HOF091: John and Helen Cornies

In 1979 newscasts continued to highlight the plight of Vietnamese fleeing their country due to the effects of war.  The need for refugee sponsorship was great and Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), a relief organization, responded by inviting congregations and/or individuals to participate.  Thus, informal conversations at Hamilton Mennonite Church led to congregational meetings in May of that year as we assessed the degree of interest and affordability.  Full support for a family of five was agreed upon as individuals expressed commitment to provide both practical and financial support.

Though our congregation of 65-70 members at times already felt stretched to the limit, we felt compelled to meet the challenge of sponsorship and all that such a venture would entail.   The decision now made, permission to sponsor was granted by our “umbrella organization”, MCC.   An initial refugee organizing group grew to include many congregational members who assumed particular roles in preparation for the arrival of “our family”.  They arrived on a cold December night:  a father, a quite pregnant mother and a son.   Thus began a deepening relationship with this delightful family despite our cultural differences and a language barrier.   We worked side by side with the family getting them familiarized and established in their new community.  They were willing to learn, assimilate, work, and aimed to be fully independent as quickly as possible.  Following English language classes, and various part/fulltime jobs, their interest in furthering formal education toward vocational goals became apparent.  This necessitated a move to Kingston in 1984 where training in the nursing profession(s) was available.

We assisted them with this move with an encouraging nod to their decision and reassurance that they were still “our family”.  It was no surprise that they succeeded in all their educational and vocational endeavours.  As a congregation we had reaped the benefits of this family in our midst.  Gathered around a common goal of turning compassion into action we enjoyed the planning, preparation and anticipation of welcoming new friends into our church family.  Most certainly we were on a learning curve as our two cultures met, all the while trying to do so with sensitivity.  Their appreciation of Canada helped remind us to be ever grateful for our great country.  Just as we had accepted them into our church family, they had accepted us as well, and for that we remain grateful.   Their modeling of resilience, courage, determination, hard work and friendship will continue to inspire us far into the future.