Threads - Nov 2023 Welcome the Stranger

"Giving people the settled feeling of home"

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Manitoba — Nov 2023

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Listen in as our host Kyle Rudge talks to Erin Morash the new BVOR associate for MCC Manitoba. Find out more about the BVOR program here.

Threads is a 15-minute radio program featuring the work of MCC in Manitoba and around the world. Threads broadcasts on CFAM AM 950, CHSM AM 1250 and CHRB AM 1220 at 8:45 am on the first Sunday of each month.

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Audio Transcription:

Kyle Rudge (00:02):
It begins with a single thread woven through another thread, and then another and another until we have a single piece of fabric. That fabric is stretched, cut and stitched together with another, just like it. This process is repeated over and over and over until we have a beautiful tapestry that all began with a single thread. Welcome to an MCC Threads, where we look closely at how our stories in Manitoba weave together with the stories of MCC and its partners around the world.

Erin Morash (00:50):
We're really good as human beings at responding to disasters that nature throws at us. We dive in and we help earthquake victims and flood victims, and MCC does so much of that work so well. But when we're victims of human disaster or human caused disaster, we often, I think, place blame on one side or the other. And because there's blame being thrown around, a lot of that blame sticks to the victims of those disasters.

Kyle Rudge (01:15):
This month we're talking about refugees coming into Canada, and in 2022, just over 140,000 refugees came to Canada.

Erin Morash (01:24):
My name is Erin Morash and I'm the BVOR associate for MCC Manitoba, and I work out of the offices down here on Bannatyne in the central part of Winnipeg.

Kyle Rudge (01:36):
Erin and I sat down together in one of the boardrooms at MCC Manitoba's new offices on Bannatyne in Winnipeg. At the time, Erin had only been with MCC Manitoba for six weeks, but her history with MCC stretched back over a decade and a half. For the previous 17 years, she served as a pastor in southern Manitoba, specifically the Crystal City area and it was a regular thing to request to have MCC come to the church that she served at, to speak specifically about the BVOR program and refugees coming to Canada.

Erin Morash (02:06):
BVOR doesn't sound like it makes any more sense when you actually take apart the acronym. It's Blended Visa Office Referral program, and the real focus should be on the word blended. It's a blend of government sponsorship and private sponsorship. So it's the government of Canada working hand in hand with groups of people who want to sponsor refugees to come to Canada and support them for their first year here and so it takes on part of the cost burden of doing so - the government of Canada does.

Kyle Rudge (02:35):
Erin was filled with stories she loved to share, relate, and her passionate smile just lit up the room. I'm not kidding when I say I'd need at least three full episodes to fit in all the stories she shared. So I'm sadly going to have to stick to just the highlights this time around. The first for me of those highlights was why she was so passionate about displaced people.

Erin Morash (02:55):
We lost our house when I think I was seven or eight to a fire. And the only thing that got us past that - we were very low income for Canadians at the time. We were very low income. Our house burned to the ground, and I remember all the neighbors coming together and bringing food to our house, and they took us kids in for a couple of weeks while my parents looked for a place to live. This was back in the seventies.

And a local church did, but so did just our neighbors and everyone was kind of focused on us and giving us a place to stand so that we could get to a place where we could make choices again. And I remember enough about that time and about how stressed my parents were that it solidified me this, this, the importance of having a home and having a place to move out of. So all of those reasons are reasons why I saw this program and I thought finding homes for people and the largest kind of home, which is the country you belong to, and then within that, the roof over your head, and then within that the community you belong to. And making all those good places for even a few people is hugely important. And I saw people in this small town where I pastored do that so well, and I learned so much from them.

Kyle Rudge (04:11):
So what drew her to the BVOR program and refugees as you'd expect? It was equally as passionate.

Erin Morash (04:17):
From the time I was born to the time that I managed to find Crystal City as a more permanent place, I pulled up stakes 26 times. My family pulled up stakes six times between the time I was born and grade 12. My dad was in construction, so we followed the work. So he built homes. So as a result, we ended up in new communities and new homes all the time. So the idea of home and roots was really important to me. And when I got to university, university does not, you're moving out to go to work every summer. You come back in, you're looking for a new apartment to live. So I ended up changing addresses every year, a couple of times a year, quite often. And then my early years of ministry, it was six months of interim ministry in one place and then eight years in another. And when I finally got to Crystal City, it was the first time I had planted roots and stayed in one place and found this sense of home. And if there's one thing small towns do well, it's help people to stay and give them a sense of stability and foundation and being part of a small community and knowing where everything is and giving people this settled feeling of home.

Erin Morash (05:27):
And they did that for me for 17 years, and they did it so well for the people that they sponsored. And they knew going in, that any family they sponsored was not going to stay in Crystal City, but they sponsored them anyway. They sponsored them into this small community. They gave them a place to start. They gave them all the supports that they could. And I watched them do that so well from young families to these old grandmas and grandpas who would stop in at their house and make sure they were okay and drop off food and just visit and be with them and give them this feeling of safety that I think, and the idea that it was possible for them to make a place and I recognized that feeling. 

I've never been a refugee. I have no idea what that feeling of displacement is like because in all the moves that I made, aside from the ones I made as a child, I always had a choice. I was choosing to move someplace. No one was throwing me out of the place I was, for who I was, for my gender, for what I believed in, for my ethnicity. I've got so many advantages and every move I made was basically just to improve my life a little more from where it already was. That's not the story of the people that BVOR works with. In fact, BVOR is a program that is focused on the most vulnerable of a group of people who are already highly vulnerable. So the most vulnerable and precarious refugee persons or families are the ones that get into the BVOR group. They're the ones who are unable to return to their home countries.

