Text by Penny Rankin
From St Matthias Church, Montreal
Four years ago this coming September, marked a turning point in our collective conscience: the image of the body of Aylan Kurdi washed up on a beach, thrust us into the nightmare that today frames the ordeal of many of the over 68 million displaced persons whose lives are at risk and who daily seek both hope and sanctuary. Outpourings of shock paired with compassion morphed overnight into action as communities sought to meet the distress, pain and horror that continues to unfold across the globe. This arena of despair however, cannot be fully understood by limiting it to geography and statistics; many many of those whose journey ended here in Canada arrive scarred and scared – their wounds not always visible. RIVO’s commitment is to helping heal those wounds.
This is an olive tree. It has a lot to do with our region and it symbolizes blessings for me. Olive trees take long time (10 years) to bear fruit. Their continuous existence is greatly due to generation planting for the next generation. A real example of how paying forward makes every one happy.
(Photo by James Lee on Unsplash)
In December 2015, St Matthias’ Anglican Church teamed up with St Mark’s (Dorval) to support a husband and wife who were at that time trapped in Aleppo. Antoune and Nadia were to eventually escape to Lebanon, and on June 1st 2016 they arrived here in Montreal- a city they had some knowledge of as their adult children had immigrated here some years before. Reducing the story of their terrifying journey in one paragraph does not do it justice…But this is a truly a story about both justice and their generosity…it is a transformative story - with an unexpected twist… some might say it is a story of God moving in wonderful ways!
The Canadian government procedures around reunification and sponsorship applications had required an upfront guarantee of financial security sufficient to last one full year. In the case of Antoune and Nadia that regulated sum needed to be at least $20,000 – something that exceeded the family’s ability to arrange at that time. It was through the concerted efforts of these two churches that well over this amount was in fact raised.
Having survived the destruction of their beloved city Aleppo, the couple managed to escape to Lebanon - only to arrive into the uncertainty that is the reality of most asylum seekers-their safety and future ambiguous until they were able to finally board a flight to Canada six months later. Now, three years on, they are safe and can enjoy the blessings of having their family around them…but the loss is and always will be palpable-even while they are deeply grateful…
Grateful…an interesting word…and appropriate-but perhaps not as you might expect…The most interesting part of this story is that the family chose not to use the funds designated as support to meet their basic needs during their first year in Canada. Their sons and daughter would instead care for their parents without using any of the money raised. That money, having been held beyond the first year was then released with the generous blessing of an inspiring and grateful family: a blessing “to be paid forward”.
The decision was eventually taken to invest these funds in RIVO.
Though RIVO itself is independent non-profit organization and not a designated faith-based organization, the churches and the family recognize their mission as a healing, restorative ministry…and we the communities that first supported them are grateful to this wonderful family for shining so bright a light into dark places.