Our Volunteering Experience

“Helping people because people matter” is the motto of the Middle Eastern Friendship Centre (MEFC). Its founders, Adel & Layla Masoud, are two of the most inspiring Christians I have met. They have their own story of hardship, fleeing from Kuwait and coming to Canada in 1997. Now, they feel called to share the love of God with newcomers by giving them a warm welcome to Canada.

The MEFC is a place where “Arabs can meet together, learn from one another, and help one another”. The visitors are mainly Arab newcomers, many of them refugees, who find in the center a safe space to build friendship and to receive help in a wide range of areas that go from job searching to assistance with Canadian tax forms.

Although the center is focused on Arabic culture, visitors from other backgrounds also attend the center. In the same way, volunteers are welcomed regardless of their cultural background, knowledge of Arabic culture, or proficiency in Arab—although any of these are great assets.

Several members of our community have been serving regularly in the MEFC this semester: Noah Bradley, Mary Kate Looby, Andrea Rodriguez, Amy Saya, Sarah Kazanowski, Jordan Koslowsky and myself. It feels like we have been welcomed into a new family where Layla, Adel, the whole staff and visitors of the center have received us with open arms offering their friendship.

We have volunteered by giving ESL classes, playing with the kids while their parents are studying, distributing the donations received, participating in padlocks and community meals and helping out with various chores in the center. Most importantly, we have met amazing people from very different backgrounds and unique stories who are seeking a new life in Canada.

Layla expressed her interest in having volunteers that come to the center for the right reasons: to share the love of Christ, offer their time in friendship and service for others, and treat the visitors with dignity and affection. We as volunteers leave behind the stereotypes, the “us versus them” mentality, or any “hero complex” that hinders the effectiveness of humanitarian efforts, and approach our service with humbleness and willingness to learn from them as well.

Noah Bradley, a 4th year TWU student, was our most active volunteer. He shares his experience while serving as an ESL teacher this semester:

The most valuable thing about teaching English at the MEFC was seeing the enthusiasm and laughter of the students while they were learning. Without those two things, I think the personal connection wouldn’t have been made. You could clearly see that they were happy to be there. I think that gave everyone joy and a special connection.

Joy, friendship, warmth and generosity are some of the things that make the MEFC a home for everyone that visits.

If you want to be a part of the Middle Eastern Friendship Center, here´s your chance! We need volunteers from the TWU community who are staying in the Lower Mainland for the summer and that feel call to give part of their time to share the love of Christ with this newcomers to Canada. Please email tractwu@gmail.com to get more information about your options.

-Emilio Rodríguez

As Christ Loves, We Should Love

March 15 marked the 6th year anniversary of the conflict that is still raging in Syria.  Since then, there have been over 5 million people who have fled the country.  Over the years, this refugee crisis has appeared in other countries like Nigeria, South Sudan, and Somalia, among others.  Overall, about 11 million people have had to leave their homes to survive.  Thousands of these refugees die on their way to safer countries.  Many of those who have made it to safety have not been integrated into the society of their new home.

My name is Kristen Jones and I am a second year studying Applied Linguistics.  I was oblivious to what was happening with the refugee crisis until recently.  This year, I began to pay attention to what people were saying about this world crisis and I was ashamed that I had ignored this incredibly heart-breaking problem.  As I learned more about the crisis, my heart broke more and more.

I attended Missions Fest in January and sat in on a couple of seminars that spoke about the refugee crisis.  The statistics and stories and experiences were a wake-up call that I desperately needed.  This world is hurting, and I was doing nothing.

This semester, I felt like God was gently pushing me to do more with my time.  I had a new passion to invest myself in people.  And then I heard about TRAC.  I joined the team mid-March, and have been abundantly blessed through it.  God has given me a love for people that I’ve never met, and has handed me an opportunity to help those who need it.  I have learned that as believers, it is our job to notice and care for those who are hurting.  Not just because they need it, but also because through our service they can see God’s love.  Often the best way to share the gospel with someone is through loving them.

Rather than have a specific job on the TRAC team, I fill in where I am needed.  I love listening to people and walking with them through life, and I can’t wait to do this with the refugee family that our team will be sponsoring.  I am excited to work with my team to share Christ’s love and compassion for this family.

I encourage you to continue to read about the refugee crisis.  Don’t let it be good enough for you to just know that there is one.  Learn about it and let the words of people’s stories sink in and register deep in your heart.  I implore you, if you are a Christ follower, to learn more about this issue; and when you know more, let God use you to serve those in need.  We are each called to follow Christ’s example of caring for those in need.

-Kristen Jones

A Story to Remember

Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve been passionate about storytelling. I love how you’re brought into another person’s life and can share their experiences and feel what they’ve felt through a well told story. Unfortunately, many stories don’t have happy endings, and I’ve been impacted by the many heartbreaking stories coming from around the world, but specifically the Middle East and Asia.

My first experience with a refugee crisis was when I was around 10 years old when the Karen came from Myanmar (Burma) into Canada. I didn’t really understand a lot about the situation at the time, but I was happy to help in whatever way I could. At the time, the way in which I could help best was through basketball. Once a week, we’d get a group of guys together both from Canada and Myanmar and we’d just play basketball and hang out together afterwards and talk for a bit. Knowing some of their gruesome stories made seeing us all smiling together playing basketball all the more rewarding.

When I heard the stories that Jordie (TRAC’s Director) told after coming back from the Middle East, I knew that I wanted to help share these stories and the stories of others who were passionate about the refugee crisis. I have a passion for videography and graphic design, and I’m very excited that I can use my skills for such a great cause while glorifying God.

It has been so encouraging to see the support that TRAC has gotten from everyone in and around the TWU community. And after seeing how successful the Karen community has been after such a short period of time, I’m hopeful for the family that we will be bringing in.

Thank you all for your continual prayer and support. I look forward to the day when we can look back and tell this story that is unfolding right now as a message of hope and inspiration for other refugees.