Erin Morash (07:07):
So they're already outside of their home country. They've had to flee their lives from war because they're a persecuted minorit. Because they're LGBTQ+ people. They're a single mom in a country where being a single parent with maybe an older daughter is not something that's safe. I'm thinking we've helped some, some single moms have come out of Afghanistan. Their husbands were killed when the Taliban came to power there and so now you've got this mom, she's widowed, she's got no protector in the cultural context that she's in. She's got a daughter who's 15 and a son who's 14, and she knew that she had to leave and she left.

Kyle Rudge (07:44):
In 2022, Canada committed to receive and met a commitment to welcome at least 40,000 vulnerable Afghans, just like the one that Erin had shared about. Churches and groups across Canada joined with MCC to help make that happen. One church in Winnipeg that did exactly that is River East Church.

Jon Isaak (08:04):
Hi there, I'm Jon Isaak, and I work at here in Winnipeg at the archives for the Mennonite Brethren Church, but I'm also at our church, River East Church, one of my volunteer roles is as the team lead for the refugee resettlement team.

Kyle Rudge (08:22):
River East has participated in the BVOR program through MCC for literally decades. Jon himself has been helping since 2011, but it goes long before that in his efforts, and as part of the cultural milieu of River East to help the vulnerable. In 2022, they brought over a family from Afghanistan.

Jon Isaak (08:46):
Whenever we come to fill out some forms to help them with their, you know, Canada child benefit form, the direct deposit, or PR cards, or getting the WINNpass transit. All of these, every time I would go over and sit with them, it always began with a plate of nuts and dried fruit and green tea. It was a requirement, at least culturally it seemed, was a requirement for them to be hospitable to me. Or whether it was any of the each one of the eight of us, whenever we would go there, always treated to a cup of tea and some dried fruits. And we sat together, worked on the project and move forward. So I would say to a church, it is a mutual, hospitable relationship that is very satisfying and we have the resources. Why not share them? I think this is a beautiful model of sharing of the resources that we have. And so many in the world don't have, many millions are right now on the move, looking for some way out, some kind of a durable, livable, sustainable world or house and life. And to be part of helping another family do this in Canada is satisfying, rewarding, all that.

Kyle Rudge (10:20):
Sometimes we can think of this as a church only thing. You know, we kind of sit back, we wait for a church to do something and then we just support them in doing it. But that's not true. It could be something far smaller if you are passionate about it, this year, MCC Manitoba is attempting to make it incredibly simple for you to make it work.

Erin Morash (10:41):
First of all, you need to have a group of five people or more. That's all that you need really is five people to get together and to say, we would like to do this. We would like to sponsor someone to come here. We'd like to support them for a year. Then you would get into contact with either MCC, if you wanted to do it through MCC, you get into contact with me and I would talk to you about what the costs are that are going to be involved. So the government will cover half the cost of sponsorship for an individual family, and you're responsible for the other half. What is interesting is that this year, MCC has had the funds available to start a Catalyst Fund. And that means that we have enough money this year to cover the costs for the sponsorship group, which means that if cost is a barrier for your group to sponsor a refugee family, if it's the financial cost, that's the barrier? We will cover that for you so that you could then come to me and say, can we apply for this? Yes, you can. We would still say we would like you to do the startup costs, which means find a place for them to live. Get furniture from a thrift store, bring in all the necessities, the dishes, the pots, the pans, fill their grocery order, get it prepared for a family or a person to arrive.

Erin Morash (12:01):
So that's the first step is we would walk you through that process. We'd ask you what is it that scares you about this process? What are you most interested in? Do you have a heart for LGBTQ+ people from overseas? Is that what you are really worried? You've heard the stories and you're really worried about what's happening to people who are trapped outside their own countries. They have no family. Perhaps it's their own family that has threatened them. And so now they have no one in the world. And you want to be the place that brings them in and gives them a safe place to land. Maybe it's single parent families, maybe it's women. And you're thinking of some mom whose husband has been killed in fighting, and you're thinking we could give her and her children a place in the future. Her kids could grow up here.

Erin Morash (12:45):
So we then have them fill out the paperwork. I send them three sheets of paper. They fill out the paperwork, it comes back to me within 48 hours, then I send it into Canadian immigration. They take a look at it, immigration, refugee and settlement approves you as a sponsor. And then within three to six weeks, the person whose life you are trying to change arrives on your doorstep, which means you should probably have housing in place by then. So they're just waiting. They're waiting there for someone to say yes and be willing to take that step. And what MCC wants to do is remove as many barriers as possible, except that barrier of relationship, that barrier that says, we're gonna walk alongside you. We're gonna find translators. We're going to help you find groceries. We're gonna help you find a place to send your children to school. We're gonna help you learn the language. We're gonna help you negotiate what it means to live here. We're gonna help you buy a really good parka in November or January, and good boots and tell you what that means. We're going to do all of that work alongside of you and show you how to do that so that you can help support this family.

Kyle Rudge (13:53):
Manitobans are often among the top per capita across Canada, known for their generosity and hospitality. And that includes the sponsorship through the BVOR programs. For more information on how to get involved, you can find all the people to contact at MCC Threads is produced by KR Words with story assistance from Jason Dueck. Thanks to Erin and Jon for sharing about their hearts, their passion and experience with the BVOR program and inspiring many others to do the same. I'm Kyle Rudge and this is MCC Threads.

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To find the information about the BVOR program directly, you can learn more about it here.