Meeting refugees inspired sponsorship

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Meeting refugees in Indonesia provided the inspiration for one Timaru minister to encourage his church to sponsor refugees to South Canterbury.

Gleniti Baptist Church pastor Mark Pavelka said last week’s announcement that Timaru would be one of four locations where community-sponsored refugees would be resettled would be a chance to give them a “new beginning”.

“We have a real heart for our community.”

The church was one of four groups to be part of the pilot scheme to provide community sponsorship for a total of 25 Syrian refugees, alongside Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand in Wellington, South West Baptist Church in Christchurch and St Vincent de Paul in Nelson.

“[It is about] taking what we believe in scripture and applying it.”

Mr Pavelka said the group of refugees coming to Timaru would be billeted by church families for the first few months while they settled into their new lives, before volunteers supported them into work and independence within a year or two, he said.

The sponsor group, made up of members of the church, was expecting refugees to arrive in South Canterbury by mid-July, after undertaking a two-week government resettlement programme through the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre in Auckland.

Mr Pavelka said while the Afghani refugees he met in Indonesia were not able to be sponsored to New Zealand under the pilot intake – which was solely for Syrian refugees based in Jordan or Lebanon – he was hopeful the criteria for sponsorship would be broadened after the pilot was reviewed at the end of the year.

He hoped the presence of Syrian refugees in Timaru would encourage more empathy for the refugee crisis, as well as supporting the new residents.

“[It is] just the [chance] to give these people a new beginning.”