-Matt Hayashi

Hearing & Responding

As being in my first year of university, I’ve been introduced to a lot of new things over the span of these past seven months. I have especially seen the presence of Jesus in amazing ways and have grown so much deeper in my faith, one reason including how I joined TRAC as the events assistant.

During my first semester, I didn’t really know anything about the refugee crisis besides how tragic and devasting it is. I would try to think of how Jesus would respond to this and what He would do, but one day, the Lord revealed to me one passage from the Bible that blew it out of the water. In Matthew 2, when Jesus was born, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him to flee to Egypt with Mary and Jesus. This is when I realized, Jesus was a refugee. A refugee defined is a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster. Of course, this is different from the current Syrian refugee crisis, but it answered the questions I had.

After this and on the night of the TRAC launch event, I had such an overwhelming feeling from the Lord that I needed to join. That night I had a dream I was amidst the refugee crisis and was praying for funds for a refugee family. So immediately, I got in touch with TRAC and told them I wanted to join. My heart has broken so much from this crisis, that I knew I wanted to be involved with this long-term. Ultimately to be able to help in nations at refugee camps and provide settlement to families is what my heart strives for in this crisis.

Through my involvement in TRAC, I’ve seen the beauty of people’s hearts wanting to help something that we’re not all used to hearing about or frankly even seeing. To be attending university, living on campus, and knowing I’m safe is the greatest blessing. So greatly I want to provide others with the same and so much more to help make this difference. As TRAC continues, please pray for the millions of refugees around the world. I pray you are all touched by this and are inspired to help those who desperately are searching for safety and love.

-Celia Jardine

Trust in the Uncertainty

I am a third-year business student, who can shamelessly admit, has no clue where he is going upon completing his degree. Although this has been frustrating at times, it has left me with no other choice than to trust God with my future. My decision to be involved with TRAC and the refugee crisis came from this trust. It made me realized that life is full of uncertainty.

Will I ever see my family again? Will I be able to provide for them? Will I have a physical structure to call home tomorrow? All these questions relate to the uncertainty a refugee may feel on an every-day basis. This is how the crisis spoke to me. Not being involved almost seemed as if I was declining the emulation of the love and care God has for everyone. I believe that the comfort experienced through trusting in God must be shared. This very comfort spawns from the love that He has for us– the same love we are called to seek out and spread and the same love that does not completely remove uncertainty, but that leads us to peace through the confidence in the safekeeping of our future in His hands.

Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them”. God is preparing us through TRAC to do His good works. Even though we approach the summer and the following months with uncertainty, the trust everyone involved in TRAC has in God is what encourages us to keep pushing closer towards our goal. I hope that TRAC’s efforts can motivate others to keep trusting in Him, including the family we will be welcoming here.

The image above shows a road leading into the fog. An individual standing at the very beginning of the road does not know what lies ahead. The only ones who do know are those who live beyond the fog. Similarly, the family we will sponsor is uncertain of what lies ahead. But, what the family doesn’t know is that by only the grace of God, TRAC is in the process of preparing a future for them beyond the fog of uncertainty.

-Carter Perran

Passion

I choked back tears, struggling to maintain my composure as I watched the recurring scene play out in front of me.  The kids simply couldn’t understand each other and the frustration was increasing.  One was explaining the game repeatedly in an exasperated tone and the other was trying to follow and respond in patchy English with a look of terror and embarrassment on her face.

I have been passionate about working with refugees for almost a year now, since refugee children started flooding the Surrey school system and my after school fitness programs for at-risk youth.  These sweet souls didn’t speak the same language as their peers and leaders, they didn’t have snacks when most of the other kids did, they didn’t understand any of the games or activities, they wore shorts and tank-tops in the snow; they were clearly different and it was hard.

Working with these kids during their first 4 months in Canada as they transitioned into a new culture and language, after experiencing such trauma transformed me and stretched me in ways I never expected.  I saw what a tangible support I could be to hurting hearts who were going through unimaginable internal and external conflict. What I didn’t realize then is that Jesus was planting a seed and preparing my heart for an undeniably passionate love.

When I heard Jordie’s vision for TRAC, I was immediately captivated by his authentic passion.  There aren’t too many things that light a fire in me more than listening to people speak with genuine love and commitment.  I saw Jesus in the faces of every picture shown in his presentation, and heard the laughter of my little Syrian friends in my head.  TRAC’s mission spoke to me and gave me the palpable way to continue to pursue growth for that seed in my heart that I had been craving.

Its so easy to feel helpless when we look at the map and see all of the pain in the world. Countries suffering from war, hurricanes, persecution, corruption, poverty... pull up any news channel and the list goes on.  However, overshadowing all of that tribulation, I see hope because I know that the Savior we serve loves redemption. No offence or suffering can exhaust the depths of His love. Our world is a beautiful mess, as overwhelming brokenness becomes whole by the grace of Jesus' redemptive heart.  Through TRAC we desire to be Jesus’ hands and feet, playing a small part in healing brokenness in our shattered world through Christ’s power, even if it’s just the brokenness of one family.

My name is Malia Scholz, I’m a first year in Kinesiology at Trinity Western and the Volunteer Coordinator for TRAC.  This role fits my passion for the refugee crisis and for working with people perfectly.  I am so excited to see how Jesus’s vast redemption and love continues to mold hearts to love His children like He does, through TRAC.  As individuals, we are relatively insignificant pieces in this massive world, but by allowing Christ’s immeasurable power to work in our weakness we are believing that the Lord will perform healing even beyond our goals for TRAC.

-Malia

Fuelled by Love

Canada is a multi-cultural nation. This is why I didn’t think the refugee crisis was important for me to be educated on because I thought it wasn’t too hard to apply for refugee status within Canada. But the fact is that Canada has the space and resources to have more refugees and yet we haven’t increased the amount of people that we are welcoming into the country.

