Making a Difference: Why I decided to sponsor Syrian refugees in my home town

Syrian refugee Mohamad Rafia and his son Samie are settling to a new life in Chipman, Canada. Source: SBS

For Dawn Burke, the decision to sponsor a refugee family moving to her small Canadian community came from a lifelong urge to make a difference in the world.

My interest in making a difference in the world began when I was a young child.

When I was about 12-years-old the Vietnam crisis occurred. Living in Bancroft, Ontario at the time, my mum and dad, who was a United Church minister, set out to help the Vietnamese ‘boat people’ through a small bible study group.

This endeavour grew from helping one Vietnamese family to supporting five families. In high school, when I was a teenager, the Ethiopian famine occurred. I recall reaching out to World Vision to see how I could help. While they told me there was little I could do, I remember feeling compelled to doing something to help. Years later, I chose to study to become a nurse, to help others, to make a difference.

After marrying and having three children of our own, my husband and I proceeded with three international adoptions – adopting first a little toddler from China followed by brother-sister siblings from Ethiopia.

Wanting to make even more of a difference in caring for others, I chose to complete my masters of nursing and began teaching nursing students. A few years ago I had the pleasure of accompanying a group of nursing students to Haiti where we sought to assist children and families in desperate need.

Recently we began to hear of the plight in Syria. In August last year my husband Gerald, a Baptist minister, and I, attended the annual Convention of Atlantic Baptist Churches (CABC). One of the sessions that appealed to me was focussed on the Syrian crisis and challenged us to become involved, sharing how we could help support refugee families affected by the war in Syria. Having heard about the crisis through national television I elected to attend this session to learn more.

Paul Carline, Director of Intercultural Ministries, led the presentation and shared the plight and desperate conditions of the refugees. CABC had committed to supporting 50 refugee families and appealed to Atlantic Baptists to consider this outreach.

“Has it been hard? Yes!...Would we do it again? In a heartbeat.”

After the session I approached Paul, interested but not sure what difference our small congregation could make. Paul encouraged me to talk with other churches, other denominations, community groups and see if we might come together to support a family, and that he would be willing to come to Chipman and share information and guidance to the group. I left inspired and once I was back home presented the idea of sponsoring Syrian refugee families to the church.

A group of interested people met, wrote letters to over 100 organisations and invited Paul to come to share his expertise with us. I believe it was the end of September when the meeting occurred, and shortly after we resolved to support a family.

Over the next few months we formed a core committee, did further outreach and established the Grand Lake Area Refugee Project. Our core committee pulled interested people from at least seven different communities and involved a variety of Christian churches, denominations and service groups.

Dawn Burke uses Google Translate to talk with the Rafia family, Syrian refugees who moved to the Canadian town of Chipman.
Dawn Burke uses Google Translate to talk with the Rafia family, Syrian refugees who moved to the Canadian town of Chipman.

While money started to be donated the committee focused on preparing for a family and deciding what type of family we wanted to support. Recognising that Chipman is quite remote we began praying for a family that would appreciate the quiet, country life.

We wanted to support a family with children and as such began looking for appropriate housing and preparing to receive the family. By mid-January we submitted our application, understanding it would take roughly three months once a family was approved for them to arrive. Not even a week had passed before a family was selected, and I believe it was only nine days after this that they arrived, in the midst of a snowstorm in the depths of winter.

The last six months have brought much joy, at the same time we have experienced highs and lows, challenges and blessings. We have made a difference to at least one family – giving them the opportunity to have a chance to start a new chapter in their lives, giving their children opportunities that their parents could only dream of.

Not only have we blessed a family, we have grown and been blessed individually and as a community. We have had the honour of getting to know a lovely family, experienced customs, culture and fabulous food!

Has it been hard? Yes!

Has it been without challenges? No.

Would we do it again? In a heartbeat.