A Syrian refugee family that moved to Canada in 2016 and the Hutterite family that sponsored them have become close friends, according to a CBC news story last week.

The farming country around Wawanesa, Manitoba
The farming country around Wawanesa, Manitoba (Photo by Jd. 101 on Wikimedia, Creative Commons license)

Reyad Alhamud, the father in the Syrian family, told the reporter that he was impressed when he first met his Hutterite sponsors by the many similarities between the two families. They both work on farms and they both make most of the things that they need. “The work is the same,” he said. Their sponsors, Paul Waldner and his family, are members of the Green Acres Colony, located near Wawanesa, 20 miles from Brandon in southwestern Manitoba. Mr. Waldner is a teacher at the colony.

He made the decision to sponsor a family of Syrian refugees but first he had to gain support for his plan from the colony. So he spoke with his dad, who happens to be the minister as well as the president of Green Acres. His father’s comments were very supportive: “The Hutterites were refugees at one point as well. If it wasn’t for people helping them, we wouldn’t be here.” He said basically the same thing to a reporter in January 2017. With help from the Mennonite Central Committee, the Syrian family arrived on February 8, 2016, at the Winnipeg airport where the Hutterites met and welcomed them.

Downtown Wawanesa, Manitoba
Downtown Wawanesa, Manitoba (Photo by Jd. 101 on Wikimedia, Creative Commons license)

Initially, Mr. Alhamud and his family lived in Wawanesa in a house that Waldner had gotten ready for them. The two families were close from the beginning, but there were some negative feelings among other members of the colony. “People would say, ‘How could you bring those people here?’” In time, however, the negative comments eased off.

Waldner and Alhamud quickly found similarities between the religious practices of the Hutterites on the one hand and of the Muslims on the other. They both pray several times each day, they both observe and celebrate holidays, and they both have buildings that they dedicate to their worship services—churches and mosques. Other Hutterites keep asking Waldner when he’s going to convert the Syrians to Christianity, and he keeps answering that he hasn’t observed anything about them that is not Christian.

Alhamud and his family subsequently moved from Wawanesa to the much larger community of Brandon where he hopes to find a job. Another church also sponsored one of his brothers to come to Brandon and, more recently, Waldner and the Mennonite Central Committee are working together to bring another brother of Alhamud’s and his family. The colony is preparing to sponsor them as well.