written by Janaki Bandara and submitted to CLWR by Liz Mongeon (Faith Lutheran Church, Brantford)
When we, in faith, take just one step, we have no idea of the ripple effect that single step can take. The continuing story of refugee sponsorship for Faith Lutheran Church in Brantford, Ontario, bears witness to what faith as small as a mustard seed can do.
For a number of years, members of this congregation have been sewing blankets for CLWR. Another of their ministries has been a clothing depot where gently used clothing is made available to those in need and the proceeds given to CLWR. Over decades, this community has supported seminary students on internship. Each of these ministries has been like a mustard seed.
In 2013, when the weather became cold, their seminary intern invited two new immigrant students to get warm clothing from the clothing depot. Dammee Sero, a 21-year-old Ethiopian student, was one of those who Faith warmed up with heavy layers for winter. Dammee left her entire family of eight in the dangerous, stifling environment of the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya. She was selected for her academic excellence for a scholarship to Wilfrid Laurier University in Brantford.
The clothing depot at Faith Lutheran was where Dammee met Liz Mongeon, who became the chairperson of the Refugee Sponsorship Committee. The Holy Spirit, in Dammee’s gentle, hopeful voice, told Liz about a family far away and the separation of a daughter and sister from those she loves the most.
Step by step, the Holy Spirit walked with Faith as they discerned their call to respond to the situation of Dammee’s family. On April 27, 2014, this congregation voted to sponsor Dammee’s family for resettlement in Canada.
“I feel very happy to think of us being together again,” said Dammee. Her parents and six siblings had lived in the camp for over 10 years. Sadly, her mother died suddenly this past January. “I had hoped I could find a way for my family to come here. It is dangerous in the camp. There is some killing and you always live in fear.”
Faith Lutheran has a strong history of sponsoring refugees. In the 80s, this church brought a Vietnamese family of eight “boat people” to Brantford—the first of many sponsorships. In 2014, the cost for a family of this size was estimated at almost $43,000.
“It’s a lot of money for our congregation,” says Liz, “but we did it before and, with our faith, impossible things can happen.”
Certainly this was no small undertaking, but one that was so resonant with the history of refugee resettlement, and one that was truly inspired by the Holy Spirit.
The progress of fundraising has been phenomenal. The small mustard seed of faith sown by this congregation has inspired other churches to also become involved and do what they can. Members of other Lutheran congregations, feeling the call of the Spirit on their own hearts, have responded to the refugee crisis.
Last fall, the Faith sewing group held its annual potluck dinner as a fundraiser for the resettlement of the Sero family. Dammee was one of its speakers, and she was encouraged to invite people from her Oromo community who live in neighbouring cities. Her friends also joined in to help, inspired by the faithful efforts of the congregation. In April, Faith held a Refugee Sunday service and dinner which many former sponsored refugees attended. Dammee was again introduced and spoke. Even though this was not promoted as a fundraiser, many contributions came forth.
The parish, with the help from so many committed and compassionate people, has now managed to raise the funds required for the refugee sponsorship.
Sponsoring this family from a refugee camp has not only been about bringing people of that family together again in safety; it has been about getting to know our different neighbours here in southern Ontario, too.
In a letter to Faith containing a generous donation, the president of the Oromo-Canadian Community Association of Waterloo Region, Martha Kuwee Kumsa, wrote, “On behalf of my community, I would like to express our deepest and heartfelt appreciation for the work you do as a refugee sponsorship group in general and in supporting Dammee Sero’s family in particular. Your compassion is precious and exceptional in today’s hardening hearts and solidifying borders. Members of our community are inspired by your generosity of spirit and we have come together to support your efforts.”
At a time in our global life when people of different countries, cultures and religions are often fearful, the mustard seed of faith has indeed grown and flourished. On the basis of this undertaking of love, Faith has truly come to know our neighbour churches and the Oromo community here in unimagined ways.
Jesus did teach us that if we have faith as small as a mustard seed, nothing will be impossible for us (Matthew 17:20). This refugee resettlement project is well on its way to teaching us the truth of this passage, showing the ripple effect of faith as small as one mustard seed. Thanks be to God.