One of the highlights of my time in Canada was being at Edmonton airport as a little family of four finished their journey from a war zone to the comparative tranquility of Alberta.
Sako, Nairy, Nver and Anna-Maria left Lebanon earlier that day, where they had fled after seeing their city of Aleppo destroyed.
A group of about 30 of us welcomed them at the airport, which they seemed to be pleased with. Pastor Hany (centre of the photo with the white shirt) assured me that Syrian culture enjoys crowds.
For Leeanne and it was a strange experience. So many memories came flooding back. Four years ago it was our family coming through those doors. Four years ago it was us coming to a new country.
Australia and Syria are very different. Australia, like Canada is a Western, Commonwealth country. We both have a head of state that cheers for another country during the Olympics. We both speak English. The experience for our family, though, was overwhelming. Everything was different.
Four years on, Canada is starting to seem normal and Australia feels a long way away.
Sako and his family are resting today. Soon they will start a period of engaging with government departments, orienting to new ways of doing things and even learning a new language.
One of the biggest challenges they will face is that, unlike Australians who are generally welcomed with open arms by Canadians, Syrians are entering a country that is divided on whether they should even be here.
As I mentioned last week, I enjoyed my time at the Tamarak institute’s Deepening Community conference, and particularly enjoyed my time listening to John McKnight.
In particular his simple insight that labels are the enemy of true community has framed my experience of the past week and has me thinking about how to best care for Sako and his family.
“The clearest way of ensuring someone will be a stranger is to give them a label and then think about them as a generality rather than a person.”
Sako’s family are coming into a country where lots of people are having conversations about Syrians, about Refugees and about Muslims, but very few are talking to people from any of those backgrounds.
At the same time I know that Radical Muslims are leveraging the same prejudice from another point of view. They too are re-enforcing labels. They want the world divided into “us” and “them” too.
When I was in high school, the enemy wasn’t the Muslims, it was Russia. I remember hearing Sting’s Russians for the first time and how my heart rose to the simple but beautiful lyrics:
We share the same biology
Regardless of ideology
What might save us, me, and you
Is if the Russians love their children too.
As John McKnight said:
Every time we give someone a label we make them a stranger.
I love that our church has been able to bring Sako and his family here. I hope that as they and others from Syria are able to engage as fellow human beings in ordinary life in Canada, that more and more people will discover that people from Syria are still people.
Maybe Sting needs to write a new song.