Volunteer Reflections

Welcoming the Stranger by Bessie Roides

Our world today is forever changing. People are constantly on the move for various reasons. Migration is impacting every region and country in our world. “It is the mega trend of our century”, says John Denbok, Executive Director of SIM Canada. One in seven people in the world today are migrants, international migrants, and the internally displaced. Fifty percent of those on the move are children!

There are various reasons why people leave their homes and countries: lack of fertile land and consequently poverty, global inequalities, few and limited opportunities for work, persecution for their faith or culture, and war and devastation. Whatever the reasons, many such people have crossed barriers and find themselves in our country, our city, and at the doorsteps of Silas Hill Home for Refugees.

What then should our response as believers be? How are we to treat these people? Are we to welcome them and embrace them? One thing is certain! God loves these people just as much as he loves us! “God‘s concern for the displaced (the refugees, the stateless, and the migrant) proceeds from the simple truth that all people are created to belong to specific places, to have a home and to belong.” Strangers in the Kingdom, page 53.

In Deuteronomy 10:18:19 we read:

God defends the cause of the fatherless and widow and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.

“Each one of us wants a place that we can call home, a place we may think as our own, where familiar things are available, where old stories may be retold, where we experience connection.” – Strangers in the Kingdom, page 54

I know the joy I have when I invite people into my home – where we can share a meal together, have some laughs and where we get to enjoy each other’s company. Hospitality is at the core of God’s heart! We are to be people who willingly open our homes and hearts to those around us. What does the word hospitality mean? The New Testament word for hospitality is philoxenia which is the exact opposite of xenophobia. “The word xenophobia,” says Thomas Johnson, Director of the Comenius Institute ,Prague, “comes from the Greek word xeno (stranger or foreign) and phobia (fear). Philoxenia, on the other hand, comes from the words philos (friend) and xenia (foreign).” Hospitality in the Bible means to overcome xenophobia and treat a stranger/foreigner like a friend!

“In the face of a growing global xenophobic reaction to migration,” adds Johnson,” our response as followers of Jesus must be different and counter cultural.” Our response must be one of love, acceptance and welcome. God’s love for us should compel us to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, befriend the lonely, as if we were doing it to our risen Lord Jesus!

Why so many migrants and strangers in the world? Why now? Why are they flocking to Europe and North America? Could it be that God’s very hand is upon our current migrant crisis to bring men and women and precious children to encounter God himself through us? To encounter his good news? Could it also be that in being scattered from their native lands, their places of connection and familiarity, they are being displaced towards hope? The hope of Jesus? Could it be that in fleeing their earthy homes they will find their spiritual home?

I pray that it will be so for those who enter the walls of Silas Hill Home. May it be a place where they find rest, warmth, acceptance, love, generosity, a place where they can laugh once again and feel at home once again! Having had the honour and privilege to meet some of the residents of Silas Hill, I know firsthand how vital it is to feel at home and at ease. Our Life Group spends the third Thursday of each month with the Silas Hill residents who have become our friends! We eat a meal together, share stories and go on adventures such as bowling and mini-golf. What a blessing it truly is to love, welcome and connect with strangers amongst our midst!

New Beginnings by Rob Perry
Our friends and loved ones at Silas Hill have traveled the world in search of a safe place to re-start.  Each of their stories is different, but one theme is constant, not one of them wanted to leave home.  Every refugee wishes that the circumstances, whether violence, persecution or discrimination, that drove them from their countries had never occurred, and that they were not forced to flee and start again.  However, life is unpredictable – sometimes tragically so –  and therefore our house is filled with friends who find themselves with unexpected housemates, in a unfamiliar community, in a country with different rules, norms an expectations.

In his song Got to Begin Again, Billy Joel writes:

I’ve got to begin again

Though I don’t know how to start
Yes, I’ve got to begin again
And it’s hard

This is something we can all relate to I think, and particularly our friends at Silas Hill.

But there is good news!  As September begins and children head off to school with hopes of a great year, so too we have seen that with perseverance and support, our residents can also experience fresh starts.  It takes time, and it rarely looks like what any of us had hoped or dreamed.  Yet, eventually new homes are found, government bureaucracy is navigated, jobs are acquired, friendships are made, and slowly and tentatively, hope emerges.

Every day at Silas Hill is a day for new beginnings.

Just be Present by Kristine Gonzalez

My encounter with Silas Hill is different from that of others in the sense that I got to tell stories so that people can better understand why and how Silas Hill makes a difference. I was there to interview, create articles and videos about the ministry, the people residing there and the volunteers who came to contribute. I heard about how refugees fled their countries so that they could have a life that we most often take for granted. To be safe, to be welcomed, to be comforted. To be secure.

I saw how a simple act, such as volunteering time to hang around Silas Hill, made the residents happy. It doesn’t take much, as Silas Hill House Manager Lara Boghos, says. You just have to be present, to welcome people. You don’t have to sacrifice so much, you don’t come out of the experience tired or discouraged. Instead, you come out of it refreshed, feeling more alive, seeing more of Jesus. All you need to do is be around, sharing a bit about Canadian life – the ins and outs that make is that much more difficult for newcomers to assimilate – especially when they can’t speak English. Sometimes you help make phone calls, help fill out forms – simple things really – but when you’re new to a country, it means so much to have someone sit by your side and guide you through it.

To me, Silas Hill is all about bringing hope and care and comfort to people who have already gone through so much. It has been a privilege to see how impactful and life changing it is to see how much of a difference it makes when we humans help other humans.