Psalm 82:3 says “Give justice to the poor and the orphan; uphold the rights of the oppressed and the destitute.”

As Christians, I feel that it is our mission to help those when we are given the chance to get involved. In December I went on a missions trip to Mexico and saw the poverty of a country that is so connected to us. I came home with an ache in my heart and felt the need to get involved in something that would make a difference for people who couldn’t be heard by the masses.

I saw TRAC as my opportunity to make a difference for people on the other side of the world while I could still focus on being a student. I’ve always had this desire to get involved in something that feels important to me. After I attended the initial launch event, I felt this need pressed on my heart that I had to get involved in what TRAC was doing. I talked to Jordan right away and expressed this and he welcomed me to the team. Now in my role as merchandise coordinator, I have the opportunity to contribute my time and skills to a cause that I am passionate about. This is why TWU is so special. Here we can adopt a cause that our whole community can get behind.

-Miranda Friesen

From a Vision to a Reality

On an autumn day in 2016, I was introduced to the vision of TRAC. That day, I was chilling and relaxing on my bed, when my next door dorm mate, Jordan Koslowsky, walked into my room. He asked if I wanted to come to a Social Justice Club meeting to listen to a presentation he’d been quietly working on. I had no idea what he was going to present about, so I was hesitant to go at first. But then I stood up, gave him a nod, grabbed my jacket, shoes and headed out the door with him. At the meeting, he walked up to the front the room with a powerpoint at the ready. He presented on a topic I was very oblivious about: the global refugee crisis. He had a vision in mind to create a campaign aimed towards creating awareness about the ongoing events. By the end of his presentation, I was enamored with the passion and drive he had for this cause; and right then and there, I knew I wanted to take action to help fulfill his vision.

Hi. My name is Carlos Alvaro, and I am the Graphic Designer and Photographer for TRAC. I am a second year, Media and Communications major from good ol’ Surrey, BC. Using my passion for design and photography and integrating my developing passion for learning about the tragic refugee crisis (happening not only in Syria, but in places like South Sudan, Myanmar and other parts of the globe in an organized setting like TRAC is an absolute blessing.

Being a part of the TRAC team has been an incredible experience. Being able to work with fellow Trinity students and coming from different backgrounds and skill sets to advance together with the same passion and drive has been awe-inspiring.  Not only has being with the team been great but seeing the support of the TWU community has been absolutely amazing as well. Thank you!

I believe that, as Christians, we are called to love and love with action. We are called to serve. We are called to protect. We are called to hope. “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 Continue to help us fulfill our vision and goals. Volunteer, donate and pray. Love is too beautiful to be kept captive. Join the movement.

– Carlos Alvaro

Broken-hearted Christians

“Whoever saves one life saves the entire world,” said Itzhak Stern to Oskar Schindler in an emotive last scene of the movie Schindler’s List, after Oskar helped save the lives of over 1,000 Polish-Jewish refugees. That movie portrays the Holocaust of the 20th century. Some have correctly identified what’s happening right now in Aleppo as another holocaust, a genocide.

There is a video that made me break down in tears (see below). It features a Syrian mom, with her face covered in blood in the middle of a chaotic hospital, mourning her dead children after the government bombed their building in Aleppo and killed entire families.

“They did not die in vain,” says a boy, holding his dead brother between his arms.

I often wonder how, as a society, we can all just keep walking through life, ignoring that there are places burning in fire and people covered in blood every single day. Especially since we have the ability to do something about it.

That is why TRAC is not just a project, nor simply a cool initiative. What we are doing is trying to impact the lives of six real people. Even if that seems little compared to the millions crying for help, we know that each life is immensely worthy- especially from a Christian perspective, knowing that God loves them deeply.

I am Emilio Rodríguez, I am from El Salvador, and I believe that being a Christian demands to have your heart broken over and over again and to give every drop of your sweat serving where pain is present, over and over again. “One cannot be a Christian if he is not a revolutionary,” says Pope Francis, and I could not agree more: a Christian must be a revolutionary that seeks to transform those dark places through sharing Christ´s love.

I have found my passion and life purpose in giving all my efforts to social justice issues, inspired and guided by the integral, redemptive work of Jesus, rooted in intensive social science studies. My major is International Studies, and there is nothing else I would rather do than focusing on the different social issues in the world and how to address them.

This is why, when Jordie told me his “crazy idea” in late September 2016, I had no other words to say other than a huge “yes”. This was not the first time that he and I discussed ideas about how to change the world- I have the blessing of being his dorm mate for three semesters now. I remember that, starting in spring 2016 (my first semester at TWU), we used to have late night talks about future humanitarian projects, social issues, and politics.

“We are going to start an NGO someday,” I recall him saying as we talked about the idea of fostering coffee production in Central America by creating an organization that sold it to Canada- or something like that.

The dream of starting an organization came sooner than what I expected. Jordie returned from the summer with this amazing idea. We discussed it from the beginning, reading through the basic, initial drafts; and, finally, when the idea had more shape, we invited him to share it with the Social Justice Club. And from then on, TRAC grew exponentially to become what it is now.

My official role in the beginning was to be one of the Social Justice Club Liaisons, since I am the co-leader of the SJC, alongside Andrea Rodríguez. Our role was to manage the partnership between TRAC and the SJC, having our main responsibility in organizing the launch event that happened on February 2nd, 2017, in which members of the Social Justice Club were closely involved.

Now, I am TRAC´s journalist, leading the advocacy aspect of our campaign. One of my projects is called “TRAC stories”, which is a compilation of inspiring messages and personal profiles from people working for refugees and refugees themselves telling their stories- stay tuned and expect this soon.

I believe that we are called to raise our voices loud and clear against these injustices. Especially now that xenophobia is prevalent in North America, I find my mission in telling the stories of real people that are being affected by these ideas.

