Jim McDowell and Scott Fisher of Bethany EMC's Sponsorship Team, on Learning to Care about Afghan Followers of Jesus who fled for safety.
Joel Zantingh recently caught up with Jim McDowell and Scott Fisher, members of the Bethany EMC Refugee Sponsorship team, about their experience and journey with the Ghaljaee family, who are now settled into Kitchener. Asking them about how a connection with refugees began, Jim shared, “Some of my earliest stirrings happened with those seeking refuge in Nigeria in the 1980s. And when we came to Canada in 1991, we became friends with many newcomers, including refugees.”
For Scott, it only began when Jim asked him to be a part of the sponsorship committee. “A real connection came when a close family member of the Ghaljaees came along and told us about Ahmad, and the danger he was in. This kept the family’s situation before us.”
The three-year sponsorship journey that Bethany took pales in comparison with the journey to Canada that the Ghaljaees took. They had to flee Afghanistan, and ended up in India for five years, among thousands of Afghan people. With only a short-term welcome extended to them in India, they pleaded their case and applied to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), and eventually were accepted. Their words were so powerful for the people of Bethany.
“All throughout this season, we were carried along by God. We loved others in Jesus’ name, we shared our lives and the Scriptures with others. It gave them hope! Our future was uncertain, and we didn’t know what was going to happen with us in India. We were susceptible to being kicked out, and could not return to Afghanistan.” – Ahmad Ghaljaee
I asked Jim and Scott how they grew in love for these people, who were strangers to them. Jim remarked,
“We recalled how God cares for refugees, and the promises to those who welcome the foreigners are very clear in Scripture. The sweetness of this family’s spirit was something that I learned to appreciate. They had such deep faith. Such hope.”
Scott, always practical, added, “As we got more information and pictures of these new friend that we were talking about, it became more real. You don’t want it to become just a bunch of names on a sheet.” Jim, again: “The Ghaljaees brought such kindness and appreciation. They brought love and a vision for people of the world that we need to learn from and adopt and support. They brought a connection to a global network of Middle-Eastern followers of Jesus.”
For Bethany, the act of loving and sponsoring was possible because people worked together. In the end, there were resources and supports from Elgin Church in Stratford, Ontario, and from the Markham EMC. Scott addressed that this mobilized many people, in Bethany and beyond.
“You know what it did? It brought out the richness of God’s people in the church.
There were so many people that didn’t know that they could help. But they helped and they shone. It wasn’t just two or three; there were many people that came aboard. And we also got to learn about each other as well. God enabled people to find a connection which became significant in helping the Ghaljaees to get here, and to support them as friends after they arrived.”
Bethany EMC continues to give well beyond the mandated commitment, and with miraculous, just-in-time provision. Even now, coming up to the end of year one that the Ghalgaee family have settled here, some of them have lost jobs, alongside so many other Canadians, due to Covid-19. But their resolve to continue, to live a vibrant life, to experience the freedom to live as followers of Jesus, and to share hope with many in the Afghan community around the world, is such an encouragement. Jim and Scott expressed how blessed they are by the flourishing of the lives of the Ghaljaee family.
Jim added this encouragement to the EMCC community:
“God brought a Christian family to us. He might have brought a family from another religious group to us and we would have had a very different experience, a different learning curve, and maybe even a totally different direction. No matter what experience we have walking with refugees, when we embrace the nations as a calling of our life with Jesus, it’s amazing how our lives are enriched."
NOTE: Jim and Scott have offered to connect with you, if you have further questions for them.
and we will make the connection.