Easter: did Jesus rise from the dead or did God raise Jesus from the dead? Does the difference matter? Mark argues that it makes all the difference. This wasn't Jesus doing a magic trick for himself. This week after Easter, we explore how God raising Jesus was a big deal for the earliest Jesus-followers: in doing so, God endorsed Jesus' revolutionary ministry and message in the most powerful way they could have conceived. The early churches leaned hard on eyewitness evidence, but as the first generation passed, they began to emphasize how love makes Jesus real in the world in the face of doubt. This rings true still today: propositions and empirical arguments offer support, but only go so far. Radical love makes Jesus present in the world like nothing else.
Then Mark sits down with Alison Witt, one of the founders of Micah House in Hamilton - a place where refugees are immediately welcomed every year for food, shelter, and community as they suddenly find themselves in a new country. In this week's Part 2 of the conversation, Alison talks about the global forces that are creating record numbers of refugees, how the world and Canada are responding, and what it's like to arrive in Canada as a refugee. She talks about the origins of Micah House and about the theology that drives her. Finally, she tells us about the small things we can do to make a big difference in the life of a newcomer to Canada.
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Notable Quotes from Alison Witt
"How do we respond...? Can Canada be doing more? Because again, in the past, back in World War II, that was some of the roots... some of Canada's more compassionate response came out of that. Like, 'we need to be a welcoming country for the displaced people and the Vietnamese boat people' back in the 70s. There was a real sense I think nationally that 'we should do this. We can do this.'"
"Interestingly we're not doing as much as I think the perception is.... The rhetoric that is being talked about by our current government, they have some very standard lines that they use over and over again and one of those lines is 'Canada - we're very compassionate; we are doing over and above what we should be doing for refugees.' But if you look, even compared to other countries, it's like 1% - it's a very small number of global refugees that we are actually taking in."
"Even in terms of those that we would process - the resettled refugees overseas that we process and bring in - it's pretty small. I think Canada is like number 33 or something like that on the list of countries in terms of numbers accepted."
"In 2012, Canada made some significant changes in our policies our legislation. So they passed a law called, the bill is called Protecting Canada's Immigration System. Which to me was kind of a – 'Oh, so we're protecting the system? We're not protecting the people?' I think the name actually says a lot.... So there is this sense that now it is harder to come and it's a more punitive system, so there are less people."
"The idea of creating fear is not a helpful thing. So when I read the newspaper or hear stuff on the radio - whether it's jobs or money stuff or about security measures – there's this sense of 'we need to protect ourselves.' Which, I think there's not a lot of basis for that. I think certainly in terms of refugee claimants that we see, these are people that are an asset to our country. I mean, we're talking about people with a lot to give in terms of professional skills and just personal character. They're people who we would want. And the government has published stats saying we need immigrants just to keep our country afloat - economically, we need immigrants. The start up – it may take them a few years to get on the ground and running, but I think long-term in terms of the future of our country, these are people that are good for our country. The security [concern] I think is a bunch of baloney. Because they are probably more screened than – they are more screened – they have to pass through all these security screenings from Day One just to get across the border."
"Micah House opened its doors in 2006. Just very grassroots. There was a group of churches that was kind of coming together right around that same time. A group that's now come to be known as True City. And early on, actually the very first gathering, they had a conference and a workshop around 'how can we welcome newcomers?' So a group of people came together at that event and found each other, and we identified soon after that this gap in housing for refugees is one of the biggest needs. And so we went about pursuing that. It was pretty quick – we had a fundraising banquet, raised enough money for a down payment on a house, and bought this house, and then figured out what we were doing as we went."
"It wasn't like we didn't know anything; I don't want to say just go out and do anything. We did do due diligence, and we did have some plans. Matthew House Toronto was hugely helpful and we very much modeled ourselves after them, and we changed some things along the way, but it was a really good place to start. But for sure we didn't know a whole lot of what we were doing, and that was okay."
"12 people can stay at one time, and it's exclusively for refugee claimants so those who find their way to Canada and make a refugee claim. And a lot of referrals would come from the Fort Erie border, so a lot of people do end up in the U.S. first. There is a big shelter in Buffalo called Viva la Casa. A lot of people stay there waiting to cross the border. On the Canada side, there's reception center; they have a list of shelters and places people can go. Micah House would be one of those places. So they might call us and say, ' Do you have room for a family of four?'