These are real people, not numbers; they are not running away from their countries because they want to steal your jobs, or because they want to terrorize your land. They are running away because they are being killed in their homelands. You only leave home like that, and beg for help, when home is the mouth of a shark.

 

My personal hope for the future, and through TRAC, is that we become a community that is aware of the suffering in the world and that is quick to share the love of Christ through compassion towards the “least of these”. As Christians, we must love deeply and fight for justice. We must allow our hearts to be broken, and out of that pain, find inspiration to make a change.

Emilio Rodriguez

(warning: disturbing content)

disPLACE: Refugee Stories in Their Own Words

disPLACE: Refugee Stories in Their Own Words is a TWU production that shares the real-life experiences of refugees coming to Canada, in their own words. From Mennonite immigrants who fled Europe after World War II, to the current global refugee crisis, the stories in disPLACE shine a light on the bonds that tie all of us together. Five actors transform into multiple characters in this unforgettable journey, knit together by original music and verbatim testimony. The show premiered in November but is being performed again from March 2-5. On Thursday, March 2 disPLACE is showing at the Mennonite Heritage Museum in Abbotsford at 2 and 7 p.m. Partial proceeds from this performance will go towards TRAC’s effort to sponsor a refugee family.

TRAC is excited to partner with members of the TWU community that are also working to make a difference in the global refugee crisis.

Experiences of People Involved

One cast member wrote:

What if war raged in your country? What if bombs fell on your street? What if you were separated from your family in order to survive? disPLACE is a common ground where we can listen to the true, heartfelt stories of refugees from Iraq, Syria, Columbia, Ukraine, and the Congo. The words are verbatim (directly from the refugees themselves) and each song and scene on stage was created by the ensemble as they processed and were inspired by the true stories that they encountered. As a member of the cast, it is an honour to share these stories of real people and to understand a glimmer of what it is like to be in their shoes. The power of vulnerability can be life changing and each cast member has been affected in some way through this process. Please come and be a part of disPLACE.

Angela Konrad, Director of disPLACE wrote, “Response to the show when it premiered on campus in November was phenomenal. So many people talked about how it changed their perspective on refugees. So many people wanted to know how they can help welcome refugees. Working on this show was life changing for all of us and meeting these new Canadians and hearing of their courage and resilience was such an inspiration. It is an honour and privilege to bring their stories to life.”

dis PLACE shares the experiences of refugees coming to Canada, in their own words.

disPLACE shares the experiences of refugees coming to Canada, in their own words.

Showtimes

Thursday, March 2 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. at the Mennonite Heritage Museum, Abbotsford

(partial proceeds to TRAC refugee sponsorship)

Friday, March 3 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. at TWU Richmond

Sunday, March 5 at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. at The Cultch, Vancouver

More info at http://humanitascentre.org/darkglasstheatre/displace/

To God be the Glory

Here we are, in the middle of February, about a month after launching TRAC. The incredible and overwhelming amount of support we have received throughout this period is infallible evidence of God’s grace and how He really does care for us.

I am a third year HKIN student. I love coffee, music, and people; and if you had talked to me a year ago about the global refugee crisis, I probably would have expressed to you how unfortunate it was. But I would not have had any way to respond and tangibly make a difference. If you had told me that we were going to be raising funds and awareness to bring a refugee family here to Langley, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. However, here we are. God has placed it on my heart to respond—to use my gifts and talents, to use my time and energy, and to use my voice to seek justice for people being affected by the global refugee crisis.

At the beginning of this school year, I was presented with the perfect opportunity to respond. Prior to this, I had very little exposure to the refugee crisis. I have never walked the grounds of a refugee camp, nor seen the crisis first-hand; however, TRAC is extremely close to my heart, and I have learned new things about God’s character through my involvement. Our goal is that we would be able to glorify God through this campaign, and that our efforts would inspire others to want to make a difference. As we continue this journey together, please continue to pray for us. Pray that we would remain faithful to responding to the call that has been placed on our hearts, pray for the family that we will be welcoming here, and pray that others would feel the need to respond as well.

Why waves? I love the mystery and wonder that is found within the waves. Jesus has the power to command the waves. Our family will be flying over oceans to come to Langley. Though life has its own waves, its own ups and downs, its own times of triumph and trial, God is still sovereign through it all.

To God be the glory,

Connor Green

The Lord is My Refuge, The Lord is Our Refuge.

Growing up in a multi-cultural environment and being a visible minority my whole life has been the reason for my curiosity in different cultures. Although there have been times where I struggled with the thought of being different, I have come to learn the beauty of diversity.

During the Fall 2015 semester, I studied abroad in the Middle East learning about Middle Eastern culture and the Muslim faith. Meeting with Arab families in Jordan and Palestine, I was blessed and astonished by their hospitality and generosity. While I was living in Amman, Jordan, I met with Palestinian refugees and heard their stories of resettlement. With Jordan holding a large population of refugees from countries such as Syria, Iraq, and Palestine, I could not help but wonder why Canada, a country with an abundant amount of resources, was not providing more for refugees. I remember walking through a refugee camp in the West Bank and feeling so hopeless. However, as I walked through the streets of this camp, I kept hearing, “The Lord is my refuge, the Lord is our refuge”. The hopelessness I was feeling turned into understanding that this is exactly where Jesus’ love needs to be shared, and because of that, the stories of refugees need to be heard.  At the end of my time in the Middle East, I asked myself, “If I never come back here, what am I going to do with all that I have seen and learned?”  Therefore, the least I could do is talk about it; talk about the people, what they have taught me and the way my life was changed after being there.

West Bank Wall

West Bank Wall

Coming back to Canada after my semester abroad was one of the most challenging experiences of my life. With the combination of culture shock and negative stereotypes towards Arabs, I felt compelled to stand up for the new friends I had made.

When I returned to TWU in the Spring of 2016, me and a few other students decided to re-establish the Social Justice Club on campus to give students an opportunity to express their passions of social justice and raise awareness of these issues.

