“I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” Jesus’ words in the Gospel of Matthew are the only ones Max Wynter needs to explain his urge to help refugees.
A member of St. George on Yonge, Toronto, Mr. Wynter has been one of the church’s leaders in refugee sponsorship for the past five years. “I believe it’s part of our mission as Christians,” he says.
St. George’s is part of the Don Valley Refugee Resettlers (DVRR), a group of Anglican and United churches founded in 1994. Working with AURA (the Anglican-United Refugee Alliance), the group sponsors a new family every year, supporting each family for its first year in Canada.
Over the past 21 years, the DVRR has sponsored 21 families – 65 people in total – from countries such as Colombia, Bhutan, Somalia and Croatia.
Last September, the DVRR was ready to sponsor its next family. “We specifically asked for a Syrian family because we were aware of the need in that part of the world,” says Mr. Wynter.
After submitting an application through AURA, the churches received the names of a Syrian couple and their three teenage sons. They arrived in Toronto in late January.
“It usually takes four weeks to six months from the time a name is given until they arrive in Canada. This time, it took less than two weeks,” says Mr. Wynter.
With so little time to prepare, the experience of the DVRR was more important than ever. After the family arrived, volunteers helped them set up bank accounts, find their way around the city and organize education assessment for the children, among other tasks.
St. George’s was responsible for finding and setting up a home for the family. When an apartment was unavailable on such short notice, they were welcomed into the home of a parishioner.
“We have a ton of action we put into place when we’re told we’ve been matched with a family,” says Mr. Wynter. “We request donations of furniture, kitchen utensils, all sorts of things. We always get more things than we need.”
After five years of helping with St. George’s refugee sponsorships, Mr. Wynter’s advice to other churches is clear: get involved. “Do it. Now, it’s not easy to do. But see if there’s a way you can,” he says. He recommends joining with other churches and getting in touch with AURA to find out about its resources and training.
As St. George’s latest refugee family gets settled in Canada, moments of joy are emerging amidst the practical tasks. Over the Family Day weekend, members of the DVRR and new friends gathered to celebrate one son’s sixteenth birthday.
“To take someone who’s had bullets flying at them, who’s had to flee, and put them in an apartment in Toronto – you can’t tell me this isn’t God making a miracle happen in someone’s life,” says Mr. Wynter. “To be part of that miracle is absolutely fulfilling.”