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Syrian refugees need people with ‘heart of a stranger’

ryan dueck

Ryan Dueck

People in southern Alberta are urged to develop the heart of a stranger in response to the Syrian refugee crisis.
For it is only people with the heart of a stranger who will be willing to make room for refugees from the war-torn land.
“I think those of us who live in this country must also admit that we are all strangers, on some level, even if it is a few generations removed,” Pastor Ryan Dueck said. “Unless we are indigenous people, we are all immigrants. All of our ancestors came from somewhere else and at one point had a need for someone to make room.”
Dueck was guest speaker earlier this month at a session hosted by the Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs.
Dueck, who is pastor at Lethbridge Mennonite Church, said people don’t have to look far in their own family’s history to find a time when they too needed someone with a heart of a stranger.
“I wonder if we need to be reminded that once this was us, or our grandparents,” Dueck said. “We needed someone to make room.”
Dueck was part of an ad hoc coalition of Mennonite and United churches in the Lethbridge are that began working together to fund-raise for the adoption of a Syrian refugee family.
Dueck told the audience how he heard about the reality of the situation from a priest from Syria.
A few months later the priest contacted Dueck to ask about sponsorship for two families living as refugees in Lebanon.
The two families are in the last stages of the application process.
“We’re hoping, we’re really hoping, that they could be here before Christmas,” Dueck said. “I say hoping, and I emphasize hoping, because we never know.”
In early September a photograph of the body of a young boy lying dead on a beach that was widely circulated, changed things.
“All of a sudden we had this incredible outpouring of response,” Dueck said. “Our little group became this focal point in our community of how to respond to this crisis.”
Several churches, people from the University of Lethbridge, and doctors and other professionals joined the effort.
“Now we have five groups working to bring families here,” Dueck said.
A young woman who came to Canada as a refugee contacted Dueck and his group.
“She told us her story,” Dueck said. “It’s a heartbreaking story.”
One of the woman’s brothers-in-law was arrested and disappeared. A brother had made the torturous journey from Syria to Sweden. Two other brothers and their families are living in Lebanon, as are her parents.
“It’s a desperate story, and a desperate family that is trying to be reunited here in Lethbridge,” Dueck said.
The family of nine adults and 10 children has been granted refugee status and was just waiting for someone to help them.
“We’re really hoping we can help this woman,” Dueck said. “It was heartbreaking to hear her almost apologize for being Muslim, because she wasn’t sure we would help her because she is Muslim. We assured her that wasn’t the case.”
Dueck said his group, which started out hoping to help two families, is now working to bring 40 people to Lethbridge from Syria.
“We come from a broad range of religious and non-religious perspectives, but what holds us together is our common concern for the human suffering that we see in Syria,” Dueck said.
The Mennonite Central Committee is overwhelmed by requests, but is making Lethbridge a priority because of the collaboration that is happening between churches and community members.
Dueck said the group has encountered anti-refugee and anti-Muslim rhetoric.
“I have received hate mail for the first time in my life,” Dueck said. “I had one man tell me that you Mennonites can get the hell out of our country, and take the Muslim trash with you.”
Dueck contends that anyone who claims an allegiance at all to Jesus has a duty to love their neighbours, even if they mistakenly view them as enemies.
“People are afraid,” Dueck said. “People don’t want these people to come.”
Dueck said in the Book of Deuteronomy there is a divine command to care for the stranger. In the Gospel of Matthew there is a commandment to do unto others as you would have done to you.
“The former in Deuteronomy urges us to remember better,” Dueck said. “The latter tells us to imagine better. I think both of these things — memory and imagination — are what are going to help us to have better conversations.”
“I think all of us, whatever our perspectives, as citizens and as human beings, need to be the kinds of people who remember and imagine in hopeful and hospital ways if we are ever going to develop the right ind of hearts that can welcome that strangers in desperate need of a hospital place.

1 Comments For This Post

  1. Garrett de Koning Says:

    DO NOT accept the so-called refugee Syrians as they will never become CANADIANS will always be Syrians. They are nothing but trouble and Canada does NOT need that. Time people woke and quit felling sorry for some one elses problems Canada has enough with all the illegals already get rid of them and give the country to CANADIANS lots in need so help CANADIANS who appreciate it they DO NOT appreciate any thing you do for them as they figure we owe them and we owe them nothing.