Mill Bay Baptist Fellowship Church member Charles Lukas (left) and Pastor Norm Sowden are heading to Thailand on Jan. 20 as part of the church’s ongoing efforts to bring a family facing religious persecution to the Valley. (Robert Barron/Citizen)

Vancouver Island group heading to Thailand to help refugees

Mill Bay Baptist Fellowship Church sponsoring family to come to Valley

Members of Mill Bay Baptist Fellowship Church are heading to Thailand later this month in their ongoing efforts to bring a Christian Pakistani family to the Valley.

Church members have exceeded their goal of raising $20,000 to help bring the five-member Javed family to the Valley by $6,000, but there are still challenges to overcome before the family can emigrate to Canada.

Pastor Norm Sowden, who will be travelling to Thailand along with church member Charles Lukas, said Immigration Canada has given the nod for the Javeds to come here, but the family now must be accepted by the Canadian government as a “worthy family”.

“That can take from six to 18 months after the first hurdle of being accepted by Immigration Canada,” Sowden said.

“Like many thousands of families across the world facing religious persecution, the Javeds have fled their home country and are in great need.”

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The Javed family was forced to flee their native Pakistan because they hid Pastor Sarfraz Sagar, the religious leader at that country’s Lighthouse Pentecostal Church, which they attended, due to fear for his life.

They say 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.

The 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 had been detained by Thai authorities for almost two years in Bangkok’s decrepit and overcrowded Immigration Detention Centre, while his family hid to avoid extradition back to Pakistan.

Lukas, who first met the family while on an unrelated trip to Thailand and was instrumental in convincing his church to take on their cause, said since then, Thai authorities have emptied out the Immigration Detention Centre in Bangkok and moved its inhabitants, including Azhar, to other detention centres in the country, and are now detaining the wives and children of the incarcerated men.

“They are 10 times more fearful now, and that’s why we decided that we need to go there and see what we can do,” Lukas said.

“There are thousands like the Javeds in Thailand, Sri Lanka and other places of all faiths who are being religiously persecuted and need help, but the world is saying ‘we’re full’. It really hits my soul.”

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Sowden said he and Lukas will head to Thailand on Jan. 20 and join another pastor from Halifax with experience and contacts in the Asian country.

He said he has written the Canadian ambassador to Thailand to schedule an appointment to talk to her about the Javed family, as well as the plight of other refuges in Thailand, and Canada’s opportunities to assist them.

“We will also travel to the island of Koh Sumai and visit the Javed family, the church there that has been helping them, and attend a fundraiser at a local pub owned by a Canadian who has offered to assist,” Sowden said.

“The pastor of the local church is also going to accompany us to the detention centre where Azhar is being held now so we can visit him. He hasn’t seen his family in two years.”

Sowden said the cost of the mission to Thailand is approximately $10,500, and about half of that amount has been raised.

If anyone would like to help with the finances, the church has set up a GoFundMe page called “Freedom in Canada for the Javed Family”.

People can also email money to mbbf@shaw.ca, or give cash with their name and address at the church, and they will be issued a charitable tax receipt.



robert.barron@cowichanvalleycitizen.com

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