In the Fall of 2016, I was introduced to Jordan Koslowsky through the Social Justice Club. He shared his story and ideas of TRAC, and I knew immediately that this was exactly what I wanted to pour my time and energy into during my last year at TWU. Through TRAC, I have been able to raise awareness and watch students develop a new passion for the global refugee crisis. TRAC has made me aware of the refugee resettlement process and the difficulties that individuals and families go through in search of safety and a better life. However, through the opportunities the Lord has given us, we can have hope.

The TRAC team has been incredible to work with, I have loved seeing students with diverse backgrounds, skills and experiences come together to work towards this initiative. It has been so encouraging to see the way the TWU community has supported TRAC and I am excited to see more students, faculty, and alumni get involved.

All the love & all the hope,

Rachael Penarroyo

When Home Won't Let You Stay

I was born in El Salvador, six years after the war ended, so those who had decided to leave during the war were already gone. For me, it was normal that a great part of my extended family lived outside of the country. As a kid, I never really questioned why they had left. Maybe it was because I had never met another Salvadoran who didn’t have family outside the country. I even remember one time at school, when the teacher asked how many students had any family living abroad. All hands went up, including mine.

Central Americans endure a harsh journey in order to escape violence

Central Americans endure a harsh journey in order to escape violence

El Salvador for me is love, is family, is belonging. It is home, and it will always be. I have a loving family, and a safe home. However, as I grew older, I began to understand why so many people had left. The war was terribly hard for everyone.  It is estimated that more than 25% of the population migrated or fled during the country's civil war. It lasted 12 years, and when peace accords were signed in 1992, many were hopeful that violence would cease, and that maybe, some could come back home. Sadly, the post-war situation has not been any different, nor any better. El Salvador is considered the world's deadliest country outside a war zone, and it is estimated that around 3 million Salvadorans live outside El Salvador.

My experience of living in a conflict-filled country with mass immigration numbers has broadened my perspective on refugees and conflict. First, I believe that it does not matter if the conflict is political or religious; those who suffer the most are the ones who least deserve it. The middle and lower classes, children, those whose voices are ignored.  Second, it has taught me that those who leave go through a hard and painful experience. Leaving home, your family, all the life you’ve known to become a refugee is never an easy choice. Somalian author, Warsan Shire, represents that pain in her poem, “Home”:

“No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark, you only run for the border, when you see the whole city running as well . . .  you only leave home when home won’t let you stay.  . . .  You have to understand, that no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.  . . .  No one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear saying- leave, run away from me now, I don’t know what I’ve become, but I know that anywhere is safer than here”.

I see Shire's words embodied in the pain of Syrians, Somalis, Iranians, Sudanese, Congolese, Colombians, and in Salvadorans. The strength and courage to start over, to demand a second chance, requires an exceptional amount of bravery. “You would do the same if there was a horrible war in your country”, expresses a Syrian father after crossing the Aegean Sea in an inflatable boat. As a Christian, and as a human, I feel not only called but obligated to help those involved in the refugee crisis. I feel the need to raise awareness and to support and get involved in local and global initiatives. I may never completely understand what is like to be a refugee, but I do not need to go through what they’ve been through to have empathy and to understand that it could be me, or you, on that boat.

When I came to Trinity to study International Development, I was fascinated by the amount of initiatives taking place on our campus. From missions trips to student-led NGO’s, it is certain that TWU seeks to contribute to a more just world as we are expected as Christians to act against injustice. In my first year, I became a member of the Social Justice Club. I started co-leading the club in my second year. One of the goals of the club is to be a space where ideas like TRAC can be shared and can flourish. Emilio, the co-leader of the club, had been praying with me for guidance to decide which issue the Social Justice Club should focus on for the semester. In October, we scheduled a meeting for Jordan to share about his experience in the Middle East. This was the first time that I heard Jordan’s testimony and the first time he shared “his crazy idea”, which now we refer to as the Trinity Refugee Awareness Campaign.

My role in TRAC is to be one of the Social Justice Club liaisons. TRAC and the SJC have formed a partnership regarding volunteering opportunities, meaning that members of the SJC will have easier access to those. The SJC has been a great source of support for TRAC; each one of the club members has helped in the planning and organizing of the Kick-Off event. The SJC will continue to work in more initiatives, and it will also continue to support TRAC as it grows and develops.

I look back to October last year, and I feel so blessed to have the opportunity of sharing with such an amazing group of people on the TRAC team. Moreover, I feel so blessed to be part of an initiative that addresses the refugee crisis directly. The support we have received is overwhelming, and we appreciate the advice and words of encouragement. I look forward to seeing what the Lord has prepared for our vision and how TRAC will continue to grow.

I truly believe that there is hope and that we cannot ignore the cries for help. My heart is filled with admiration for the bravery of the 22 million refugees around the world. Leaving home is hard, but so is starting over. Luckily, we can help to make that process a little easier. The Lord calls us to action, not to stay silent:  "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). My hope is that with TRAC, my personal life and my career, I can work to provide support, love and justice to those who find themselves among darkness.

With hope and faith,

Andrea Rodriguez

Hope for the Future

Being a university student with a multi-cultural background, I know how difficult it can be to move to another country and integrate your culture into a completely new one. After I came back from the Global Projects Malawi mission trip in the summer of 2016, I was seeking a tangible way that I could contribute and make a difference in society. In October 2016, the founder of the Trinity Refugee Awareness Campaign, Jordan Koslowsky shared his passion for refugee settlement and his desire to make an impact in our university and surrounding community. I immediately realized that this opportunity must be acted upon.

One of my dreams as a child was to travel around the world and meet people of different nationalities. I have lived in many different countries in the past, such as New Zealand, Japan and Canada. Throughout the process, I learned what it meant to accept cultural values and respect those of others, even though our backgrounds may differ. My parents have been consistently supporting my decision to study abroad, and I am intentional in not forgetting the foundation from whence I came. By recognizing my own background and how I can use my unique personal perspective, I can better help those who are in need.

