Who Are the Mennonites?
One of the main groups helping with the Syrian refugee crisis is the Mennonites. Although the Mennonites first settled in the Ontario region in the early 1800s, they can now be found across Canada. Worldwide, there are over 1.7 million Mennonites spread over all the continents, except Antarctica. In 2012, Canada had 137,000 Mennonites, which isn’t anywhere near a majority, but it’s important to understand their heritage and culture to see why they are making a difference with the Syrian refugees.
Ethnic or Religious Origins
Some historians believe that Mennonites are an ethic group within the religious denomination. Others argue that Mennonites are a religious denomination without any ethnicity. For this discussion, the focus will be on their religious beliefs—not their ethnic foundations. The Mennonites are pacifists who are committed to peace and social justice. The congregations tend to be very close-knit, but they are typically very dedicated to humanitarian efforts.
The group started in Europe out of the Anabaptists, who were part of the Protestant Reformation. The Menists were a sect of Anabaptists who were hardworking and peaceful. One small European country got tired of the Anabaptists’ violent efforts against the church and banished them, with the exception of the Menists. Still, the Menists fought hard for religious freedom and often had to flee the countries where they were living.
Eventually, the Menists made their way to the United States, and from there migrated into the Ontario regions in Canada. The Mennonite Church Canada (MCC) is headquartered in Winnipeg, Manitoba, with five regional conferences across the nation. The churches tend to be independent but interconnected within their core philosophy.
There are seven core beliefs common to every Mennonite congregation.
- Christian Formation – centralizing Jesus Christ in their commitments
- Community – coming together to worship and learn
- Christian witness – sharing the gospel
- Stewardship – taking care of and giving back what God has provided
- Leadership Development – helping all members reach their potential
- Undoing Racism – reaching across cultural boundaries to value everyone
- Church-to-Church Relationships – sharing faith between congregations and nations
The Mennonites understand what it means to give up their home country and come to another, even though many of them have been in Canada for generations. They do not serve in the military; they choose to work for peace, as well as for humanitarian aid and missions. It’s this core belief that keeps them serving others who have lost everything in wars or other natural disasters.
The Mennonites are raising money and providing relief for Syrian refugees when they come to Canada. One group has been working with an Islamic foundation to get individuals resettled in the community. The Mennonites in Canada aren’t just trying to relocate refugees; they have 27 different programs that are giving Syrians hope and dignity as they wait to find a home or return to their country.
According to one report, MCC’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis is their largest humanitarian effort to date. Unfortunately, it cannot keep up with the needs. The resources just aren’t growing fast enough. The MCC continues to make pleas for donations and other resources to aid their efforts.
The MCC also is asking for Canadians to call on their leaders to encourage peace in the Middle East. The region cannot rebuild until a ceasefire happens and a peace settlement is reached. It is understood that there are many forces at work that may prevent a quick end to the conflict, but the MCC still hopes that peace can be reached.
Until that time, the Mennonites work to bring hope to the refugees being relocated to Canada or staying in the camps. The group is working beyond ethnic and religious boundaries, and their efforts should be acknowledged.
Will the Syrian Refugee Crisis Affect the Election?
Christian voters are concerned about the Conservative Party’s reluctance to welcome Syrian refugees to Canada. Although the government has pledged to bring in 10,000 refugees, the regulations make it difficult to get help to families in need. With the recent announcement that those rules would be relaxed, some people are saying that it’s too little, too late. On the other extreme, others are concerned that the lax security will alienate hard-liners who believe the party is yielding to pressure in front of the election.
Religious Organizations Are Making the Difference
Who is stepping up in Canada to help the refugees? Since 2013, about 2,500 refugees have arrived in the country, but data has not been released about their ethnic or religious vulnerability. One news organization discovered that about half of the 1,000 refugees admitted in 2015 are individuals who are the most vulnerable. Because the United Nations has a policy to help the vulnerable first, this information is important to the government’s claim that they are working to help alleviate the crisis.
