When my partner, Tama, and I co-founded Kinbrace with other members of East Vancouver’s Grandview Church in the spring of 1998, we set out to design and inhabit a human-scale response to the urgent homelessness needs in our neighbourhood.
Tama and I were latecomers to the vision and creativity already active in this small, vibrant church, but we brought our own unique contributions. Our childhoods in Kenya (Tama) and Ethiopia (me) formed deep longings within us for immersion in linguistic, ethnic, and cultural diversity, and Tama’s experience living with people seeking refugee protection in the late 1980s in Toronto provided the spark for welcoming refugee claimants as family. We launched Kinbrace with excitement, guided by our own stories and a community-shared vision.
Fast-forward nine years to 2007, when a group of dedicated volunteers, including some who had lived the refugee claimant experience, gathered around our dining room table to respond to a funder’s encouragement to spell out Kinbrace’s mission, vision, and values.
The first draft of our mission statement (what we do) was rambling and bulky, full of details about the busy, purposeful work of walking with refugee claimants through the complexity of their first weeks and months in Canada. We fumbled around a vision statement (our audacious dream) and ended up with nothing concrete on paper. We were so inside the Kinbrace mission that we couldn’t get perspective, and so consumed by solving each day’s pressing problems that we couldn’t imagine a future beyond survival.
Then we turned to naming our core values (the unchangeable essence of who we are).
Unlike our struggle with mission and vision statements, within an hour, we had a list of six values—welcome, trust, relationships, mutual transformation, celebration, prayer—which we all agreed were part of our shared mandate. The way they came to us so quickly seemed remarkable, almost mysterious. We were all surprised. The values seemed to have been there all along, just waiting to be noticed and named. At a subsequent meeting, we shortened the list of values to five, as relationships seemed inherent in the other values.
In 2015, we threw these core values into the air to see if any would blow away with the wind. All five landed back amongst us. Recognizing them as a gift, we devoted time to writing concise statements around each.
In one conversation or another, these five values are daily referenced, discussed, or reflected upon by members of the Kinbrace community. In this liminal space where strangers become neighbours, these values speak to who (by some grace) we are, even as they perpetually beckon us to who we can and should be. The authenticity of the values’ presence in the community is perhaps best measured by the capacity of those affected by forced displacement to themselves welcome, trust, change, celebrate, and pray.
We call these five “Kinbrace’s core values,” yet have no doubt they—and perhaps others yet unnamed—are present in everyone committed to creating a world of welcome, a community of belonging, and a life of opportunity with and for each person seeking refugee protection.
When Anika applied to live as a permanent host member of the Kinbrace community in early 2017, one of her references told me, “Among other things, you should know Anika is a gifted writer....”
In the following pages, Anika shares her remarkable gift.
Her stories from three years living in the Kinbrace community resonate deeply with me, and her reflections inspire me anew about the real possibility of creating a world of welcome — with those who are displaced and seeking safety — that is truly global while profoundly personal, sustained, and transformational.
Director of Engagement Kinbrace Community Society
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