Written by Jacob Mau, with Rob Perry. *
In 2013, Rob Perry and his ministry colleagues at The Peoples Church in Toronto began praying about how to support forcibly displaced people. Today they are fulfilling that vision through IAFR Canada, a ministry with over a dozen staff leading partnerships in six countries along the refugee highway. God used a Refugee Highway Partnership North America (RHPNA) event to spark the connections that became IAFR Canada. Here’s how it happened.
“At the beginning, we were really focused on camps,” Rob says. “We had backgrounds in urban ministry and church planting. We were praying about maybe helping start churches or some kind of prayer tent in refugee camps. But we didn’t have any idea how one even accesses those places. It seemed like an impossibility. We were asking, ‘Where would the money come from? What would it look like? What’s God’s timing?’”
In early 2016, the group took an initial step much closer to home than a distant camp. They formed a refugee housing ministry in Toronto called People’s House. That summer, Rob and several others working at the house attended the RHPNA Roundtable. They met Tom Albinson, one of the early visionaries of the RHP, and founder of the International Association for Refugees.
“Here we had this guy talking about partnering with churches in refugee camps, partnering with Christian organizations--basically what we’d all been praying about for three years--without even realizing it,” says Rob. “We discovered an organization that we didn’t know existed, but seemed to resonate very strongly in our hearts.”
Over the next year, Rob and his team did vision trips and meetings with Tom and others from IAFR. One was a trip to Dzaleka refugee camp in Malawi, where Rob learned there were already 60 indigenous churches providing care to the community. It was there the vision for IAFR Canada began to take shape.
Today IAFR Canada — a sister to IAFR U.S. — consists of members of the original prayer group of 2013, plus many others who’ve joined the team’s vision. IAFR works with organizations and churches who are supporting forcibly displaced people in Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq, Uganda, Malawi, and Canada.
“IAFR Canada would definitely not exist in its current form if we hadn’t met Tom and his team at the RHPNA Roundtable in 2016,” says Rob. “I’m sure God would have found a way to lead us where he wanted us to go, but it would have looked very different. God was amazing in bringing us an incredible team, the right people at the right time.”
* This story was originally shared through the Refugee Highway Partnership, North America. IAFR Canada is part of this invaluable network, prayerfully connecting with each other for the good of people who are forcibly displaced.
A joking conversation about cleaning bathrooms during the Ride for Refuge was the beginning of Darlene’s journey as a companion with Open Homes Hamilton.
“We were walking in the Ride for Refuge last year and my friend Mary* was saying what a pain it is to clean four bathrooms. Well, we were walking with Katie [a member of the Open Homes leadership team], who had just been telling us about home hosting for refugee claimants. So I said, ‘You could host! And I’ll be a companion.’”
The spur of the moment idea soon turned into a reality: a group of friends from a Meeting House home church attended a volunteer orientation, submitted their police checks and paperwork, and waited for a call that there was a refugee claimant who was a good fit for Mary’s home.
Now, almost a year later, they’re not only gearing up for another Ride--they’re also actively supporting a young refugee claimant from Ethiopia named Abel*. Mary is the host, and the other members of the group are companions: volunteers who accompany newly arrived refugee claimants and offer friendship and support with everyday settlement needs like bus orientation, job searches, and community connections. Open Homes Hamilton is a Hamilton-based program of IAFR Canada.
Darlene had been volunteering at the Ride’s Hamilton location for years, and was glad there was a way to continue to participate, even during a pandemic. Teams can do the classic bike or walk, or they can choose from a range of “freestyle” options, from sewing to baking to reading to just about anything you can imagine.
“Abel* is a wonderful young man. We’re his 4 mamas--though we try not to mother him too much!” says Darlene.
They’ve helped Abel get connected to community beyond his 4 mamas--from volunteering at a street mission every week to connecting with another young man who was supported by Open Homes Hamilton. That connection is proving invaluable, not only for the friendship of someone closer to his own age, but also for the support that he’s received in understanding the refugee hearing process.
“When he gets stressed out, I tell him, ‘We’re the warriors, we’ll be praying!’” says Darlene.
Last year’s Ride was an opportunity to do something positive in the midst of an overwhelming pandemic, and it led the team down a path they hadn’t imagined--but God had in store for them all the same.
This year, they’ve seen up-close the impact of their fundraising power on refugee claimants, and they’re ready and raring to Ride for Refuge again.
*Some names changed to protect confidentiality.
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.