I decided to come to TWU out of complete curiosity as well as a desire to satiate my adventurous mind. Soon after, I joined with a group of students who were leaving for Africa to work with a non-profit organization focused on health care in Malawi.

A view from the town of Nagozi

A view from the town of Nagozi

This mission trip provided the opportunity to learn about peoples medical and spiritual needs. Our focus was on establishing personal relationships with the locals. That way, we could build a bridge to communicate about who God is and, through clinical work, show compassion and care for the locals. We were privileged to participate in morning devotions and have opportunities to share the Word of God. I was appointed to share about my story and the Word of God with the clinic members. This experience caused me to think deeply about why I follow Christ. During the process of devotion preparation, I learned about two major themes in Malawi: unity and transformation through hope. I was blessed to observe the continuous overflowing of God’s love throughout this trip. Working at clinic gave me opportunities to see the miracle and the value of life. We delivered a few babies. We experienced cases where we could not do anything to help the patients. Our team worked together in many areas: laboratory work including CD4 and mRDT (malaria rapid diagnostic test) gram staining, vaccination, working at pharmacy, dispensing drugs, and memorizing the drugs needed for certain patient symptoms. With a clinical officer (the equivalent of doctor in Malawi), we listened to patient symptoms and diagnosed diseases together. This broadened my perspective on how doctors sincerely care for the local people.

One of the most significant things that I learned while in Malawi was that I need to be transformed by God into his image. The term ‘transformation’ does not just mean that I need to change. Transformation means that God provides hope for our world, and with that hope we need to be constantly shaped into the new image. We are called to make difference in the world through God’s hope, and we cannot without transformation. We are called to be “salt and light” in the world.

Omran Daqneesh

Omran Daqneesh

Now how can I translate this hope in a practical way? After the Malawi trip, I was exploring number of options to get involved with a local non-profit organization. In August 2016, I watched this shocking video online of a Syrian boy in an ambulance from Aleppo. The boy was covered with dust and brutally injured in a rebel district airstrike. After doing some research, I found out that this boy, Omran Daqneesh, was only five years old. I imagined that there were many more children who were seriously injured and who had lost their family for no reason. This caused me to deeply consider if there was any way that I could respond in help.

When I first heard Jordan talk about his interest about refugee involvement and how he wanted to create a campaign at our university, I thought “This is it.” It is amazing that how the Lord provides these opportunities. As I discussed some ideas with Jordan, I heard that he wanted to sponsor a family, unify students and community, and respond to this refugee crisis. As I study business at the university, it is my role in TRAC to provide business plans for partner organizations, organize resources for our team, hold business meetings, and create spreadsheets.

It has been three months since we formed our team, and I am very much looking forward to seeing where the Lord will take us and our vision. I appreciate all the people we have met who offered advice and encouragement. This campaign would not be possible without the support and knowledge that has been given to us.

Even in the midst of brutality and suffering, there is still hope. We can make an impact in our society. We cannot ignore the needs of others because they are far away or out of sight. We need to stand up together to make positive changes. My hope is that with TRAC, and continuing with my degree, I can provide compassionate support in order to transform together with the hope we have.

With hope,

Aki Imasato

The Logo

The TRAC logo tells two stories: one of the gravity of the refugee experience, and the other of hope.

When I first entered the Aida Refugee camp in Bethlehem, I noticed a gate at one entrance with a massive metal key perched on top. As I looked at it, I was informed that it is the symbol for the inhabitants of the refugee camp. As the story goes, when they or their relatives fled their homes in 1948, they took their keys with them, anticipating a chance to return. Nearly 70 years later, the opportunity hasn’t come, and perhaps never will. This key signifies the reality of refugees around the world, who may never return to their homes and may never return to the lives they once lived. It is a symbol of tragic loss. It is also a symbol of unquenchable hope.

As a sponsorship group, Trinity Refugee Awareness Campaign anticipates the day when we can provide a family with a new key. A key that represents a new life, full of new opportunities.

90 years ago, my great grandparents arrived in Canada after fleeing from the Soviet Union. My family history, like millions of other Canadians, parallels those around the globe who are currently fleeing conflict. Because of the safety provided in Canada, the lives of my great-grandparents were transformed, and subsequent generations now live in a new reality. Now, as Canadians, we enjoy and contribute to the societal fabric of this peaceful nation.

We hope that the key we provide will do the same for the family we sponsor. We hope that, when their great-grandchildren look back on the journey of their family, they too will feel the hope, anticipation, and possibility of that very first key.

-Jordan Koslowsky

 

The Way to Here

Last October (2016), I first heard Jordie mention in passing that he wanted to get involved with refugee settlement. It immediately caught my attention.

Let’s back it up though. I’ve always been interested in travelling, other cultures, and living abroad. I thank my parents for passing on that bug. I grew up hearing stories of my mum and dad roaming all over Africa, Europe, Asia, and America doing all sorts of wild things. They worked with NGOs, with disaster relief, in refugee camps, in construction, in nursing – you name it. Not surprisingly, I aspired to do the same. And I have, to some degree.

Before deciding to pursue nursing, I had the opportunity to live in Switzerland for a year and a half to work, travel, learn, and discover new people and places. Soon after starting studies at TWU, I landed on a team of students going to rural Indonesia to work alongside an organization focused on health promotion and public health. 18 countries later (and counting), I can easily re-confirm my interest in and desire for community development, health promotion, equity, and all things in between.

Fast forward to earlier this year: As a person who is continuously on the move, being in one place for a long period of time made me restless, and I was looking for things to keep me busy here in Langley. At a chapel talk, I heard a speaker from Settlement 360 (Thank you Melissa Giles!) share her experiences with community development and refugee resettlement. I emailed her out of the blue, and she graciously allowed me to pick her brain about countless topics and accompany her to various events. It was at these meetings and information sessions that I really began learning about local refugee resettlement and the groups and organizations involved. It was encouraging to see so many that have risen up in response to the refugee crisis, specifically with Syria. And yet there is still so much that can be done.

