Monday, 23 November 2015

Canada didn't flinch then and it shouldn't now

I only had to re-read a few stories written by family members about the first few days in Canada to be reminded of the sacrifices made by their sponsors. A name here, a reference there - all but a mere mention of the men and women who laid down their self interests to sponsor immigrants 'fleeing' from a country. My grandparents, like many of the 100,000 or so Dutch immigrants who made their way to Canada in the early 1950's, in a sense, fled a country where opportunity and hope for a better future were practically non-existent in post WWII Europe. Theirs wasn't a flight from death and despair like today's Syrian refugees, theirs was a flight toward a brighter future - they were in a broader sense: economic refugees. Their home had suffered the ravages of war and oppression; brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, aunts and uncles had died at the hands of the Nazi regime; they experienced starvation and deprivation; and their cities and villages were erased from the face of this world by a madman who believed in a Third Reich. After the dust had settled and victory won, the survivors needed sponsors to make a fresh start in strange home on a new continent.

On board 'The Veendam' (1952) -
 my Dad is on the far right.
We don't think of the sponsors as heroes. Unfortunately, they are the forgotten. The memories of sponsors continue to evaporate with every immigrant's death. Yet - it was the sponsorship of immigrants that made it possible for new beginnings to take root. Without sponsors, my grandfather's dream of owning his own farm would not have been fulfilled. Without sponsors, hundreds of thousands of immigrants in generations past could not have made a new start. Like it or not, I'm willing to suggest many of my readers have benefitted one way or another from the sponsorship of strangers.

So, why are many Canadians raising red flags about refugee settlement? Have we learned nothing from history? Are we embracing protectionism and fanning the flames of xenophobia? The likelihood of bringing a terrorist among the refugees is similar to the risk of bringing in Nazi sympathizers, and those guilty of committing atrocities against the Jewish people. It did happen - ex-Nazi soldiers and those who denied the Holocaust were among the boatloads of economic refugees. But, Canada didn't flinch. While it's true that not all sponsorship stories are lined with butterfly kisses many stories do reflect the unselfishness that most of the sponsors possessed.

If we choose to ignore the political or economic refugee, we choose to hoard our wealth. We are hoarding the wealth of Canada that the sponsors of our immigrant families chose to share, if we deny the same to the Syrian, Iraqi, Palestinian, or Sudanese refugee. Look back in history, and to more recent times, to the refugees from Hungary, Vietnam, Serbia, Croatia, Kosovo, and Somalia. Have all these people committed atrocities or perpetrated violence in their new homes? I'm willing to go out on a limb and say no more so than the 'natural-born' Canadian.

If the children of immigrants who made Canada their home deny entry to political refugees by choosing not to sponsor, we forsake those who welcomed our 'parents'. We forsake the sponsors who lined up along the ports of Halifax, who met the 'refugees' at the end of Pier 21, and who waited for the immigrants to clear customs and security.

But, it's much more than forsaking the memory of our sponsors. If you believe that you were rescued from slavery into a land flowing with milk and honey i.e. slavery from death and sin into eternal life, then welcoming the foreigner, stranger, and alien within our collective walls isn't an option. It's a command. In fact, if your truly believe that you were rescued from sin and are now alive in Christ, love for the foreigner, alien, and refugee will be a natural outpouring of your gratitude for God's free gift of salvation in Jesus Christ. Remember - God's love didn't end with simply sponsorship. He met us at the cross, picked us up, and paid the ultimate price so we could live.

Ours is a nation flowing with milk and honey...wine and cheese...beer and wings. Share the wealth and don't flinch now, Canada!

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Waiting for the sun to rise - #comequicklylordjesus

Just a short time ago when cutting flowers this fall, I frequently found myself looking eastward for the rising of the sun - especially on days when the morning dew had fallen more heavily on the plants, and when temperatures hovered a few degrees above freezing. Slowly, and with predictable precision, the sun would rise above the row of pine trees along my field's perimeter; and finally I would feel its promised warmth on my back...and on my hands. Aching hands that from the cold and dew resembled more like claws frozen in time (think of an eagle's talons on the wall of a taxidermist) than that of dexterous and flexible appendages they were made to be! It never took too long - once the sun rose above the trees and its warmth penetrated my gloves - for my hands to return once again to full usefulness. And, it could never happen soon enough.
 

I was reminded of these cold mornings spent in the flower field during a recent meeting. The facilitator read aloud Psalm 130 as a prelude to our round-table discussion. And, when he read verse 6, "I wait for the Lord, more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning", it made me wonder if my longing for the autumn sun to rise in my field was similar to the author's 'waiting' for the morning. Did his body ache from 'waiting' as my hands ached to be relieved from the cold? Much like the sun being the only salve to my discomfort, was he racked with an internal longing like a homesickness that only a mother's touch can relieve?

