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.