Last evening a remarkable event took place at Bridge St. United Church. A potluck supper was held to welcome two Syrian families who were living in refugee camps in Lebanon and now call Canada their home. One family, parents and three boys are sponsored by three United Church congregations, with tremendous help from the local mosque and community partners. The other is one of several families sponsored by a group in Prince Edward County, this family choosing to live in Belleville. They are virtually neighbours of our Bridge St. congregation.
As of Sunday eighty people indicated they were attending, but by yesterday afternoon the number had grown to 110. By the time everyone arrived last evening there were between 130 and 140 people of all ages crowded into the Sills Auditorium. Table were hastily set up in the adjoining gym to accommodate the overflow.
This crowd was as diverse religiously and ethnically as Belleville gets. Many Christian congregations were represented, along with a large contingent from the mosque, and a smattering of Bahais and Hindus. Just about every shade of beige and brown was represented in the room, which was a bit of a surprise in largely white-bread Belleville.
I loved the warmth, the humour, the mutual respect, the camaraderie of the event. Shortly after 7:00 we all paused while the Islamic call to prayer was offered, which touched us all.
The three boys from our family, four, eleven, and fourteen came to my study where we spent some time playing with the dozen or so wind up toys I keep there for visiting kids. The four-year-old laughed in delight, and the eleven-year-old informed me that they don't have such toys in Syria. None of them spoke English three months ago, but he was able to communicate quite clearly. I was in awe of their intelligence and resilience.
In my opening prayer I thanked God for the gift of these families to our community and an Arabic speaker who has been tirelessly involved translated, phrase by phrase. We have been blessed by their presence.