I wonder. I wonder, too, if my childhood minister's prayerful plea, "Come quickly, Lord Jesus", had a tinge of homesickness and bodily ache like that I imagine of the psalmist. It was the prayer that I recall causing me - a pre-ten year old boy - to recoil with fear. Each time he prayed it, I had the same thoughts - Jesus, don't come yet, because I have so much to do. (With all the singing I heard they do in heaven it didn't sound to appealing to a pre-teenaged boy!) But Sunday after Sunday, no matter how much internal pleading went on inside my head for him not to, Reverend Zantingh would say those words in his prayer, "Come quickly, Lord Jesus". It was a plea, and, sometimes to my horror, he even said it twice.

Strange though, how almost 40 years later, my pastor's plea for Jesus to return quickly has become my plea. It feels like a yearning - like frozen hands aching for the sun to rise. It feels like the separation anxiety that a young boy experienced during his first days of kindergarten. It feels like the homesickness of an 11 year old boy that longed to be in the comfort of his own home. I know...I was that boy.

If you're waiting for the sun to rise,
for floods to recede,
for hearts to thaw,
for heartaches to heal,
for loneliness to dispel, 
for forgiveness to fall,
for peace to endure,
for laughter to ensue,
for tears to dry,
then wait, wait for the Jesus' return.

Like God's promise found in the presence of a rainbow, I know of no greater hope and promise for the future of humankind than Jesus' return.

#comequicklylordjesus #comequicklylordjesus

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Hanging up my boots

Today is the day.

Much like Pierre Elliot Trudeau's "long walk in the snow" on February 29, 1984 during which time he decided to retire after 15 years of being Prime Minister of Canada - I, too, after hours of driving to Quebec City and home again this past weekend, have decided to officially announce...to the world, "I'm hanging up my boots". Okay...it's not quite the same as PET's dramatic and stunning announcement, but it's up there! No? Just humour me, ok!

But, how do I announce to the world (the world that I'm a part of) I'm selling the cut flower business, which my wife and I spent the last 9 years toiling to build by tooth and claw? How do I tell my loyal customers that I won't be calling on them next summer? How do I say thank you to Glenna W., Mona S., Dan L., Mike T., Terry M., Justin W., and Michelle S., to name a few? How do I say good-bye to the soil? How do I say farewell to working shoulder-to-shoulder with my wife and three children? Since it will take a small book to tell my full story and convey my gratitude to all of my supporters I've opted for a few paragraphs to start.

When I first started nine years ago the mantra I repeated often to myself was: "Failure is not an option." To me, selling or losing my business never entered my mind. Come hell or high water I was determined to make this a go. I didn't own a tractor, any equipment, a storage facility, or a delivery vehicle. The only things I had were some very, very perishable dahlia tubers, a small customer list, some very wise advice from my mentor, Mr. John VanWissen, a dream, and what I like to call 'raw courage'. Some might have called it insanity, if not borderline! As a good friend of mine told me frequently I was "living the dream"!

However, God has other plans and it's apparent that Horizon Flower Farm won't be my final stop. In his marvellous way he has caused me to rely on him more fully. I thought through my hard work and sheer will power Horizon Flower Farm was going to succeed and go on 'forever'. Although I knew God's presence I never fully accepted or acknowledged his provisional hand. God is persistent, though. A flood here, a drought there, a windstorm, a hailstorm, a crop failure - have all caused me to know where my help comes from.

Last week, while harvesting my tubers for the last time with my son, I asked him if he knew what I was really going to miss. He took a few 'stabs' at it. "Your customers? The flowers? Being your own boss?" Squeezing the soil with my hand and letting the clump fall to the ground I said, "Yeah - all those. But not as much as this soil. I'm going to miss the soil." It's the soil that provides the necessity of life for my flowers. It's the soil that provides the stability and a place for roots to anchor. It's the soil that draws the worms inside for shelter, nutrition and life.

But more than the soil - I'm going to miss working with my family. Smiles and laughter were not always present - but hard work and dedication were never in short supply. From the bottom of my heart I say, "Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for allowing me to 'live the dream' even for a short while."

Above all this, I give thanks to God for being my rock...and my soil.

 
17 Though the fig tree does not bud
    and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
    and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
    and no cattle in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I will be joyful in God my Savior.
 
Habakkuk 3:17-18 (NIV)

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