Featured Image: Dena Nicolai (middle) meets with a newly arrived refugee in Vancouver, BC. [Credit: Clint Bargen, 2019]
Written by: Marg Hoogland & Erin Knight
Planning any sort of event or gathering comes with risks. Topics are picked. Speakers are confirmed. Handouts are ready. But will anyone want to attend? Will all of our hard work pay off?
Marg Hoogland, Diaconal Coach for the Central Alberta churches, asked these same questions as she began to plan a “Night of Encouragement” for February 22nd for the deacons and churches in central Alberta. Knowing that this area of Alberta had been without an active Diaconal Coach for a few years, Marg knew the deacons there were likely feeling disconnected – from each other AND from the work of Diaconal Ministries Canada.
Marg saw this as an incredible opportunity to get the churches reacquainted – to her as their coach and with each other! She reached out to the churches in the Parkland area and discovered a strong thread among most of the churches: refugee engagement.
In order to encourage and equip local diaconates around the topic of refugee support and care, Marg was excited to learn that Karissa Prins, the refugee contact for WoodyNook, was willing to present about that church’s experience. Karissa then contacted Dena Nicolai, the Refugee Support Mobilizer for World Renew, looking for some assistance. To her delight, she was also willing to help out! “Dena stepped up more than we expected, AND she offered to lead the workshop!” Marg shared. “I was very thankful for the support I received from Karissa and Dena, since that made my job a lot easier,” Marg added.
To her delight, a group of 27 people from five (5) different churches braved -28 degrees Celsius weather to attend the evening gathering!
Overall, attendees felt uplifted, encouraged, and reconnected and indicated an appreciation for the work of Diaconal Ministries in the Parkland area.
Deacons learned the definition of a refugee, how refugees are classified, as well as what goes into becoming an approved refugee. They also learned the ways in which a church or organization could apply to sponsor a refugee through World Renew, what was expected of the organization once approval was received, what to do when the refugees arrived and throughout the first year, and then how to approach the end of sponsorship.
Dena explained what undocumented and government-sponsored refugees are and what churches can do to assist these people entering a new country, including the Open Homes program in Hamilton, ON.
Following Dena’s presentation, Karissa was invited up and answered questions about her experience working with a family WoodyNook church had sponsored. This provided the deacons in attendance with the real life situation – the joys and challenges of working with the family. Karissa shared with humility and honesty the mistakes that were made, what went well, what decisions seemed good at the time but were not good in the long-term. She also shared the joy that she experienced personally; that it was a growing experience in faith and in life.
Following the presentation, a feedback form was distributed. Overall, attendees felt uplifted, encouraged, and reconnected! They also indicated an enthusiasm to have more Nights of Encouragement and an appreciation for the work of Diaconal Ministries in the Parkland area.
Marg looks forward to getting to know the deacons and churches in central Alberta and connecting them with the vast resources Diaconal Ministries has to offer them!
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