specific shelters are full too. It’s the same situation in all the major cities across our country. It felt like a crisis before the pandemic, but now the cracks that already existed are gaping wider and wider and exposing a system that is completely falling apart.
One of the reasons that shelters are constantly full is that people have nowhere to move to. Have you seen the cost of renting an apartment lately? $1,450 a month. That’s the average cost to rent a 1-bedroom apartment in our midsize city in Ontario. It’s even more in Toronto. And in Vancouver it is a whopping $2,200! What do you do when you are a newly arrived refugee waiting for a work permit and your entire monthly income is only $733? There are no easy answers.
What can we do? Do local churches have anything to offer in response to the current housing crisis? IAFR Canada thinks so! We dream of seeing churches becoming vitally involved in both initial short-term housing solutions as well as safe, affordable long-term options.
You might be surprised at some of the ways that churches can make a difference. And you don’t have to be a big, wealthy church to get in on the action. There is a whole spectrum of opportunities for churches of all shapes and sizes to make a difference.
When the house next door to a small church in the east end of Hamilton went up for sale they recognized it as a unique opportunity and decided to buy it. After considering numerous options for how to use it, they chose to rent it out to a family from Haiti who was going through the refugee claim process. They rented it to this family at below market rental rates which allowed them to get on their feet while they were working hard to get Canadian credentials and find suitable work. The church became good neighbours for this family and many dropped by to get to know them. The kids loved running next door to the church for Kids Club and Sunday School. The three or so years that this family lived there gave them the stability they needed to begin their life in Canada.
On a bigger scale, a number of churches in Ontario are partnering with Indwell, a Christian housing charity, to transform part of their properties into affordable housing units. The Baptist church in the neighbourhood where I live recently built a new church worship centre that also includes 45 units of affordable housing. That’s 45 people who now have a beautifully designed, safe, affordable home with built in community support! That’s a pretty big deal
Let me share a few ideas to spark your imagination for ways your church might respond in the midst of this housing crisis we find ourselves in-
What innovative responses might God want your church to pursue?
IAFR is committed to helping churches grow in understanding God’s expectations for His people in how we treat the forcibly displaced. We delight in seeing local churches discover ways to come alongside refugees in ways that uniquely fit who they are as a congregation. So if the Spirit is nudging your church to explore ways that you can be part of making a positive difference, please contact us. We would love to dream, pray, and discern possibilities with you!
Today we helped a young refugee couple and their infant son move into an apartment after a three month stay in a Host home. They sent us a text: “Thank you very much for helping us in this beautiful country of very kind people… after everything my family has been through, today is a very nice day to dream again.”
Amen. May we all begin to dream again.
Rob Perry recently sat down with our board chair, Dr Norman Musewe. Listen in on their conversation.
IAFR Canada’s board chair Norman Musewe was born in Harare, Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia). After medical school in Zimbabwe, he moved to England due to the war and trained in Pediatrics, before finally settling in Canada. In 1984 he was trained as a Pediatric Cardiologist at Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto, where he remains to this day.
When describing his spiritual journey, Norman tells of years of internal turmoil prior to 1992 when he began to follow Jesus. It is this faith in Christ which defines his life, choices, and character to this day.
Africa in My Heart
Another defining characteristic in Norman’s life is his passion for Africa. Norman visits Zimbabwe and many other countries in Africa regularly. When asked where this passion for Africa comes from, he says,
“It is not just because I was born there, but because Africa has been born in my heart! There is something which is difficult to explain about the beauty and vibrancy of Africa and its people. I identify with the poorest of the poor in Africa because I know what hunger and disease feels like.”
He continues: “As a Cardiologist I go to different parts of Africa to conduct clinics and facilitate shipments of medical supplies from Health Partners International Canada.* I look forward to being more involved in the welfare of the displaced in Africa.”
Mission Powered by Faith
Norman holds his credentials and experience with humility. When asked how he prioritizes all his various involvements, he says,
“There is a hierarchy…
Norman’s prayer for IAFR Canada
“My prayer for IAFR is that we will connect with more and more congregations in Canada to foster outreach to the refugees that are ‘lucky’ enough to get here. But that in the process, I pray that we expend more resources and energy in reaching out to those who cannot get here, in the many refugee camps, because that is where I think the real work is - bringing Christ and hope and new life to those trapped in these camps. I also hope we will recruit more people to our staff and board who have themselves experienced displacement.”
