When the Immigrant Services Society of BC (ISSofBC) built the Refugee Welcome Centre next door to First Christian Reformed Church of Vancouver (1st Van), it was an opportunity to minister to refugees that could not be missed. As a result, 1st Van, in partnership with CRC churches throughout BC, hired Dena Nicolai to serve as Chaplain & Refugee Support Mobilizer.
This ministry of sharing the love of Jesus with many new arrivals in Canada has blossomed immensely over the past two years. Dena has continued to provide informed support to congregation members from across the province who have helped refugees settle into their new communities. This ministry has blessed the lives, not only of the new arrivals but also those of the local settlement volunteers who continue to learn about being the hands and feet of Jesus.
Located next door to 1st Van is the ISSofBC Welcome Centre which houses a number of different settlement agencies/services. It offers Government-Assisted Refugees (GARs) a holistic place of care for their initial weeks in BC along with a broad array of services to GARs and other refugees. From there, the GARs move to their permanent placement where housing is more affordable, which means that the majority of refugees settle outside of Vancouver and throughout British Columbia.
Dena, with support from members of 1st Van, connects with the refugees living at the Welcome Centre by facilitating a ministry of presence through the church -- offering English conversation groups, shared meals, “Art/Activity” evenings, time and space for prayer, and one-on-one meetings. She also coordinates material support through various churches, these include Welcome Boxes of basic food and hygiene items given to refugees upon their arrival at the Centre as well as rental subsidies and assistance with groceries for newcomers once they move into permanent housing.
Additionally, Dena connects with Refugee Teams and other volunteers in local CRC congregations, supporting them in establishing holistic and sustainable connections and relationships with refugees in their neighbourhoods. One of Dena’s goals this year is to work more closely with World Renew so as to better support those individuals and churches interested in, or already involved in, the private sponsorship of refugees. Through the support of many people throughout the CRCs of BC, this ministry continues to mature, reaching the lives of new arrivals and strengthening relationships already established.
In her role as Refugee Support Mobilizer, Dena partners with churches by:
- Helping congregants share affordable rental housing information with ISSofBC.
- Helping a refugee team and congregants know when a refugee family moves in near you.
- Helping churches to imagine and plan potential ministries such as hosting newcomer potlucks and English-conversation groups
- Working with churches to help them learn more about supporting refugees in a respectful and effective manner.
- Supporting churches in thinking through whether they have the capacity to privately sponsor a refugee or refugee family, which is an ongoing need.
- Sharing stories of how God is working through Canadians and refugees.
- Connecting us to broader kingdom work by working with residents and staff of the Welcome Centre. This remains an incredible opportunity for our churches to be a strategic Kingdom presence among refugees who continue to arrive weekly to our province.
God has richly blessed this ministry. We are grateful for the generous financial support that BC churches have provided in the first two years of this program, as 50% of the budget is designated to be met in this way. We pray that this year’s budget will also be met and ask that you prayerfully consider contributing to this challenging and beautiful ministry. The special offering will be held on July 29, but your gifts for this cause are welcome throughout the month. Simply write Refugee Chaplain on the memo line of your cheque or envelope and deposit in the offering bag or drop it by the church office.
With thanks to you and on behalf of Dena Nicolai,
Martin Contant -- Willoughby CRC, Langley
Claudia Leung -- The Tapestry CRC, Mundy Park
Peter Roukema -- Willoughby CRC, Langley
Vanessa Tong -- The Tapestry CRC, Richmond
Pastor Trevor Vanderveen -- First CRC of Vancouver
Brian Woudstra -- Fleetwood CRC, Surrey
The Chaplain and Refugee Support Advisory Committee