While the world’s focus is on the growing refugee crisis in Ukraine, Mennonite church leaders in Manitoba don’t want the needs of Afghanistan refugees seeking safe haven in Canada to be forgotten.
In particular, they are appealing to all denominations to help bring 100 Afghan Christian refugee families to Canada.
The appeal comes from the Canadian Council of Anabaptist Leaders, which includes four Mennonite denominations based in the province. They are working with Mennonite Central Committee Canada, which has a refugee sponsorship agreement with the Canadian government.
Tim Dyck, executive director of the Steinbach-based Evangelical Mennonite Conference, is helping to organize the appeal.
Dyck noted the Canadian government has promised to bring as many as 40,000 vulnerable Afghan refugees to Canada. Afghan Christians are among those the government considers to be at risk, along with translators, educators, athletes, women and girls, lawyers, activists, and others.
Unlike for the other groups, however, Dyck said: "Nobody is advocating for Afghan Christians. If Christians in Canada don’t do it, nobody will."
These people are all fairly new believers, he said of the tiny Christian minority in the south central Asia country. Many converted to Christianity during the time of freedom that followed the U.S. invasion in 2001.
After the takeover by the Taliban in August 2021, many fled to other countries such as Pakistan, India or Saudi Arabia for safety.
"They can’t go home again, and some may not be safe where they are," Dyck said. "They are looking for a place to call a permanent home."
The appeal for sponsors isn’t limited to Mennonite congregations, Dyck said: "Every church is welcome to apply."
The cost of sponsoring a refugee family is between $25,000 to $30,000 per family for a year, and includes helping them find a place to live, get settled, get the children into schools, and things such as English lessons, Dyck said.
"This is a unique opportunity for Canadian Christians," he said. "Just as many churches responded to the needs of Syrian refugees and others, they are invited to respond to the needs of these Afghan Christians."
National director of the Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches Elton DaSilva said the Winnipeg-based conference has started reaching out to churches in his denomination to sponsor a family; so far four churches, none in Manitoba, have expressed interest.
"Mennonite Brethren remember when revolution and war caused their relatives to flee persecution, hunger and death and seek refuge," he said, referencing the time 100 years ago, and again after the Second World War, when Mennonites fled the former Soviet Union for safety in Canada.
Shoaib Ebadi, executive director of Square One World Media in Winnipeg, grew up in Afghanistan.
The member of a local Mennonite Brethren church is excited about the effort to bring Christian Afghan refugee families to Canada because "they are doubly vulnerable," he said.
In addition to some belonging to high-risk groups, being Christian puts them at an additional risk now that the country is ruled by the Taliban.
The Taliban follows a harsh version of Islam and has a strict interpretation of Islamic law, Ebadi said, noting Afghans who convert to Christianity can be at risk of persecution or even death.
"Our duty as Christians in Canada is to help our brothers and sisters in need," he said, noting many are languishing in immigration limbo in other countries.
The Canadian Council of Anabaptist Leaders includes the Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches, Evangelical Mennonite Conference, Evangelical Mennonite Mission Conference, and Mennonite Church Canada, along with the Be In Christ Church of Canada (based in Ontario).
Churches seeking to sponsor an Afghan Christian refugee family can e-mail email@example.com or call 1-888-622-6337.
John Longhurst has been writing for Winnipeg's faith pages since 2003. He also writes for Religion News Service in the U.S., and blogs about the media, marketing and communications at Making the News.