"Increasingly we get more referrals locally from other homeless shelters where refugee claimants would just show up – at Good Shepherd or Mission Services – one of the other shelters. And when they find out they're a refugee claimant, they would call us and say, 'Hey can you take them? We know you are better equipped to meet their needs.' Or from referrals from the cultural grapevine. So, somebody comes from Congo and they know somebody who knows somebody who stayed at Micah House, and says, 'Go there; they will help you.' That kind of thing."
"People typically stay for a couple months – two months would be our average. So in a year it used to be closer to 100, now because the flow of people coming is a little slower, probably 75 in a year. Since we've opened, I think we've had 650+ people."
"It's pretty intense, that's why it is helpful for them to stay there. Just because there's so much that needs to happen. Again part of this new legislation is the faster timelines. So they have to get a lawyer, so we would call legal aid and see if they can get a lawyer. They have to fill out a whole whack of papers that have to be submitted within 15 days and... they call it their Basis of Claim. So that will be reviewed and talked about at a hearing they go to. And they are eligible for social assistance, so we helped get them an appointment with Ontario Works; they have to have a medical... lots of appointments and stuff."
"After all that initial appointment stuff, we would begin to start helping them find housing. Which is increasingly difficult, just because the housing options are so poor and on social assistance the amount you are given is so small. So for singles, especially, it's extremely difficult to find what we would aim for – safe and affordable housing. To find both of those is not always easy."
"I think [facilitating friendships] is the unique piece that I think Micah House and by extension the church is uniquely positioned to fill. So we wouldn't really encourage… we have a ton of volunteers that come in, so every evening we have a community dinner. So everyone living in the house eats dinner together. We have volunteers that come in and bring a meal and stay and eat with the guests in the house. And we see that as kind of the hub of building community for those that are living in the house, but also for connecting with the broader community in Hamilton. So friendships can be triggered in that kind of context, or we have more of a 'programmy' thing that we call Global Friends where we match a more established Canadian with somebody staying at Micah House. Just to say, 'You guys try to intentionally connect, introduce them to Hamilton, introduce them to your circle of friendships, and be a resource to answer questions – those kinds of things.'"
"We've done this just recently – some evaluation kind of stuff. And we interviewed 20 past guests and just talked to them – asked a couple of questions. And I think across the board in one way or another, the idea of relationship - and some would say, 'All my real friendships started at Micah House, whether it's with the staff or volunteers or another guest. But that's what ultimately has helped me feel at home here.' It hasn't fixed everything, but as we also know, you can't fix people's problems but even journeying with them through it can make it so much easier."
"Mary Jo Leddy says, 'It takes a village to welcome a refugee.'"
"It's one of those things that I think when you put that lens on and when you look at Scripture, there is so much there that you didn't see before in terms of welcoming the stranger and just refugee stories in the Bible. You might not see the word refugee, but when you see the word stranger or alien or sojourner, the Bible is packed with verses and stories of refugee stories. And seeing God's heart – there are some pretty clear commands in the Old Testament about loving the alien as you love your nativeborn. That was God's heart for the Israelites – you need to treat them as your native born. And that's really sat with me and I think shaped me. And the whole idea of hospitality in Scripture and hospitality as evangelism and as an expression of our faith."
"This year especially at Micah House, more than half of our guests have been from a Muslim background - and to hear them share their experience of being in a Christian environment and how positive that has been at tearing down walls of division and preconceived ideas they had about Christians."
"Wherever you are, there are refugees I would say. If you're in an urban area in Canada, there are refugees there. And like we said, friendship is huge. So it doesn't even have to be with an organization. But if you don't know where to find or connect with refugees definitely Google...."
"People just need friends. I've heard people just say, 'Just the fact that you smiled at me made a difference. I felt like I was welcomed here.' Because for most people all along their journey they been told they don't belong here. 'You can't stay here. You're not welcome here.' So to be able to be told, 'We are glad you're here....' That's usually the words that I say when somebody arrives is, 'Welcome to Canada; welcome to Micah House. We are glad you're here.' And that is huge for people to say, 'Oh you want me here? I'm welcome here?' So just welcome people. And invite them into your home! Because you don't want to hear those stories, 'I've been in Canada for 10 years and I've never been in a Canadian home.'"
"You don't have to be doing anything that you think is a big thing to make a difference."
Text Week's Episode 30
Guest: Graham Singh - minister, church planter