Welcome House, the first of its kind in the world, is a 58,000 square foot facility which will house every government-assisted refugee for two weeks following their arrival in Vancouver. The centre, run by Immigrant Services Society of BC (ISSofBC), will open in May of 2016.
So we put on our hard hats, steel-toed boots, reflective vests and we made our way through the building while Chris Friesen, director of settlement services at ISSofBC, tried to paint a picture of what Welcome House will look like.
As soon as a refugee walks through the front doors, they will be able to take advantage of a primary health clinic, a trauma support and treatment centre, classrooms offering ESL classes, a Vancity Credit Union banking kiosk, rooftop garden plots, as well as other rooms and services to support their transition to the Lower Mainland.
We were amazed with the breath and the scope of the Welcome House.
We then had a chance to sit down with Friesen at First Christian Reformed Church of Vancouver which is located directly beside Welcome House. Given the proximity of the church, how do we leverage its location to best assist in helping settle refugees into our city? What does it mean for us to be good neighbours?
A number of possibilities were listed, including weekly community meals that would welcome refugees from next door, noon-time music concerts and the opening of a dedicated prayer space.
Then we raised the question – given our experience as a denomination involved in campus ministries and our recent experience in starting the Multi-Faith Centre at Kwantlen University – what if we were to start a multi-faith centre and have a chaplain working with refugees in providing spiritual care at Welcome House?
And what if that same person would be able to serve somewhat like a placement coordinator – connecting government-assisted refugees with churches throughout the Lower Mainland to help these refugees find housing and employment, as well as to help them navigate their way around their new neighbourhoods?
In response to our tour of Welcome House, an evening of discernment and prayer was organized for November 22 at First CRC. Approximately 80 people from various Christian Reformed (and other) churches in the Lower Mainland were in attendance.
As a direct response to that evening, a task force is being created to dream, explore and pray about what God might have in store for Christian Reformed churches in the Lower Mainland, but also for the greater church of Vancouver.
Albert Chu is lead pastor of The Tapestry Church in Richmond and also leads Engage Vancouver.
Anyone interested in learning more about Engage Vancouver or the possibility of helping out with Welcome House can contact Albert at [email protected] or Trevor Vanderveen, co-pastor of First CRC, at [email protected].