It’s a nice problem to have. Grace Mennonite Church in Regina currently has almost $30,000 in donations and pledges designated for helping refugees. The donations come from a variety of sources, both within and outside the church.
The congregation has a long history of refugee sponsorship. Peter Neufeldt estimates that over the past four decades his church has helped over 35 refugee families establish new homes in Regina. Rose Graber, who co-pastors the church with her husband, Dan, says, “This congregation is founded on refugees.” She notes that its earliest members or their families came to Canada as Mennonite refugees. Among the church’s current membership are Lao people who also came as refugees.
“I think we are known in this city for sponsoring refugees and for being sympathetic to refugees,” says Graber. Word does get around, but the church also promotes their willingness to accept donations for refugee resettlement, both on a large sign outside their church building and on their website.
And so the donations and pledges have come in, both small and large. They have come from church members, as expected, but also from total strangers. Graber says people have stopped her on the street and offered their cheques, telling her, “I don’t have a church, but I want to help.”
Other congregations from within Mennonite Church Saskatchewan have contributed as well. Churches in remote areas have the financial means to give but can’t offer jobs or the community support newcomers would receive in an urban centre. Zion Mennonite in Swift Current, Hoffnungsfelder Mennonite in Glenbush, and Eyebrow Mennonite are among the congregations that have pledged support or expressed interest.
What has all this interest meant for Grace Mennonite? “Like every congregation, we are always looking where we can cut the budget,” says Graber. But the gifts they’ve received have inspired congregants to give more themselves. “Pledges are up,” she says, and members are feeling thankful. “People are eager to get involved,” she adds.
And the hope is that members will get involved beyond just giving financially. “We need more volunteers,” says Graber, “especially if we sponsor two families.” Neufeldt believes the needed hands-on help, like the money, will come from within the church and also from the larger community. “We have had offers from recent Syrian refugees to help with the newcomers,” he says. There are also initiatives from organizations showing the Regina community to be strongly supportive. For instance, the Log Cabin Thrift Store, a former Mennonite Central Committee thrift store, has offered $60 vouchers to refugee families.
The people of Grace Mennonite are not unique in their ability to raise funds, or in their desire to help refugees, but they are uniquely equipped with experience and the support of a generous community that will make the task of refugee resettlement an easier one.