By Alex Wiebe, board chair, and Jenaya Groen, reporter
WINNIPEG, Man.—We are called to obey the government (Rom 13:1), love foreigners as ourselves (Lev 19:34), and protect orphans and widows (James 1:27). When the government says a destitute, divorced woman and her children must return to a country where she believes her children will be harmed by a group that practices witchcraft, what do we do?
On April 11, 2019, Crestview Fellowship Church was faced with this question.
Fatmata, along with her husband and two boys (Thaduba and Mathebeh), arrived in Canada in June 2016. After being abandoned by her husband who returned home, and while living in a basement in our neighbourhood, she began attending Crestview in the summer of 2017. People in our congregation had been involved with the immigration process. We prayed for favourable outcomes, but did not receive the answers for which we had hoped. On the eve of her deportation Fatmata was asking for sanctuary as an option. The church deliberated, being very torn on what to do. Out of concern for their safety, the leadership agreed to her request.
Sanctuary in Canada is not legally recognized, but it is respected. The church has agreed to house and take care of them, and the Canadian Border Service Agency (CBSA) has agreed to not enter the church to enforce the deportation order. CBSA does have a duty to enforce the law. Therefore, the family cannot leave the church, the children cannot attend public school, and playing outside is restricted.
Teachers, doctors, and even dentists have offered to come to the church to provide various services. If there is a medical emergency, we will take the injured or sick to the hospital and pray for God’s protection and mercy.
To date, we have been impressed with the support we are receiving from lay people. However, the political climate of Western countries towards immigrants is shifting and we would be naive to expect smooth sailing.
Sanctuary on its own will not change the government’s decision. However, we hope it will give us time to determine how to address concerns about how her case was handled, and time to help coordinate supports for her should she leave. Our desire is a resolution that maximizes the safety and dignity of the family.
We have been asked how people can help. Here are some of our main concerns:
Prayer—Guidance from God and power from the Holy Spirit to act in accordance with His will.
Moral Support—This has been very stressful for Fatmata, the church leadership and for those volunteering to help.
Political Experience—If there are those who have experience communicating with politicians and civil servants, their advice and guidance would be appreciated.
International Partners—We are looking for agencies in Sierra Leone able to support Fatmata should she have to return.
Financial Support—Funds towards legal, medical and incidental costs are being handled by supporters of Fatmata. Contact the church for more information.
On June 1, 2019, our praise team was able to share the music they make together with the community at the Union Gospel Mission at 320 Princess St. This charity group is one of the many organizations that share God’s love among the city of Winnipeg.
“Summer Celebration for Christ” is the name of the event held annually where the Union Gospel Mission hosts numerous people within the community with food, drinks, shelter, music, fellowship, and, very importantly, light. Crestview Fellowship’s praise team was fortunately able to be one of the many musical artists and groups that were volunteering their talent and time for the goodness of God. This opportunity obtained the ability to encourage and certainly impact the hearts of the receivers, including the praise team itself.