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Here is the collection of all the articles and updates we have published.

Thank you for your interest and support.
Aleksa Harkness, for the James Bay Refugee Initiative Steering Committee

Ahmad and Leyla in the JBUC sanctuary - a message to the community

The refugee initiative gathered with Ahmad and Leyla for a celebration, not only of his safe arrival, but of the end of his 14-day quarantine. We met in the JBUC sanctuary, the place where, on September 6, 2015, Karen preached a sermon reflecting on Mark 7: 24-37 in which a Syrian woman begs Jesus to help her starving child. Karen closed that reflection with these words:

"What are you hearing this morning?  As you allow your heart to the cry of the Syrian people in the news, what are you hearing?  What is stirring in you? .?"

In the silence that followed came a hopeful response from Joan Ryan, "Could we sponsor a Syrian refugee?"  And so we did.  We sponsored a Kurdish refugee and  a Palestinian refugee.

It's been a long road, with lots of unexpected detours, but both Leyla and her husband Ahmad are now in Victoria. While in quarantine, Ahmad said this in response to a question about his well-being while all alone in a new country "It doesn't matter that I am currently alone in quarantine.  The real and beautiful feeling is that I am close to you and live in a beautiful house in Canada.  It is the same house that Laila has been waiting for me for years. The waiting time has ended and the time for a beautiful life has begun with my friend and dear Laila, as well as with you.  Thank you"

Ahmad is now wanting to walk around Victoria and learn about this beautiful city. What Ahmad notices right away is the "really huge trees it is a beautiful area. I love such nature."

Without the support of James Bay United Church, Ahmad would not be here. Ahmad and Leyla are both aware of how faithfully they were held in prayer as they waited, of the generosity of the financial support, of the deep caring from so many people in our community,

The words feel entirely inadequate, but thank you.

UPDATE, October 22nd, 2020

Ahmad is coming!  After a very long wait, lots of anxiety, Ahmad will arrive in Victoria next week!Leyla asked that the community of James Bay United Church be the first to be told the good news.  This is what she said:

“Without all the help we get from the people in the church and you (the James Bay Refugee Initiative) we will not be here both of us, Ahmed would not be able to come and I would gone back. So big thanks to each of them for their prayers and help.  They’ve been waiting like me.”

The refugee initiative would like to echo Leyla’s thanks.  James Bay United Church has been instrumental in getting to this point in Ahmad’s sponsorship. Your faithful prayers and generous financial support made next week’s reunion at the airport possible.

When we’re in the post-Covid time, Leyla and Ahmad would like to meet you and give you their thanks in person. Perhaps even cook some food for you. Ahmad is a fabulous cook! As it is, Ahmad is arriving to a 14 day quarantine while Leyla looks for a place to live for those two weeks.

With deep gratitude.

Aleksa Harkness for the James Bay  Refugee Initiative

Update March 26, 2020

If you heard an exuberant “Woo hoo” the morning of March 16th, it was likely the ecstatic response from the James Bay Refugee Initiative to a long-anticipated letter from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).  Ahmad, beloved husband of Leyla (the first refugee JBUC helped sponsor in 2017), had moved successfully through all the hoops and would ordinarily be expected to arrive in Victoria in 4-10 weeks.  

The discouraging and not unexpected news is that for all refugees outside Canada, flight assignments will be delayed until further notice in response to the COVID-19 Pandemic.  That was very difficult to hear so soon after the exciting letter from the IRCC.

We in the James Bay Refugee Initiative are using this extra time to continue deepening our friendship with Ahmad whom we already know to be a generous and compassionate man with a deep yearning for justice for displaced and marginalized people wherever they are in the world.

For instance, when we told Ahmad about the Palestinian dates we had purchased through Kathy Putt, his response was “This is generosity. With this step, you know the world about courage and morals. And because you feel for others, this is proof that we will come today to eat dates together in peace.”

For Judy and for me, Joyce Willems is inextricably woven into the fabric of Ahmad’s sponsorship.  Perhaps 6 weeks ago she phoned us to ask “If I give more money to refugee sponsorship, will Ahmad get here sooner?”  The answer was “sadly, no.” We received the news about Ahmad’s arrival only 10 days after Joyce’s passing and feel sad we were not able to share the good news in person with Joyce. Nevertheless, we are certain Joyce, through the mystery of God’s love, knows and is celebrating!

We are immensely grateful for your support and would ask you to continue to keep Ahmad and Leyla in your prayers.

The last word came from Ahmad this week, a message of thanks to you:

“Hello everyone: I am very sorry that I did not communicate with those who supported me and were credited with and assisted in coming to Canada.  In the Church and with those responsible for my arrival in Canada, you have moral, material and prayer support in order to be beside my wife, Leyla. This is a great human, moral and religious work.  Currently, I can only express my great thanks for what you have provided and in the future I will stand with you for those who need such help. And I hope that you will be fine in these difficult times when the world passes by. We must all of all religions and places in the world be one hand in order to overcome this global epidemic because what is happening is the message of eligibility to remind us to stand together against the destruction of the earth and to preserve the life of people to live safely.  Thank you, and God willing, I will see you in the best conditions and to be among you in Canada the country of love and peace.”