Danielle Steenwyk-Rowaan Open Homes Hamilton Team Leader
At Open Homes Hamilton, we welcome newly arrived refugee claimants by pairing them with Hosts who have some extra space in their homes for a few months while they get on their feet. From the outside, it looks like we are the ones doing the welcoming. And yet, so often the tables are turned on us in a beautiful, unexpected way that echoes biblical stories of “strangers” revealing the face of God.
Just before the pandemic started, a Host family in Ancaster welcomed a Nigerian woman and her two small children. Soon after they arrived, everything shut down. You probably have very clear memories of those days of adrenaline and uncertainty.
It turned out that the Guest had been a seamstress in Nigeria, and that her Host sewed women’s menstrual supplies for a charity. Soon, they were sewing together, and quickly moved on to sewing masks, as we all figured out how to protect ourselves and those we love from this pandemic.
The Guest continued sewing, and perfecting her mask designs, and eventually sold them, both to members of our community and through a stall at the farmer’s market.
Now, she has started a career as a PSW here and has been supporting some of the most vulnerable people in our society through this pandemic. She’s in her own apartment and is flourishing. And every time I share with her that there is a new Guest, she sews another batch of masks and insists on giving them to us for free. When a Colombian Guest had a baby, she sewed a diaper bag. When another Guest moved to her own apartment, she sewed a lunch bag.
Once when I visited her, she had a gift waiting for me. She had designed an outfit for me, based on pure guesstimates about my dimensions, and asked her sister in Nigeria to sew an outfit for me, that she then paid to have shipped here for me.
Who is really welcoming whom? Rhihannat* is a blessing to me.
Years ago, I was a volunteer with Micah House and was matched with a newly arrived Colombian family: parents and their two young daughters.
We hit it off. They had a great sense of humour and loved to tease me about my broken Spanish. They came to my wedding. I came to their daughter’s first communion. We celebrated Christmas Eve together and Juan cooked bunuelos, a deep fried pastry from Colombia. We camped together, and he made this delicious herby sauce called chimichurri to top our barbecued steaks.
When I told them about my now-husband, then-boyfriend Dan, Juan said very seriously that my Colombian father would have to approve of him.
Who is welcoming whom? I received God’s love through them.
That’s part of why we call the volunteer groups who support a Guest “Kinship Circles”, because often, we are becoming family. Not always. But that is the invitation. And that was the call on the people of Israel--to enfold the “stranger”, those who were without kin in the land, into family. To share resources. To celebrate together. To belong to each other.
We have a chance to belong to each other in a way that explodes the boxes of giver/receiver and long-time Canadian/refugee claimant.
I often have an opportunity to receive God’s love through the people I’m supposedly serving.
What would it look like for you to follow Christ into being a Guest, into receiving the gifts that refugees bring? What would it look like for your church, or your family?
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.