Now, to TRAC. Originally, when I heard Jordie mention his interest in refugee involvement, I thought I might chat with him and refer him to some people that I had connected with about this topic in our area. After meeting with him and hearing about his dream to sponsor a family, to engage our university and surrounding community, and to give opportunities to get involved, I was reeled in. Now, it’s my pleasure (and my part in TRAC) to connect and meet with potential partner organizations, gather information and resources, document and organize, pursue fundraising, and help out the rest of the team where needed.

A couple months later, here we are. I’m still so thrilled to be a part of this. I’m also so thankful to all of the people who have taken time to meet with us, share insight, and give encouragement as we navigated this new-to-all-of-us idea. It did not take much time at TWU to appreciate all of the opportunity, expertise, and support that we are surrounded by. Like many of us, I have grown, learned, made friends, worked, and made a home at Trinity and in Langley. It just makes sense to share this space with a family who needs it.

When I was 10 or so, a refugee family whom my mother had worked with in Cambodia came to visit us on our farm. I saw their outrageous generosity, massive love and adoration for my mum, and overwhelming gratitude. Upon seeing a blanket they had with a tiger on it, I unwittingly told them how much I loved tigers. They handed it to me immediately, and my brother and I have been duelling for it ever since. They fed us loads of crazy foods and fruits my northern BC upbringing never could have prepared me for. I wrote letters with one of their daughters for years. Some of their children took me to my first IMAX movie. We always looked forward to the days that a nearby Cambodian family would bring spring rolls for dinner.

At the time, I had little sense of the journey they had made: fleeing Cambodia, living in camps surrounded by conflict and fear, and moving to Canada. I recently asked my mum to talk through what this experience would’ve been like, and how they came to BC. In the 70’s and 80’s, under a tyrannical and genocidal government, all peoples perceived to be a threat (educated, trained, or even appearing so by wearing glasses) were targeted and killed. Many people fled the country and, when the Pol Pot regime ended, tried to reenter. Unfortunately, the threat still was alive and active, preventing refugees from returning home. Thousands ended up in Khmer Rouge refugee camps like Red Hill, where my mum was stationed as a nurse by World Vision (see attached photos). The UN, international agencies, and staff all advocated for sponsorship and relocation of these refugees, especially those at high risk and suffering from illnesses and disabilities. Masses of people might have died in camps such as these, and those that survived had no guarantee of returning to normal life. With the help of churches, groups, and organizations that sought out ways to sponsor and help, a great number were welcomed to Canada. After experiencing tragic loss and suffering, refugees were able to make a new home, accept new opportunities, and re-establish hope. My ambition is that, through TRAC and by continuing on in my life and career, I can be a part of bringing this same hope and support to the vast amount of others who are still looking for it.

“How different would our life be were we truly able to trust that it multiplied in being given away! How different would our life be if we could but believe that every little act of faithfulness, every gesture of love, every word of forgiveness, every little bit of joy and peace will multiply and multiply as long as there are people to receive it.”
– Henri J. M. Nouwen

-Johanna Alderleisten

The Vision

If the sky was clear I would have been able to see Damascus. The hike up the mountain was not a particularly unique summertime activity, but the tension in the air made this hike different than anything I had ever experienced. After a steep climb in the Middle Eastern heat, I stood on top of Mount Hermon, the highest point in the nation of Israel. This mountain, located in the north-eastern corner of the Golan Heights (formerly the Syrian province Quneitra), is considered by some to be the location of Jesus’ transfiguration (Matthew 17). Throughout the last century, it has been an epicenter of conflict in the region. The hike fell within the third week of a six-week trip to Israel that was coordinated by TWU’s missions program, Global Projects. I had already experienced extraordinary things throughout my time there, but where I stood at that moment, gazing into Syria, Lebanon, and Israel, was nothing short of surreal.  What I did not comprehend at that point was the lasting effect this experience would have on my life.

Military outpost on the peak of Mt. Hermon

Military outpost on the peak of Mt. Hermon

My decision to go on this trip was the result of a process that began in December of 2015. Following a challenging first semester of university where I was preoccupied with the drastic change of lifestyle, I began to think about the upcoming summer. Right away I knew that I wanted to travel and experience another culture. My degree is International Studies, and there is nothing more practical in applying and expanding my education than being able to interact with people across the globe. Without hesitation, my heart was directed towards North Africa and the Middle East. In retrospect, I can see why I was so quickly intrigued by this region. My generation was raised under the shadow of 9/11, an event that not only caused extensive political repercussions within the Middle East, but significantly altered the Western perception of Arabic people, Muslims, and Middle Eastern nations. I do not think that it is a far stretch or unreasonable generalization to say that, in the Western context, ‘terrorists’ are often described with the features of Arabic and/or Muslim men. Unfortunately, the recent United States presidential campaign only served to exacerbate this conflictual topic. The heated rhetoric of candidates surrounding immigration, Muslims, the refugee crisis, and extremist militias multiplied the negative connotation encompassing the people and nations of the Middle East and North Africa. My passion for global awareness produced a desire to develop my own understanding of this area through my own experiences. I explored a variety of volunteering options, but through the Lord’s guidance, I was directed towards TWU’s Israel-Palestine trip.