However, what’s interesting about those 500 refugees is that most of them were privately sponsored instead of being government sponsored. The Canadian government has brought in about 400 refugees and private groups have brought in about 600 refugees this year to date. Only 5 percent of the government sponsored refugees are in the vulnerable minorities that the UN is targeting. On the other hand, 90 percent of those brought in by private groups are in the minority categories that are a priority.
There are allegations that the Canadian government is cherry-picking refugees and discriminating against the Sunni or Shiite Muslims. However, private organizations are probably more equipped and better organized to handle the sponsorships. Christian organizations, in particular, have been dealing with refugees long before the current crisis.
Although Muslim communities want to lend a hand, one of the problems they face is that they are young and still paying off or renting mosques. Many Muslims are sending money abroad. In addition, they don’t have the experience dealing with the process of bringing refugees to the country. There are also national, political, and religious subdivisions which make working together more difficult.
Top Google Searches Demonstrate the Need for Information
Earlier in September, Google tracked the top queries from Canadians. The young Turkish boy who died on the coast of Turkey most likely precipitated the want of information, but it does demonstrate the desire to learn more. Over September 2 and 3, these were the most asked queries on Google:
- How to sponsor a Syrian refugee?
- How to help the refugees?
- Why is the Syrian refugee crisis happening?
- What is the cost of a Syrian refugee in Canada?
Where to Turn to Help
It’s evident that the country wants to help the refugees, but mobilization isn’t easy. It takes time to process the paperwork required by the government out of security. No one wants to just let in everyone without some sort of screening, but there is an immediacy for humanitarian aid no matter which party you support.
Hay Doun has brought in around 650 Syrian refugees since 2013. They are an Armenian Christian organization based in Montreal, and they have the experience to navigate the process and get people resettled here. Previously, Hay Doun was able to get refugees relocated in about 10 months, but even they are facing delays due to the paperwork slowdown.
Whatever your beliefs, if you’re interested in helping alleviate the crisis, you should work with the organizations who are making a difference. It’s time to rise above religious or political lines and reach out to those in need. Hopefully, the upcoming elections don’t affect what is being done to rescue the refugees and let them start a new life.
The Government Relies on Churches for the Syrian Refugee Crisis
The Canadian government is making the Syrian refugee crisis part of the political climate, but what is it really doing to make a difference? According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are about 60 million refugees around the world right now. Not all of these are from Syria, but currently, that is the biggest population. If Canada is accepting 10,000 of these refuges, that is just 1/60 of one percent. Germany is expecting 800,000 refugee new arrivals in 2015, or about 80 times what Canada is allowing. Canada leaders want you to believe they are doing something, but the real people making the difference are the churches.
Where the Parties Stand
- Conservatives – They have pledged to resettle an additional 10,000 refugees from both Syria and Iraq over the next few years, in addition to the 10,000 that had already been pledged.
- NDP – This party has pledged to fast-track private sponsorship and increase the number of refugees that the government sponsors by 9,000 per year over four years.
- Liberal – They are pledging to help 25,000 refugees through government sponsorship and boost private sponsorship capabilities. The party also wants to put $100 million each into refugee processing and UNHCR relief work.
- Green – The Green party is pledging to welcome 40,000 refugees.
Why the Government Is Turning to Private Sponsorships for Syrian Refugees
The UNHCR has very limiting criteria when it comes to relocating vulnerable refugees. Religion and ethnicity cannot be considered unless the refugees are at risk in the country where they are seeking relocation. Churches that offer private sponsorship for refugees help the government target those minorities who are facing problems in the refugee camps.
The Armenian churches are the most active sponsors in Canada, but they are working with other denominations to make a difference. It takes money and time to get a refugee relocated into a Canadian city, and this commitment doesn’t end once the family or individual is here.
So far, 1,106 of the 10,000 refugees that the government pledged to take have been received by Canada. As of September 8, 888, or 80 percent, of those have been through private organizations. It appears that the churches are the ones making the difference in the count. However, it is going to take every citizen to work together to make the difference.
