When Brian Darweesh and Reem Younes got married, they were living as refugees in Lebanon. They left their homes in Syria fleeing violence and a threat on Darweesh’s life. At their wedding there was no white dress and no party. Just a civil ceremony in a foreign country.
But then a little over a year later the couple had another wedding ceremony, this time in Winnipeg, Man. Though most of their family and friends were a world away, the church was still full.
People from Douglas Mennonite Church and Jubilee Mennonite Church, their new family and friends, gathered to support them.
The congregations sponsored the couple as refugees through MCC Canada’s private sponsorship agreement with the government. Douglas Mennonite also sponsored Brian’s sister Maysoun Darweesh, along with her husband and two daughters, who arrived in 2012.
That family has become a part of the church community. They’re in a small group, have friends in the congregation and Maysoun is a member of the church. “We didn’t feel lonely,” she says. “My family is very far away, but I have a family here.”
When it became clear her brother and his wife needed refugee status too, the church decided to help.
The congregation has always been supportive of sponsorship, says Heidi Reimer, who’s on the resettlement committee, especially because many of them or their family members were refugees themselves. “We do it because we love people and we feel that this is what God calls us to do: to reach out, to welcome the stranger, to be hospitable, to share what we have,” she says.
Many people from the church and community took part in the wedding. Some tailored clothing or helped Maysoun make a traditional Syrian dessert. Much of the food was donated.
It’s clear that Darweesh and Younes are becoming part of the community, just like Maysoun and her family. As Younes said to everyone at the reception, “even if my family is not here, really you are my family.”