Rebecca Swarbrick, Grace United Church, Chelsea, QC
On a cold and damp Sunday afternoon, our family and others from Grace United Church set out on our prayer walk for refugees. None of us knew what to expect. The kids wanted to run and enjoy the trail, the rain wanted to let loose, we had to remember to stay socially distanced, yet we were given the time to stop and pray, to learn and remember.
There were times of laughter, chatter and silence, enjoying the fall colours, making new friends and getting to know acquaintances. Though it was difficult to walk through and consider the lives of refugees spread across the world, we did so together and were glad to focus on something beyond our four walls.
We took turns reading the points for prayer at each kilometre. A particular powerful moment was when Nancy, who leads the children’s work at church, found her voice breaking as she read the statistics for the amount of refugees per country in recent years. We stood in silence, staggered by the stark reality we were faced with. Even our children stopped rushing ahead and stood quietly to listen!
It was the first time many of us had seen each other since the lock down began in March. We were used to seeing each other’s faces at our Sunday services online, but to be together in person to walk for a purpose and raise money for such a life-giving organisation like IAFR, was so wonderful. The following week such gatherings were prohibited; the timing was perfect.
Did You Know?
This past August, 24-7 Prayer Canada invited churches and individuals across the country to a 10 KM Prayer Walk for Refuge, raising funds for IAFR Canada's ministry with refugees. Over $8000 was raised by more than 20 groups! We are so grateful to each one who walked and each one who is helping refugees by sponsoring them.
Watch for 24/7 Prayer Canada’s Prayer Walk for Refuge 2021, coming again across Canada this June!
If you would like to pray for refugees while you practice social distancing this winter, here is the guide that was shared with participants, with a prayer point for each km you walk.
A few years ago, my family and I were gathered around a table with refugees from around the world. We ate spicy peanut stew served over rice and passed naan bread to one another as people shared where they were from. We had recently returned from a trip to Bogotá, and the conversation quickly pivoted to “who had traveled through Colombia?” To my surprise, an East African man sitting to my right ruefully smiled and recalled having taken the “scenic route” from Somalia to Brazil, trekking north through the wilderness of South America. Something in his eyes told me this was no Che Guevara Motorcycle Diaries trip across the continent, but a voyage to be endured for the promise of the destination.
When I’d explored Colombia, I saw it as a tourist, from behind the windows of a hired car. As we drove through the coffee and banana plantations and I watched the mist lift in the mountain valleys, I thought to myself how much I’d like to get out of the car and explore the rivers and mountains of this wild and beautiful country. Sadly, the frequent military checkpoints in rural areas reminded me that the F.A.R.C. controlled the countryside and it was no place for tourists to go wandering. I could not have imagined that besides activities of the revolutionary armed forces, smugglers led groups of migrants beneath the verdant green canopy of the jungle. How strange that I yearned to hike in that wild land, while on those unknown paths, thousands would have gladly taken my seat in our sightseeing van, safe from mosquitoes, bandits, rain…
Here at home, my east Hamilton neighbourhood abuts an ancient indigenous footpath that stretches from Queenston to Tobermory. In minutes I am connected with nature, sheltered in an urban forest, steps from my home. For these past six months, in a world where much is uncertain, the forest has been a sanctuary. I have to wonder how many others have found solace in nature, too.
And yet, I also wonder how many would-be asylum seekers are right now literally in the wilderness not by choice.
How many people ventured on an uncertain journey knowing there would be periods of time in the wilderness and now find themselves trapped in countries far from home and far from their final destinations? Maybe, like my East African dinner companion, they find themselves sheltering alongside a river in the jungles of Colombia. Maybe the danger they knew they might encounter has become a constant companion. Maybe the mosquitos, bandits and rain have them wondering “how long?”
For the past two months, while COVID has closed borders around the world, trapping people in limbo, we’ve challenged ourselves as a family to hike two hundred kilometres in the Ride for Refuge, to raise money for Open Homes Hamilton, a program of IAFR Canada. This multi-church network supports refugee claimants by offering home-based hospitality.
As we hiked, and breathed in the fresh, crisp air of a Canadian autumn, I prayed that those walking through other wildernesses, maybe hostile ones, would someday have the opportunity to find refuge here. I prayed they would someday be able to walk a footpath that meanders, without the burden of their meager belongings weighing them down. I prayed that their lives would settle, and they would gain a new appreciation of the natural world, even grow to love and protect it as their families put down roots in a new land.
For the men and women at that table years ago, I hope that after crisscrossing oceans and rainforests, continents and borders, they can find refuge in nature as they’ve found refuge in Canada. God Bless.
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.