MCC Photo/Luke Tilley

The Banonazarian family in their home in Abbotsford, BC.

Where would you go if you couldn’t go home?

What would you take with you if you had to run?

When Rena and Rafi Banonazarian packed up their two sons and fled Alleppo for Lebanon they thought they would be gone for a couple of months. They packed a few clothes and their important papers but there wasn’t time or space to pack anything special. It’s been almost three years since they last saw their home.

For many people in British Columbia the war is Syria is something we see on the news, and in photographs of faraway places. For Rena and her family, the war was happening right in front of them.  One morning as Rena was walking her two boys to school she saw a woman and her son killed just a few feet up the road from where they were standing.  She knew it was time to go.

The family didn’t have passports so they took a bus to Lebanon. In Lebanon they were away from the violence but life was hard. They shared a single room with six other people. The boys were not in school. There was no work.

After two years in Lebanon, Rafi met a man who said he knew someone who could help. He said there was a chance the family could come to Canada and gave Rafi a phone number. When they called, the woman on the other end of the line said she worked with Armenian Family Support Services. She asked a lot of questions and said she would be in touch.

Canada gives you the chance. If you work hard you can do anything. Everything.” - Rena Banonazarian

A couple of months later, the call came. The lady from Armenian Family Services reached out to MCC BC where Jennifer Mpungu and the team from MCC’s Migration & Resettlement Program took over the case. They helped sort out all of the paperwork and connected the family with New Life Christian Reformed Church in Abbotsford—who were willing to sponsor them.  A few months later another call came. The family was scheduled for an interview, and medical exams and then they were on a plane flying to Toronto, and then two days later, to Vancouver.

Rena remembers crying on the flight.

Her husband asked her, “Do you know what we are doing?” and she remembers telling him,  “It’s okay just trust God. God is going to help us.”

They were met at the airport by a team from New Life Church who welcomed them to Canada with open arms. The church found a rental home for them and filled it with everything the family needed to start a new life. Rena remembers standing in the empty apartment as person after person from the church showed up with things for their home, from furniture to clothes to dishes.  “There was nothing,” she said. “And everyone gave us something. They were very kind.”

Last June, the Banonazarian family shared their story at MCC BC's Refugee Hope Walk, in celebration of World Refugee Day.MCC photo/Julia Buckingham 

Now the family has been living in Abbotsford for a year and a half. The boys are back in school after missing two years while they were in Lebanon. Rafi and Rena are both working and they are building a life for their family and they are doing what they can to help other refugees come to Canada.  “Canada gives you the chance,” Rena said. “If you work hard you can do anything. Everything.”

The Banonazarian family have found a new life in Canada. There are thousands of other families just like them, living in makeshift conditions and looking for a way out. Canada’s generous refugee program offers sanctuary but takes the work of many hands to make the move to Canada a reality. MCC’s Refugee sponsorship program works directly with churches, community organizers, and the government to help bring these families to Canada.

The program seeks to share God’s love with refugees and newcomers in the areas of sponsorship, family reunification, settlement, and integration into Canadian society. MCC BC also assists refugees by working with churches to sponsor refugees to come to Canada, and through our refugee office in Vancouver that assists refugee claimants (asylum seekers already in Canada).

Your church can help bring refugees from crisis to community. Sponsoring a refugee family is a one-year commitment and MCC BC is here to help every step of the way. To learn more, click here.