Castleton/Grafton United Church Sponsorship News


A Modern Refugee Nativity  -  David Lander


The CBC interviews are found under sermons, and there are two news articles under In the news, and another in the October 2014 Observer.


Sponsorship CBC interview from September 4 2015:

Here is this morning’s CBC interview re refugees (audio)

And here is the page of Ontario Morning with Wei Chen and the intro



Sponsorship update from March news:
We made the Observer again at least by inference page 41: The article begins with this line: “The United Church of Canada fell far short of its goal to bring 100 Syrian refugees to this country in 2014. Although 78 groups applied to Citizen and immigration Canada CIC to receive refugees, by year's end only one family of five had arrived.

Well that would have to be our family, that family of five, but it is really sad that our United church had so many applications that were sidelined.

That only this family who came to us is the only one all year is really sad while daily so many are dying. And for us this was just because out timing was right, when our United church resource person Khwaka Kukubo was in a conversation with Deborah of our community.

The Syrian civil war began four years ago this month and has devastated the country. By the end of 2014 more than 52% of the total Syrian population has been displaced (over 3.33 million refugees and 6.8 million internally displaced) and there's no end in sight. ~ Aura

A scary possibility re refugee policy




  Presentation to Amnesty International Annual Meeting Peterborough Mar 1, 2015   

Good evening, and thank you for inviting us to come out to share our story. I’m thankful to be coming with my friends Ta’ef, the dad in our sponsored family, and Sheila an active sponsorship person.  On the table there’s a photo of the family & a couple of news articles that are also on our Castleton Grafton United Church website.

We are humbled at the attention from various media, and yet its a little lonely in a sense, because we in our little group have felt weve done something significant, while the response across the country has not been overwhelming.

The situation in Syria these days may not be unlike the situation with the boat people in the 70s, and yet there has not appeared to be the outpouring of response, perhaps in part because our government has not seemed all that supportive, along with cynicism of what one can actually do. An example is that the government cut off health care for refugees and the Supreme Court said no, so now the government is appealing.

And our family will be getting a bill in a few months for their travel to get here and medical assessments of about $6000. There are only two countries in the world who ask for that money back and they are the US and Canada. And there’s only one country in the world charges interest on it. Guess which one. It’s Canada.

Since the outbreak of civil war in March 2011, an estimated 9-million Syrians or half the population have fled their homes. Over 3 million have fled to Syria's immediate neighbours---Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. 

And it is not slowing down; just recently the Islamic state or ISIS, abducted around 200 Christians in northern Syria and last I heard they are being held for ransom so the US will stop bombing.

Our government has promised 10,000 refugees but most of this is to be by church groups or community groups, So we’ve been kind of set – up that if we don’t meet our quota, Canadians don’t care. Yet the stats are that there’s more suicides, more dead ends, more low-paying jobs with government sponsorships than community sponsorships.


Its limited what you and I can do to solve these problems. Your amnesty international group is doing quite amazing things in a quiet way all around the world, including here.

We cant stop solve the problem, but as our group looked at it, we can at least help one family. We could send money over there, but realistically we wouldnt raise very much.


So who are we and how did we get into it? We are two quite small rural United church congregations; Grafton has 40 people attending and Castleton has 20.

            Last May I was inspired by a talk in our Presbytery on refugee sponsorship. The next Sunday I told both congregations some of what Id heard, and asked them if they had any interest in this. It would cost about $20,000; it would be a whole lot of work; there arent many of us and we’re pretty gray; -but Syria has been so much in the news and has been in our church prayers every week for months.

This could have been the end of the matter, but one person spoke to another after church, and then a couple more, and in 3 weeks we had a meeting of inquiry with a dozen of mostly church people, including one person of our congregation with recent experience.

 If some of you are thinking of sponsoring as I understand is the case, Im sure you will have some of the same questions we did. We are a small group; how can we raise enough money? We are already over-volunteered; have we got the energy to do all the work?

After a few more meetings, a gathering of information, pledges of about $6000, one meeting with another resource Ian McBride of Aura, whose mom is in our congregation, we thought we would dare proceed.  We chose a specific Syrian family from a list of family makeups and many countries, and we applied mid-July.

Ta’ef and family arrived about a month later; we had been told up to three months.

I likely should say that some churches have often waited a few years, because they have named a specific family to come, often related to someone they know; our family came quickly because we chose them from a list of already VISA processed applicants.

 It has likely changed by now, but our United church consultants told us a month or two ago that we were the only BVOR Syrian sponsored group in Canada or at least United Church. -Blended visa office referred, which means as well that the gov’t subsidizes about $8000

We chose a family, but we didnt know a lot about them. We knew it was a mom and a dad, boys 9 and 11 and a four-year-old girl. Originally from Homs in Syria; they had holed up in their house for a time in fear; the Dad at least had seen more violence than anyone would want to. They fled to Jordan, the last 10 miles on foot with a handful of belongings and they had stayed in Jordan a couple of years, not in actual refugee camps, but were staying in a house courtesy of the UN. The dad had been a trucker with some automotive industry involvement & we knew they were Muslim.