*Health Partners International Canada (HPIC) works to supply medicine where most needed around the world. IAFR Canada, along with IAFR USA and our partners on the ground, is working with HPIC to provide Humanitarian Medical Kits of essential medicines. Norman’s relationship with HPIC helped open doors for us to begin doing so.
Written by Danielle Steenwyk-Rowaan, Open Homes Hamilton Team Leader
A heavily pregnant mother , looking for a safe place to bring her baby into the world.
A volatile world marked by oppression, refugee crises, and uncertainty.
A refugee journey into an unknown and culturally different land to protect the life of her child. A life marked by prayer and dependence on God and the hospitality of strangers.
No, I'm not talking about the story of Jesus' arrival, though I very well could be.
I'm talking about a recently arrived Guest of Open Homes Hamilton (a program of IAFR Canada), who arrived in her host home in early November, 8 months pregnant.
She was worried for her child, of course. Travelling at 8 months pregnant is not easy, whether by plane, as in Carolina’s voyage, or on foot (likely the situation of Mary the mother of Jesus).
Flying at 8 months and going through a stressful interview after declaring refugee status at the airport had caused her amniotic fluid to leak. She was rushed to the hospital and given a date for an ultrasound--but instead of allowing her to attend her ultrasound, immigration officials put her in a 2 week COVID quarantine. She was alone, scared, and anxious about her partner’s safety.
As she sat in that lonely hotel room, praying and worrying about her baby, Carolina had called several refugee shelters to find space. But as the borders reopen to international travellers, the refugee houses are beginning to fill up.
Thankfully she is now safely settled into an Open Homes host home with her partner and is waiting to give birth. Though she is far from her family, and carries the trauma of the refugee journey and the experiences that pushed them to flee, she has a safe place to bring her child into the world and a Kinship Circle of volunteers to support her.
In Carolina’s native Spanish, “dar a luz” is the verb for giving birth. Translated literally, it means “to give to the light.”
Mary too was about to "dar a luz"...to the Light of the world. (John 1) And Mary too, found a safe place to give birth through the hospitality of strangers.
This Christmas, may the gritty reality of that first Christmas resound for you anew.
By Colleen Howat, a member of The Peoples Church in Toronto, and one of the leaders of Friendship Class.
It was a sunny, crisp fall day in October.
Perfect for our walk.
One that we’ve been talking about for a few weeks in Friendship Class (a special place for differently-abled adults to worship God together).
Pointing out these countries on a large globe helped us to see how far some people have had to come in order to find peace and safety. Many had to leave their homes and families and friends and jobs due to war, persecution and more.
Our friends were deeply impacted to learn of these people’s struggles; one woman couldn’t wait to ask God for special protection and food for the children. And then when our friends in class heard that we could help them out by walking and raising money too, that’s what we did! We called family, neighbours and friends to ask for their support. And they did so generously!!
The Walk for Refuge day was here! Two of our friends came on Wheeltrans. One who uses a walker arrived very early and another was picked up late, so ambled up the hill to catch up with us. Two young men from our class came with their moms. Another young person walked with her sister. All of us graciously walking together, supporting one another’s different capabilities for our adventure.
Once we all gathered, we talked more about why we were doing this… to give hope and peace and a welcoming to a new home for those who had given up everything. Then up Bayview Avenue from Tyndale College to The Peoples House we walked, pausing along the way to view pictures of children in Uganda and families in Malawi. Each time we stopped, we prayed for their safety and provision.
It was beautiful to see and hear the concern our friends had for the people we had been discussing. Perhaps they have a keen sense of the need to belong, how it feels to be left out and misunderstood themselves and their hearts longed to reach out.
Once we arrived at The Peoples House, we were greeted by smiling residents and helpful volunteers. We sang “Never Give Up” (how appropriate!) and thanked God together. We all enjoyed lots of hot dogs and some delicious homemade almond squares!
Our friends said they had so much fun walking and meeting the people who had travelled so far. It was a blessing to see and hear people we’d just met, getting to know one another better over a meal. When it got a little chillier, some of us gathered inside around a large table and continued to share and meet more refugees who live in The Peoples House.
We are so grateful to have been able to join up and connect like this. It felt kind of like family. And families share and care for one another, just like we did!
Our vision is to help people survive and recover from forced displacement. We do this together with the church, both globally, and locally in Canada.