Looking back on it, Mitch de Lange attributes it to the Holy Spirit. It was the fall of 2016, and Mitch had just started his final year of high school. He was sitting in the pew at Barrie First CRC listening to a sermon when his mind wandered to a thought. “I’m doing nothing,” is the way Mitch describes this thought.
“Everyone has an opportunity to speak in a church, but it’s not just going to be given to you. You have to stand up and take it.”
At this point in his life, Mitch had certainly done more than nothing, especially for someone of his age. He had run successful businesses in his spare time doing lawn care, snow removal, and growing squash and garlic. This allowed him to save up money to go to university.
What Mitch really meant was that he was doing nothing in the church. In the moment, he says, it was hard to pay attention to everything going on around the world, and not respond.
“I had been following the refugee crisis,” he said, “and it just came to me — why don’t we [as a church] bring a family here?”
After the church service, Mitch participated in a catechism class. He could not help but share his idea with the leader that week, Ralph DeGroot. Mitch was insistent as he told Ralph, “we should do this right now.” With little hesitation, Ralph agreed that it would a great initiative to bring to the congregation.
The following week Mitch and Ralph stood up in front of the congregation and made a passionate plea that the church consider refugee sponsorship. “This was the first time I had spoken in front of any group of people, really.” Mitch said.
Mitch and Ralph told the congregation that refugee sponsorship would be a great way for the church to respond to a global crisis that otherwise felt distant. “We have all these resources,” Mitch said. “So why don’t we do something?”
Mitch remembers that the response from the congregation was positive. “Everyone after the service was pretty hyped up,” he said.
After these initial conversations, Ralph De Groot reached out to World Renew to discuss what refugee sponsorship might look like for their church. A refugee sponsorship committee was formed, the sponsorship was formally approved and planning got underway.
In August of 2017 the church was matched with a family of 6 from Eritrea. Initially, the congregation was drawn to the idea of refugee sponsorship because the Syrian crisis was so prominently covered in the news. However, as Mitch puts it, “we were really excited to accept whoever came, whether they be Christian or Muslim and wherever they were from.” By this point, Mitch was preparing himself to head off for his first year of university at Queen’s in Kingston. As a result, he was not able to take part in the planning to welcome the family.
In December the family arrived safely in Toronto to a warm welcome from their sponsors. Ralph recalls the busy first few weeks spent meeting many times with the family filling in forms of various sorts. He and the other volunteers were grateful that the family knew some English, which made communication a little bit easier. They were also grateful for the many amazing resources in Barrie that provide support to refugees and new immigrants.
Remarking on how meaningful it has been to journey with this family as they establish themselves in Canada, Ralph said, “Adapting to a new culture and learning a new language requires much energy and is stressful. Our congregation has made the commitment to walk alongside this family as they make that journey.”
This is a commitment that all started when the holy spirit nudged Mitch de Lange, a young story-changer, into action. His is an inspiring example of the role that youth can play in making the world and their own communities a better place. When asked what he has learned from the experience of championing the cause of refugee sponsorship in his church and what he would share with other young people, Mitch replied, “Everyone has an opportunity to speak in a church, but it’s not just going to be given to you. You have to stand up and take it.”
World Renew prays for youth like Mitch, that when they are faced with challenges
such as the global refugee crisis, they will continue to respond to God’s call and
play a part in changing the story.