Hope in Action
Mother Teresa said “Faith in action is love. And love in action is service.” In this issue, learn how residents at Welcome Home Refugee House are living their faith by helping others. Then, former cabinet minister John Milloy shares why politics needs all of God’s people to be a voice for positive change.
Volunteers, not Victims
In their former lives, they were businesspeople, taxpayers and homeowners, willing and able to contribute to their communities. They supported charities and social causes, especially during the holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims around the world fast and focus on the needs of others.
The people living at Welcome Home Refugee House have lost so much – homes, careers, family members. But they haven’t lost the desire to help.
“Like many religions, both Christians and Muslims have a strong sense of wanting to serve,” says Sharon Schmidt, Welcome Home’s Program Director. “It’s how we live our faith.”
Dignity in giving
That’s why many Welcome Home residents are volunteering their time with local charitable organizations like Habitat for Humanity and Mary’s Place, where they clean, act as translators, and help in numerous other ways.
“So much of refugees’ lives are spent waiting – waiting for a hearing, waiting for permanent status, waiting to get a driver’s license,” Sharon says.
“Volunteering gives their days structure and allows them to feel like more than a refugee. There’s dignity in giving.”
Refugees at the ROHCC
Ray of Hope’s Community Center (ROHCC) is another place where refugees are making a positive impact.
When members of Downtown Community Church (a group that also adopted a room at the residence) invited a group of young men from Welcome Home to help serve supper at the Community Centre, they accepted enthusiastically. It was exactly the kind of opportunity they’d been looking for.
Melissa Burke describes how the men served food and coffee, while DCC team members replenished supplies.
“They were nervous at first, because of the language differences, but once they got into it, things went smoothly.” Melissa says.
ROHCC guests were initially a little surprised to see these young, bearded men behind the counter. But they soon realized that these were the same kind of caring people as on any other meal team.
And DCC members enjoyed watching the refugees transform from ‘those who are helped’ to ‘those who help others’.
“It’s a powerful experience to see refugees come full circle,” Melissa says.
Faith at the political table
John Milloy spoke at Ray of Hope’s Annual General Meeting on September 11. As a former Liberal cabinet minister and devout Roman Catholic, he has a unique insight into the role that people of faith can play in the political arena. The following article, which formed the basis of his talk, was originally published in the London Free Press.
Let me make an argument you don’t hear every day: Religion has a lot to offer our political system.
Of course, many Canadians will disagree. To them religion and politics are a dangerous mix, evoking visions of Bible-thumping American politicians ramming conservative views down voters’ throats.
Yes, faith can be used to exclude people from debates. And no one has a right to portray themselves as God’s official spokesperson.
But for centuries, faith and faith communities have been the voices for positive change in our world: advocating against slavery, supporting the U.S. civil rights movement and fighting for nuclear disarmament. Canadian churches have a rich history of involvement in social justice issues including poverty, indigenous rights and the fight against capital punishment.
Faith communities challenge conventional wisdom and, unlike business or labour, tend not to focus on the needs of their group but instead on the poor and marginalized, the fate of our planet, and our shared obligations to each other.
So should politicians leave their faith at home?
When I was a practising politician I had to constantly fight the temptation to win at all costs, to unfairly attack my opponents and to pander to voters. My faith helped me navigate a chaotic world and provided much-needed ethical grounding.
And as Canada struggles with some profound issues — assisted dying, welcoming refugees, supporting the poor — the views of the faithful have great value.
“Something is going on all around us. People are searching for answers to big questions and growing increasingly skeptical of experts and pundits, so maybe it’s time we paid more attention to the voice of the faithful. Religious faith is about finding purpose and meaning in a world that seems lacking both. It should be welcomed in — not barred from — the public square.” ~ John Milloy, Director, Centre for Public Ethics, Waterloo Lutheran Seminary
Faith allows us to believe in something greater than ourselves. It also forces us to acknowledge our responsibility for our fellow human beings, wherever they live.
Many may find this view of faith in public life sugar-coated, and describe it as nothing more than a call to be nice.
In their view, talking about poverty or the environment is not going to cut it. They want elected officials prepared to stay true to their church’s teachings and take a stand on hot button issues like abortion. This in turn triggers those on the other side of these issues. Seeing religion as a threat to their cause, they call for persons of faith to keep their mouths shut.
Well, being nice in politics is not as simple as it seems. Although everyone claims to be against poverty and in favour of the environment, making them a priority once you are elected requires huge effort. Some of the toughest fights I had as a cabinet minister were over directing more resources for people living in poverty.
And if living your faith is about promoting a truly pro-life ethic, then let’s be consistent and worry about life at all stages — focusing on poverty, foreign aid, refugee issues and finding alternatives to military action.
But maybe we have it all wrong. Maybe this exercise is less about talking and more about listening. Yes, there are those voices of faith we may find disturbing, but let’s not simply dismiss their core message.
I personally believe in evolution. But I also realize that those who challenge it for religious reasons are questioning our hubris in believing that science can explain, or even control, every aspect of creation. I support Ontario’s new sex-ed curriculum, but also agree that we are far from finding nirvana in terms of society’s attitudes toward sex.
Something is going on all around us. People are searching for answers to big questions and growing increasingly skeptical of experts and pundits, so maybe it’s time we paid more attention to the voice of the faithful. Religious faith is about finding purpose and meaning in a world that seems lacking both. It should be welcomed in — not barred from — the public square.
John Milloy is a former Ontario cabinet minister who served as Liberal MPP for Kitchener Centre. He holds a PhD in modern history and teaches at Waterloo Lutheran Seminary, Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Waterloo.
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