KELOWNA - Four generations of a Syrian family will soon be enjoying the relative safety of life in Kelowna with the support of a local church congregation.
Kelowna Gospel Fellowshop Pastor Mike Penninga says he’s not yet sure when the Tounousian family, originally from Allepo, will arrive in Canada but when they do, they can expect a warm reception, despite the recent controversy over accepting Syrian refugees.
“We are tremendously excited to welcome them here,” Penninga says, but then immediately addresses any controversy head on. “They’ve been living in a refugee camp in Turkey for the last 18 months. This is a normal family literally run out of town by ISIS. If they were terrorists, I’m sure they would find an easier way to get into Canada.”
Penninga says the refugee application by the family — the oldest is 79 and the youngest just six — outlines the life they were living that eventually pushed them to flee their home country.
That included frequent bombings and watching the young men of their Christian neighbourhood in Allepo disappear at the hands of militants and the young women kidnapped and raped, all while extortionists bled local businesses dry.
"We were just living on the edge of life, we were always nervous, we were always afraid,” Megurdij Tounousian wrote in the application. "We were not sure what is next. My wife and I discussed our situation. It was decided that threats, horror, bombings, kidnapping and killings were no way of life. This was no place to raise a family; We decided to leave Syria as soon as possible."
Once the Tounousian family reaches Kelowna, they will be greeted by the refugee lead team, a seven-person group made up of volunteers from the church. Their job will be to help the family settle in and get accustomed to their new life.
Penninga says people, some from outside the church, have already stepped up with offers of help once they heard the news of the family's arrival.
“There’s been an influx of donations and invitations. An optometry business emailed us and said they will take care of the family’s vision needs. A doctor called and said he’s got their medical needs covered.”
Their biggest need will be accommodation, Penninga says, and the church is looking at options including an offer from a church member to purchase a house for the family to live in.
“It doesn’t have to be fancy but it does have to be sufficient,” Penning adds.
The Kelowna Gospel Fellowship is seeking to raise $25,000 with a 'Hope Offering' on Dec. 20, money that will be used to help the family through the first few months in their new country.
In the meantime, Penninga says he’s hoping the Tounousian family will be just the first the church sponsors, with plans to make refugee sponsorship and resettlement a permanent church program.
“One thing I made clear to the church family and the board is that we want this to be the new normal at our church,” he adds.
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