Today marks the 40th anniversary of the Mennonite Central Committee becoming the first agency to set up the private sponsorship of refugees into Canada.
And a family from Steinbach says it is most grateful. Hanh Trinh Rempel says MCC and the work it did through this program was life-changing for them.
"They affected our family in a very significant way because they were responsible for bringing our family from Vietnam to this country. Our family actually came to Canada February 28th, 39 years ago. Through MCC, Grace Mennonite Church made a commitment to sponsor a refugee family and they committed to our family. We were fortunate to be able to come to Canada through the sponsorship of MCC."
Trinh Rempel was five years old and one of five children when they and their parents escaped from Vietnam. They were among thousands of so-called 'Boat People' who fled the Asian country during a time of strife there. She doesn't have a lot of memories of the trip because she was so young but says her parents made sure they all knew what happened.
"We escaped in 1979 in a small fishing boat, about 190 people were crowded on there, shoulder-to-shoulder. We were in the open seas for five days, in the South China Sea. We were exposed to all the elements, we actually were attacked by pirates two times. Our boat was very lucky because they just wanted our valuables and nobody died, although that certainly wasn't the case for very many, many Vietnamese people. We landed on the island of Malaysia where the government did not want us there and our fishing boat was pulled away by one of their bigger navy boats. So we were on the sea for another two days and then we landed in Indonesia where the captain feared we would be pulled away again and told us that we had to try and sink our boat. So all of the people onboard used what ever they could, like hammers, and we actually sunk the boat so that they couldn't pull us away and then, 100 metres from shore, we jumped into the ocean. My parents had five kids at the time and my mom was actually pregnant with her sixth child and did not know at the time that she was pregnant. We swam to the shores of Indonesia, which is where we stayed in a refugee camp for eight months before we got the good news that MCC was sponsoring us."
Trinh Rempel says the work that MCC does is just so important. She adds they are so thankful and hope that it continues and that anybody who has a chance to be able to sponsor refugees, that they would just open their hearts like MCC did and specifically the churches here in Steinbach. Trinh-Rempel says it's life-changing and they greatly appreciate it.
"On behalf of my parents and the rest of the Trinh family, I want to thank MCC for the important work that they do and specifically for setting up programs that allows local churches such as Grace Mennonite Church to sponsor refugees to Canada. Thank you to the community of Steinbach for opening your hearts and welcoming us almost 40 years ago and giving our family an opportunity to have a better life in Canada. We have deep roots in Steinbach. It is rewarding to work here and be able to give back to this amazing community."
More than 12,500 refugees have been resettled in Canada since Mennonite Central Committee negotiated the agreement with the government 40 years ago, on March 5, 1979.
Trinh Rempel says it is Steinbach's welcoming spirit that has kept them in the community all these years, despite harsh winters like this one.
"Sometimes, I wonder about that when it's -40 outside. But, you know, we became very close to our Grace family, Grace Mennonite Church and, specifically, our sponsor family, Elbert and Lorraine Toews and their family. This is where we want to be because of all the things that they have given to us. Steinbach is an amazing community with so much support. Growing up, we never felt like outsiders and were just very welcomed by the community. We just think this is an amazing community to grow up in and be a part of."