A Nanaimo Mennonite Brethren church is responding to the global refugee crisis by joining with 10 other churches of varied denominations to sponsor a refugee family from Eritrea.

The churches are sponsoring a single mother as well as her two daughters and grandmother, and are expecting the family to arrive from the Horn of Africa before the end of the year.

Neighbourhood church

The Neighbourhood Church is joining with ten other Nanaimo-area churches to help sponsor the Eritrean family. (Supplied)

Travis Barbour, associate pastor at the Neighbourhood Church, said the congregation wanted to take action after the image of the lifeless body of Alan Kurdi was shared widely on news and social media.

"For myself and my wife ... we have a daughter the same age as Alan and when we saw it, it was obviously a visceral reaction of outrage and grief," Barbour told All Points West host Robyn Burns.

"Many of the people in our community are either the children or grandchildren of refugees themselves, and so when we talked about this crisis there was a strong sense from the community that it's our turn to help others the same way we had been helped."

Choosing Eritrea

Barbour said their church chose to sponsor a refugee from Eritrea because they were working through the Mennonite Central Committee, an anabaptist non-profit organization which helps refugees who have already been pre-approved by the Canadian government.

Map of Eritrea

Eritrea is in the Horn of Africa, bordering Ethiopia (CBC)

"The refugees are in U.N. camps and they have been given clearance — security and health clearance — from the Canadian government, so they are considered travel ready," he said.

"The Syrian crisis is so fresh that there was very few who would actually receive clearance, and we were hoping to bring a family here as soon as possible."

Barbour said the other major factor in their decision was that there is also a large need to take refugees from Eritrea.

According to the Guardian, Eritrea is "Africa's version of North Korea." It is a country with no constitution, election, court system or free press, and for most Eritreans, indefinite military service is mandatory.

"Selecting a family from there was a way of reminding ourselves, and also the community of Nanaimo, that this is a global crisis," Barbour said.

"Obviously Syria has the headlines, and that's important and there are millions of refugees there, but it is truly global. In Eritrea's case there's a very long history of an exodus of people from that country as refugees so we had a large pool to draw from, from that country."

Support in Canada

The Neighbourhood Church has partnered with 10 other churches of various denominations to sponsor the family — Nanaimo Nazarene, Maranatha, Generations, Light of Christ, Hammond Bay Baptist, Christ Community, Nanaimo Alliance, Compass Church, New Horizons and Departure Bay Baptist.

The churches will support the family financially for a year, and also help them with housing, and setting up ESL classes.

The family is Afar — a minority group in Eritrea — and Barbour said the church has been able to find a translator in Vancouver who is willing to help.

"We're very, very grateful for that, and I believe our translator is also very grateful to realise there's another Afar-speaking family coming to Canada."


To hear the full interview listen to the audio labelled: Nanaimo church responds to refugee crisis by sponsoring family from Eritrea