/Monday, December 14, 2020
Tucked away in a mini-mall slated for demolition on the boundary between Burnaby and Coquitlam is a thriving pulse of activity, ministry, community building, friendship and Kingdom of God witness—the House of Omeed. The culmination of dreams, ideas, plans, and inspiration, this physical space is the hub for an ever-growing ministry initiative to benefit the community.
“Omeed” is Persian for “Hope”, and the House of Omeed exists to inspire hope in the hearts of refugees and newcomers to Canada as they make the necessary huge adjustment to their lives now transplanted into a new, unfamiliar, and often incomprehensible society.
A Story of Miracles
Established in 2016, from the very beginning the existence of the House of Omeed has been a story of miracles. Some examples:
- Securing a large physical space in an up-and-coming neighbourhood on the budget of a start-up non-profit ministry.
- Finding 12 churches to serve as the foundational pillars, by each underwriting a month’s rent.
- Building a diverse and skilled network of volunteers fluent in English, Farsi, Arabic, Turkish and more, who love people and love Jesus Christ.
- Being offered a second space, again at a manageable price, so that more could be done to serve the community.
Perhaps the biggest miracle of all is that the founder and director of the House of Omeed, Ahmad Zeividavi, is a blind man who came to Canada as a refugee himself. Now married, with two young children, he draws on his own experience of God’s love of the alien and stranger to model the servant-hearted posture evident in everything done by the House of Omeed team.
I imagine that some of the many clients who walk through the door feel that they’re encountering a miracle too. Where else have they found the support, help and community that they’ve been looking for? Who else has listened to their needs and found ways to meet them?
From ESL classes, helping with government paperwork, summer programs for kids, help finding housing, food safe training, music lessons, and more…the House of Omeed has sought to serve the diverse and changing needs of their community as faithful representatives of Jesus Christ.
They hold firmly to the teaching of Jesus found in Matthew 25:40, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
Responding to COVID
Given their track-record, it's not surprising, on a recent visit in the middle of Covid restrictions, to find that the staff and volunteers are as busy as ever. In fact, perhaps they’re busier than ever, as they tackle the needs of the community in a way that complies with public health directives.
When the pandemic hit, the clientele of the House of Omeed were some of the most vulnerable to its financial and social impact.
- Many, recently arrived in Canada, hadn’t had time to build a resilient social safety net able to help them weather this storm.
- Many worked in restaurants, which were almost immediately closed, or were working casual jobs that were the first cut.
- Either way, many didn’t qualify for government financial supports such as CERB.
- Although visits to the local foodbank were beneficial, they often didn’t stock staples of the kitchens of these new Canadians.
- And to top it off, all the kids were home from school for months on end, making a difficult situation even harder.
With their phone ringing constantly, and hearing of the desperate situations that families were finding themselves in, House of Omeed evaluated capacity, diverted budgets, and worked to meet their needs.
1. Food Security
They purchased halal and culturally familiar food to augment what the local foodbanks could offer and began a bi-weekly food hamper delivery service for those in financial crisis. At the peak of BC’s shutdown, they were supporting more than 130 families. There are many amazing stories that could be told, as families have felt seen, loved, supported and part of a community.
Now that some Covid shutdowns have eased and people are back at work, deliveries continue to seniors and those with disabilities, and for those who are more mobile a food distribution centre called ‘Food Refuge’ has been opened in the space adjoining the House of Omeed.
Of note in this initiative are the key partnerships that have developed through strong relationships forged in pre-Covid days with other community advocates. Coquitlam Alliance Church and many other churches, as well as community service groups such as the Vancouver Foundation, United Way, Community Food Centres Canada, Second Harvest, and others were connected by these advocates to the House of Omeed, and have provided needed support to this food security initiative among a vulnerable population.
2. Farsi Coaching Videos
They produced, with the help of an experienced home school educator, a series of coaching videos in Farsi to help families with their homeschooling challenges. Still available online they can be viewed on House of Omeed’s Facebook page.
3. Online English Classes
As things settled a bit, English classes were relaunched online to help adults improve their English-language capacity. These and other staple services are being re-established in new ways, so that the needs of the community can be met.
When asked, Ahmad has a list of things he’s trusting God to supply. From ongoing funds for daily and monthly needs, to partner churches, to volunteers who can teach English or package groceries.
If you love people and love Jesus Christ, why don’t you ask God if there’s something you can do to support their good work? Email email@example.com to find out more.
Lorna Johnston is the Diaspora Ministries Leader at Outreach Canada. She leads two national teams--Loving Muslims Together (LMT) and Simply Mobilizing Canada (SMC). She works with teams of diverse and experienced leaders and ministries across Canada to alert and activate the church in Canada to the changing opportunities to engage God's mission right here in Canada.