My team’s trip to Mount Hermon happened on a free weekend. The day prior we visited a number of biblically significant locations that were fascinating but crawling with tourists and pilgrims, a feature that starkly contrasted with our time on top of the peak. I had to be persistent for my team to agree to make this trek, and ambiguity shrouded our journey. The Golan Heights teems with military personnel and, other than armored vehicles driving by, we were the only people to be seen that day. It was a calm day and we were standing there, peacefully, staring into the expanse. Strangely enough, it was the calmness that made it so difficult to comprehend. Khan Arnabeh is a Syrian city directly across the Israeli-Syrian cease-fire line. The conflict of the Syrian Civil War has reached this city and is in a region that has been controlled by the extremist rebel group called Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria known as the al-Nusra Front). The United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) is a peace-keeping force tasked with maintaining the cease-fire line, and since the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War, they have been involved in a few violent altercations with extremist forces. This is the reality of the place I was staring at. I could see a plane flying in the distance and, frankly, I could only consider the worst. With all of this weighing down on the region and ravaging the populace, I stood there in peace, merely another foreigner enjoying the view.

Two weeks later I found myself standing in Aida Refugee Camp. Established in 1948, it housed Palestinians fleeing from Jaffa (modern-day Tel Aviv), and while the population and infrastructure of the camp has increased, the geographical size has not. Interacting with these people, albeit for a brief amount of time, provided a tangible image of the crisis I had heard about.

The rest of my trip provided even further opportunities to interact with Muslim and Christian Palestinians. While positive and negative generalizations are equally flawed, I can confidently say that during this trip I connected with some of the most hospitable and relational individuals I have ever met. The generosity of my homestay family was matched by complete strangers on the street who would talk with me, and invite me over for tea and desserts. In many cases, the image of these people that I was previously exposed to was destroyed. (However, people are flawed regardless of their culture, religion, or ethnic background. But I will willingly challenge the negative generalizations and stereotypes that surround Middle Eastern peoples). I left with a spot in my heart for Arabic culture; the food, the customs, the language, and the people were both interesting and educational. I also left with a desire to do more, understanding that there are issues surrounding this area and these peoples, most notably the refugee crisis that I saw first hand by seeing Syria and visiting the Aida refugee camp.

This passion did not wither when I returned home. The Global Projects program challenges students to let their trip continue to impact their lives and the lives of others in practical ways. I returned home with a desire to make a difference in the refugee crisis, but I had no idea about what I could do. It all started with Googling what the refugee crisis actually is. My understanding of the crisis expanded from Syria to the global crisis as I began to see what people and groups were doing to make a difference. Still, I had no clear idea of what to do. Brainstorming sessions with my mom allowed me to see the opportunities, and I continued to explore and evaluate my options. The big, audacious dream for me was to sponsor a family, but I doubted if it would be possible. I also wanted to engage the entire TWU community, as I recognized a tremendous amount of potential to make a change.

In the middle of August another image left a lasting impression on my heart. I woke up to go to work and saw a notification on my phone about the bombings in Aleppo with a video attached to the article. I opened the video to see a little boy, around four or five years old. This little boy, named Omran Daqneesh, had just been pulled out of a bombed building and was carried through a chaotic group of responders to an ambulance. He was placed on a chair and was left alone as the group continued to search for more survivors. In complete shock, Omran sat there covered in blood and dust. Too traumatized to cry, he raised his left hand to his head only to pull it back and see blood. He rubbed his hand on the seat in an attempt to wipe the blood off, but he was covered. As I watched this video, emotions welled up inside of me. The image of Omran is a harsh reminder of the terror and instability that refugees around the globe are trying to escape. Right then, I made a commitment to do everything that I could to make a difference. I knew that millions of people were watching this video and I know that so many of them are capable of making a difference, but only a small percentage are actually acting. I refuse to be part of the populace sitting idle.

The Process

School started in September, and life became flooded with studies, dorms, and sports; however, God did not let my desire to help refugees slip away. Ideas kept bouncing around in my head, and I continued to explore what people and groups were doing. When October arrived, I knew that if I wanted to engage with the crisis it was time to take a practical step. So I drafted up a document outlining my idea to sponsor a refugee family with the support of TWU and booked a meeting with the head of my department, Paul Rowe. This was terrifying for me. I recognized how unqualified and unequipped I was (and still am) to be proposing such an idea, but I was convicted and was willing to put in the time and effort to learn how to accomplish my goal. It is true that God does not call the qualified but qualifies the called. I asked Professor Rowe if my ideas were realistic, how they could become realistic, or if I should be pursuing other ways to make a difference. Professor Rowe can be counted on to provide an honest opinion, and when he affirmed that what I was proposing was doable I almost fell out of my chair.

Since that meeting this dream has blossomed. Trinity Refugee Awareness Campaign (TRAC) has become a group of eight students pursuing varying degrees and backgrounds, unified by a common passion to make a difference in the global refugee crisis. Our foundational purposes are to a) raise awareness about the global refugee crisis, and b) provide opportunities for action to all components of the TWU community (students, staff, faculty, and alumni). Our first few months were a major time of development where we grew to understand our unique capabilities and limitations to engage in an opportunity that maximized our potential to assist refugees and incorporate the entire TWU community. We continued to educate ourselves as I arranged meetings with different organizations and experts to gain a comprehension of what is required. The process has been monotonous at times, but when my motivation wavers I remind myself of Omran and remember that he is not an isolated incident. I also look to the future, to building relationships, learning from the people I will meet, and seeing how God will use my interactions to reveal his glory.

The Mission

After meetings, discussions, and research we have decided to partner with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) to sponsor a refugee family through the Blended Visa Office-Referred (BVOR) sponsorship model. Our goal is to raise $34,000 and to have the family arrive within a year.

The world is a dark place, and it is easy to advertise the corruption and evil proliferating around the globe. But there is hope. When you recognize that there is hope and understand that you have the ability to make a difference, your world can change, and you can change the world. I have learned through this process that dreams have power when you allow them to grow and flourish and that people should never underestimate the impact that they are capable of having. You can make a difference. We can make a difference. I firmly believe that as a unified whole we can pursue positive change in this world and be the salt and light that we are called to be.

With passion and purpose,

Jordan

“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”
-1 Corinthians 15:58 (ESV)