The members of Mill Bay Baptist Fellowship Church are working hard to bring a Christian Pakistani family from Thailand, who were being persecuted in their home country for their religion, to the Cowichan Valley.
Pastor Norm Sowden said the five-member Javed family were forced to flee their native Pakistan because they hid Pastor Sarfraz Sagar, the religious leader at that country’s Lighthouse Pentecostal Church that they attended, due to fear for his life.
Sagar was in great danger from a militant Muslim group for assisting Christians and other persecuted minorities in the largely Muslim country, so the family decided to hide him in their home.
This pastor was able to flee to Thailand before being captured by the group, but when Azhar Javed, the family’s father, became aware that he and his family had also been targeted by the militant group for hiding Sagan, the family fled to Thailand as well, as refugees, before they were captured.
“But their visitor’s visa eventually expired and Azhar has been detained by Thai authorities for the last 20 months in Bangkok’s Immigration Detention Centre,” Sowden said.
“The conditions in the centre are appalling and Azhar has to sleep on six floor tiles in a crowded cell at night. His wife (Asiya) and three young children (Elisha, Eshan and Arish) have been forced to hide some of the time in a church in Thailand for fear of being apprehended and sent back to Pakistan as well. They are such good people and it breaks our hearts to know that they live in such fear for their lives.”
Mill Bay Baptist Fellowship Church has decided to partner with the International Christian Voice organization and its founder, Peter Bhatti, in an effort to bring the Javed family to Canada.
Bhatti’s brother Shahbaz Bhatti was a Pakistani politician and elected Christian member of the country’s National Assembly until his assassination by Muslim militants in 2011 in Islamabad.
Since then, Peter Bhatti formed the International Christian Voice, a Canadian NGO that stands up against religious persecution and helps refugees resettle in safe countries, specifically Canada.
Sowden said the ICV has an agreement with the Government of Canada in which the organization can sponsor a limited number of persecuted people to immigrate to Canada and is offering five of their spots to sponsor the Javed family.
“Peter is a real mover and shaker for persecuted people and will do whatever he can do to help them, much like his brother did before his assassination,” Sowden said.
“Thailand just wants the family to go away and wants them packed up and moved back to Pakistan. But if Peter shows up with enough money and plane tickets to Canada, Thailand would likely just be happy to be rid of them.”
Sowden said Canada has told the ICV that it would take $35,000 for the family to live in Canada for one year, and Bhatti has said if the Mill Bay church raises $20,000 very quickly, it should be enough to get the ball rolling on bringing the family here.
He said Bhatti is planning a trip to Pakistan and Thailand, including a visit to the Immigration Detention Centre, with Canadian officials in November, so if the church can raise $20,000 by October, there’s a good chance that Azhar can get on a list for an interview to determine if he and his family would be good candidates to come to Canada.
The church’s refugee committee already successfully sponsored a Syrian family to come to the Cowichan Valley four years ago, so they are familiar with fundraising efforts.
Chaplain David Stirling, another pastor at the Mill Bay church, said most of the money in that effort was raised from private donations and events like music concerts.
“But most came from compassionate people,” he said.
“Now we’re fundraising again to bring the Javed family here, and have already raised about $3,000 for the cause. We need to raise another $17,000 in two months, but we have faith that we can do it.”
Sowden said Azhar has an MBA and Asiya is a nurse, and all members of the family already have a good understanding of English, so the church members don’t think it will take the family long to feel comfortable and make a living in Canada.
“We’ll work hard to find housing and furniture, get the kids into school and help them acclimatize when they get here,” he said.
“We’re praying we can make this happen because we’ve been in contact and these are incredibly nice people. It’s not like they did something bad in Pakistan. They just tried to help a pastor and now their lives have been turned upside down.”
The Mill Bay Baptist Fellowship Church is setting up a GoFundMe page which will be called “Freedom in Canada for the Javed Family” to help raise money for their project
For more information, call 250-929-1003 or 250-715-5788.