A July afternoon on Thetis Island at Pioneer Pacific family camp—the sound of kids in the swimming pool and the splash of kayak paddles, the taste of ice cream, and the beauty of the Gulf Island beaches. Our refugee community grew exponentially over the pandemic, and after many months of never meeting in person, many from our community, mostly Afghans, were able to gather and set up in tents and cabins and experience the quintessential Canadian tradition of summer camp.
It was the night of Eid al-Adha, a commemoration of Abraham’s sacrifice, and the chance for these newcomers to celebrate together and meet new friends was a gift. I was wearing a long, brightly coloured Kurdish dress, waiting for the bell to call us to dinner.
Returning from a day of prayer at the mosque in Nanaimo, three young men drove up in their dark blue convertible. As exotic as Bollywood movie stars making an entrance at a movie premier, they stepped out into the clouds of dust wearing traditional tunics of shiny gold, silver and maroon. It was probably a first to see that sight at camp, just as it had been a first for them to go tubing or swimming in the ocean, and it was wonderful to share all these new experiences together.
After the meal together we struck up music for a dance. The evening was a hilarious jumble of cultural offerings as we moved from the ridiculousness of the Macarena, into a South African circle dance and a traditional Afghan sword dance, our friends leading the group in a series of elegant steps and hand movements. Everyone entered in from the space they could uniquely contribute from, a glorious recognition of the value of engaging with strangers who quickly become friends.
Three weeks after the camp experience - the highlight of their time in Canada and a place where the Afghans could forget their stress for a brief while - the Taliban took control of their country. It was heart-breaking and terrifying, as most of the campers had spouses, children, parents, and siblings who immediately had to go into hiding. But there was now a core of connected individuals who leaned on each other, cared for by concerned Canadians, who could quickly form an advocacy team to influence refugee policy and provide a centralized information hub for their peers. Within days, their voice was heard in Ottawa, and those formerly on the outside became leaders and spokespeople.
The Afghans are now a truly displaced people. However, experiences such as camping together can create important places for the displaced. There is welcome, there is generosity, there is celebration. God draws people together for reasons that are not always evident in the moment, and it is only looking back that we appreciate His timing. These are the opportunities we are blessed to be given. These are the needs we are called to meet.
By Mim Wickett
In July 2022, more than 100 newcomers (mostly forcefully displaced citizens from Afghanistan) experienced a refreshing and deeply meaningful time at Newcomers Camp at Thetis Island. There will be another sold out Newcomers Camp with many more healing memories to be created in July 2023. You can help support newcomers experience camp by giving to tenth.ca/give and choose Refugee Fund.
Mim Wickett is Tenth's tireless refugee coordinator. With her life, Mim models biblical hospitality and welcomes others to join her in our role as a church to welcome newcomers in our community.
Learn more by going to tenth.ca/refugeesupport
NOTE: This was originally posted in October 2021.
Video below shows the impact of what a welcoming community can have with refugees seeking protection in Canada.