August 19 was when half a dozen of us went to Pearson with great excitement, for a long wait, and they arrived exhausted, not only escaping a war zone, but a very long flight via Frankfurt, not really knowing what was ahead for them. Indeed they had the impression they were going to London. But they were all smiles. The dad kissed me on both cheeks, thankful to stand on Canadian soil.

Are they Adjusting and settling in?

When you think of what and where they come from, we think they are doing amazing. But this the last several months has been quite a journey.

They came sooner than we expected, so the house we had lined up for them wasn’t quite ready and so they stayed with one of our group for a week. School started soon so we arranged to get the children to school, who have gone over the top for them.

 Their English was very limited, and with language being so vital, and the Cobourg New Canadian Center not offering consistent English lessons, a couple of our group did some tutoring, but we arranged a roster of people to drive them to the Peterborough New Canadian Center for English language training five days a week for a couple months.

And because this was from 12:15 till 3:15 in the afternoon we arranged another roster of people to walk the children home from school and stay with them maybe 15 to 20 minutes until the parents got home.

Though still a long way to go, their English has improved significantly from these lessons. Their children in the school system are doing amazing.

The tasks: We needed someone to look after the pledges of all of those who sponsored, and by now we have about 30 from the church and another 30 from the community and other churches. Someone lined up a house; someone else organized furniture etc. Whenever we met there was a financial report and we were constantly amazed how giving people were. We are trying to do better for them than they would on welfare or under a pure government sponsorship and our budget now looks like it will be closer to 30,000 with about 22,000 raised, including the government subsidy, so we think we will make it.

Our responsibility is their expenses for one year, when hopefully they will have work and be able to finance themselves, and if not at that point they could apply for welfare.

We had meetings every couple of weeks all fall, of the dozen or so most interested, to work through the various situations which arose. Early on it was finding and furnishing a house, providing clothing and bedding; later it was managing our roster, and lining up doctors and dentists as there were some needs along those lines, –little Maryam had 11 teeth pulled.

We also talked about our tendency to be a little too attached to them, or look on them as our family, sometimes forgetting that our whole purpose was to enable them to be independent.

We havent always thought of what it would be like for us as a Syrian refugee in say Jordan or Turkey with a different culture, different language, different religion, unable to express our needs, with other people making most all of the decisions that one would normally do for oneself. It would be overwhelming. And its hard for them to complain when you owe your life in a sense to people looking after you.     We’ve learned more than we ever expected, even about ourselves, which is all enriching.

We have passed the six month mark and recent developments would be that Ta’ef has gone, basically on his own initiative and got his drivers license and that was in English; he still needs his truck driver’s license and he’s starting a course next week on that. Hes been going to Wattons employment agency for courses. From that hes written a resume, and it has been taken to a few places around town.

We were looking for a possibility with the garbage pickup as it pays pretty well, but it is just too cold for him at least now. Home Depot is hiring and Canadian Tire, and we are expecting that he will have at least some work before all that long. They are also planning to take a computer course.

So for a guy with poor English and only grade 9 education trying to enter the work field in this country hes actually doing very well, but it has quite a bit to do that some people have his back.


We had some bumps in the fall; we were all in culture shock; they were feeling down, and we were all kind of frustrated. At the moment were all quite enthused and quite proud of this family.

They had been expressing theyd like to move from the community at one point, and it may yet be depending on whether they can find good work and more reasonable housing in our community.

The family is grateful to be here and we are grateful to have had a chance to do something significant to help that happen. Its a little bit like the starfish story; we cant save all the starfish grounded on the shore, but we might be able to make a real difference in the life of one.

 If our little group can be of assistance to anyone else wondering about this let us know, and there are other resources including a manual online

Leave your email and we can send you a link, the CBC interview, the news articles etc.

We are a small group of people, and I guess it may sound simple; it hasnt been simple, but I do think that if we can do it, almost any group can, and you may be the most rewarded in the process.

Thank you




We told our story to the Amnesty International annual meeting in Peterborough

Refugee stories

Provinces not jumping to cut refugee social assistance access: Late last year, the federal government passed Bill C-43 allowing provinces and territories to restrict access to social assistance.  It is now up to each province and territory to decide whether an individual must reside there for a certain period of time before they can access social assistance, and they may do so without losing federal funding for it.

Sophie Scholl and members of White Rose

With support from the United Church and others, partners are working hard especially to empower Syrian women and children. The Joint Christian Committee for Social Services (JCC) provides services to Syrian refugees in Lebanon. JCC is the Lebanon Area Committee of the Department of Services to Palestinian Refugees  and the Middle East Council of Churches , which are Mission and Service partners.



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