British Columbia

Syrian Refugee Crisis: North Vancouver church extends helping hand

Canyon Heights Church in North Vancouver is helping to bring five Syrian refugees to Canada. The refugees are family members of a Muslim man who lives near the church.

North Vancouver's Canyon Heights Church commits to bringing five Syrian refugees to Canada

Syrian refugees look at the camera near temporary shelters at a refugee camp damaged by a winter storm in Akkar,a remote province of north Lebanon, on January 7, 2015. Heavy snowfall also cut several roads in mountainous areas of Lebanon, where more than a million Syrians fleeing civil war have claimed refuge in recent years. (Ibrahim Chalhoub/AFP/Getty Images)

North Vancouver's Canyon Heights Church has committed to helping a Syrian neighbour, who is Muslim, bring five members of his extended family to Canada.

It all started when Hisham Wattar wandered into the Pentecostal church's coffee shop, which is part of Canyon Heights' outreach ministry. Wattar is a Vancouver restaurant owner,  and has lived here for almost 30 years.

"I only live two blocks away from the church. This is so close, and part of my street. That's how I got to know the church here, and Pastor Steve."

Pastor Steve Moore and Hisham Wattar began their friendship inside 'Capilano Grind', the coffee shop inside Canyon Heights Church. (Steve Moore)

Pastor Steve is Steve Moore, lead pastor at Canyon Heights Church. When he met Wattar, and heard his concerns about his family in Syria, he decided to help.

"One of our core values is generosity. I'm always preaching to the people in the church to be generous with what they have. We need to be generous as a church, ourselves."

Hisham's five family members, who are all Muslim, fled Syria because of the civil war. His sister, two nieces, and the two children of one of his nieces, have been living in Cairo, Egypt.

One of his nephews is a pro-democracy protester, and Wattar said things became tense for the family when the Syrian government found out what he was doing.

"They've raided the house...they found nothing. But they start to harrass the entire family.[My family], they fear for their lives and children. They asked for my help and I'm glad to provide it," Wattar said.

The church has already received approval from the Canadian government to proceed with bringing Wattar's family to Canada.

The congregation is now raising funds to help support the family when they're here. Their goal is to reach $50,000.

Canyon Heights Church in North Vancouver has a built-in coffee and bakehouse, a means to get to know neighbours. (Elaine Chau)

Moore said members of his church are enthusiastic.

"They're all for it. They're just waiting. We even made a list of all the things that people would be willing to do: pick them up from the airport, take them to doctors' appointments, people have signed up for that."

When asked whether he was surprised that the church was willing the help, Wattar says he never had a doubt:

"You have to ask. They're my neighbour, even though I just come here for coffee. This is truly a community church. I am Muslim, this is [a] Christian Church. I think God is smiling up there."


Elaine Chau

Producer, Front Burner

Elaine Chau was born in Hong Kong, and grew up in Montreal and Vancouver. She is the 2008 recipient of the CBC Radio Peter Gzowski internship, multiple RTDNA winner, and Gold Radio Winner in the Health/Medicine category at the 2011 New York Festivals for her series "AIDS: Then and Now".