Funding and Government Promises
Just last month, in September, the Canadian government promised to speed up the process to get refugees into the country. It also promised to increase funding to organizations willing to sponsor refugees, but critics are concerned that the funding won’t be distributed quickly enough. Groups that take in donations aren’t guaranteed any matching funds, even though the funding is supposedly going to “match” donations made by citizens. Organizations still have to apply to receive this money, and there’s no indication how long it will take to distribute it. Although it’s understandable that the government wants to maintain the integrity of its money, bureaucracy moves slowly, which makes it more difficult for the churches to move forward and step up to get families relocated.
Who Is Responsible for Syrian Refugees?
The entire world is wondering who needs to take responsibility for the displaced families of Syria. This is a political battlefield, and it would be wonderful if the war in Syria would end. Unfortunately, at this point, even that would probably not stop the problem. The country has been torn apart, and it will take years to rebuild the infrastructure. In the meantime, every other country in the world that has the resources to help these innocents make a new life should step up. It’s a humanitarian need, not a political statement to be used to get elected.
The Religious Movement in Canada for Syrian Refugees
Since the Syrian civil war broke out in 2011, it’s estimated that there are more than four million people who are refugees, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency. After the photo of a young Syrian boy found dead on a Turkish beach was published, it brought the issue to the forefront of mainline news. The UN Refugee Agency made an appeal to every nation to help resettle 100,000 Syrian refugees. Canada committed to another 10,000 on top of the 1,300 that it had already said it would help. However, only about 2,500 refugees have been taken in at this point.
Why Syrian Refugees Cannot Get Help
Mayors in practically every city in Canada want to help Syrian refugees, but there are a number of obstacles that make it difficult. One of the biggest challenges is that refugees fall under federal jurisdiction. While the will is there to accept people into the community, it takes time to get all of the paperwork and screening done. These are a few of the challenges:
- Canada is focusing on minorities, which indicates that it is choosing refugees based on religion.
- Bureaucratic red tape is slowing down the process. Limited staff and paperwork obstacles delay the status of refugees. It can take from 11 to 19 months or more to work through the paperwork.
- Private and community organizations must get a proof of refugee status from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees or a foreign state, which adds another layer of red tape for this vulnerable population.
- The Immigration and Refugee Board is not fully spending the budget it has to help resettle refugees.
Who Is Stepping In?
It’s estimated that only about 27 percent of the refugees entering Canada are doing so with government assistance. It’s the religious sector that is stepping in and meeting the need. Not only are Muslims taking steps to bring Syrian refugees to Canada to settle them, but those of different faith are as well. This worldwide crisis brings together unusual pairings, all in the name of human rights.
The Mennonites in Edmonton started working with the Muslim community in 2014. It’s estimated that the group has reconnected 32 individuals from Syria with relatives in the area. It has another 100 refugees in line to be resettled to Edmonton by the end of the year. The Mennonites is a religious group known for its sponsorship for those displaced. Since the 1970s, it has sponsored more than 70,000 people who were fleeing their homeland due to war or conflict. But in order to help the Syrian refugees, it had to work with the local imams.
In Ontario, 21 churches came together to raise the $32,000 necessary to pay for living costs of a sponsored refugee family. However, this group also had to reach out to the Muslims to work together to bring two entire families to the community. They raised money through bake sales, bazaars, and online donations. This small group inspired more congregations to beef up their own efforts to bring families into Canada.
The Archdiocese of Toronto has already helped 120 Syrian refugees to date, but it has ramped up fundraising efforts. Over the next 100 days, the goal is $3 million, which will bring in 100 families. A Jewish congregation in Toronto is also sponsoring a Syrian family by working with Lifeline Syria.
Working Together Builds Relationships
Interfaith groups that bring these refugees to Canada aren’t just bringing them over and leaving them on their own. Once the families arrive, they often need language assistance and integration into the community to be able to find their way. It’s not just financial assistance that needs to be provided by the sponsoring organization. Getting these families out of the camps that they are currently living in is going to take everyone coming together and not considering religious background.