Jenn McIntyre is the director of Romero House.
Romero House is a community of welcome and support for refugee claimants in the west end of Toronto. We commit to walking alongside refugees as they seek safety and a new life in Canada.
I spend my days encountering remarkable people – newly arrived refugees who have undergone incredible journeys to get here, passionate and committed volunteers and supportive donors. My main role is to encourage and support the interns, who are the heartbeat of Romero House – the young people who give a year or two of their lives in service to the community. They are really the people who run Romero House. My role is to accompany them and to ensure all that we do is done in the spirit of our Way of Being as a community.
Right now I am really excited about the Community Host Program, an initiative that has been supported and encouraged by the Diocese of Toronto. This is a program that allows individuals and families to fill a deep need for emergency housing by offering a room in their home to a newly arrived refugee family. It is a sign of real Christian hospitality. It is the voice of the church speaking God’s love very loudly in this moment in history – a moment in which fear is trying to build walls between people. Through this program, we are meeting Christians who are choosing to open their doors in trust and faith, who are choosing to break down walls rather than build them.
The best part of my job is that is I don’t do it alone. I am held up and accompanied by a faithful and tremendous community. The second-best part of my job is the amazing food that is shared by my neighbours. The smells and tastes of Romero House are glorious.
There are no “worst” parts of my job, although many things are difficult. I am a witness to injustice every single day. And in that, I am given a choice to simply observe it, or to do something.
I grew up in Calgary and moved to Ontario to study at the University of Guelph. After graduating from International Development studies, I spent an incredibly formative year as an intern at Romero House. It was during that year that I started to shift my mindset from one of helping people in need to walking alongside those who suffer. I took that learning into three years of working with students in campus ministry at the University of Guelph.
When I was working in campus ministry, I really loved my job. I spent my days in deeply meaningful spiritual conversations with young people figuring out their relation to God. But I felt a deep yearning, a call of sorts, to be near to Romero House. The community and its Way of Being connected with my soul. So I left Guelph and moved back to Toronto to become a neighbour of Romero House. I started studying theology at Wycliffe while volunteering at Romero. And then the call came to move back in and step into my current role. There was a need, and I felt a total sense of being in the right place.
My spiritual journey is far from a linear one, with lots of turns, backtracks and circles. It is hard to say where it began – probably as a child in a Sunday school classroom. As long as I can remember, I have been trying to figure out who I am in relation to God. I have felt welcomed and at home in a number of different Christian traditions over the years and have come to see the presence of God in the world through ecumenical movements. My faith is what grounds my work and my life. God is my reference point. Prayer is what roots me. Our little community of interns and staff meets for prayer every morning, which is by far the most important part of my day.
I have learned that “refugee” is simply a label that is put on someone for their particular situation in life. But everyone I meet at Romero House is really just a person. My sister or brother.
I don’t really think about the future in terms of where I would like to be or what my goals are. I believe that I am in absolutely the right place right now. And I am deeply committed to my work and community. I am not really thinking of or planning for anything else. I am open to the leading of the Spirit. And that might be that I am at Romero House for the rest of my life. Or I could be somewhere else in five years that is not even on my radar. But I am choosing to live now, in this moment, and to be faithfully committed to it.
I don’t necessarily have a favourite passage of scripture. But the one that is speaking to me right now is the Gospel reading from Matthew 5:1-12. In stark contrast to the politics of power and self-importance, the Beatitudes reveal the politics of God. They reveal the Kingdom values of humility, mercy and peace. They give us a very clear idea of how the church is to be in the world. They give us a deep hope.