Vietnam highlighted at MCC B.C. meeting

Legacy of ‘boat people’ remembered

November 6, 2019 | News | Volume 23 Issue 20
Sharon Cymbaluk | Mennonite Central Committee British Columbia
Mabel Paetkau, second from left, a former MCC refugee sponsorship coordinator, poses with the Quach family, who were one of the first Vietnamese families to arrive in Abbotsford, B.C. (MCC B.C. photo)

Those who attended Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) B.C.’s 2019 annual meeting on Oct. 19 were treated to a Vietnamese cultural experience as they entered the gym at King Road Mennonite Brethren Church. Glowing paper lanterns, Vietnamese music and a gallery of photos from the Vietnam War era set the tone for the theme, “A journey of hope: Vietnam then and now.” 

In 1979, the Vietnamese boat people crisis spurred MCC and its supporting churches into action. MCC approached the Canadian government, and the Private Refugee Sponsorship Program was created. Since then, MCC has sponsored more than 12,000 refugees.  

The day included stories and testimonies from several former Vietnamese refugees, including one of the first refugee families sponsored 40 years ago.

Call for volunteers

Keynote speaker Claire Ewert Fisher shared about her time serving with MCC (1973-75), her evacuation with her newly adopted baby son and the ongoing work that MCC is doing in Vietnam. Fisher served with MCC in Vietnam with her husband, Wally Ewert, at the height of the war and was evacuated along with others as South Vietnam fell in 1975.

One of the lasting legacies of that war is the millions of people affected by Agent Orange, a chemical sprayed on crops and jungle areas by the American military to expose enemy troop movements and reduce their food sources. The chemical is linked to cancer, respiratory issues and severe birth defects. It is still present in the soil and water, and it continues to affect individuals four generations later. MCC is working with local organizations to care for those impacted.

Jane Ngungu, MCC’s program coordinator, also shared stories of service and hope at the annual meeting.

Heeding the words of Psalm 9:18, “For the needy shall not always be forgotten, and the hope of the poor shall not perish forever,” MCC continues to serve in many forgotten places where people struggle to find hope. 

Mabel Paetkau, second from left, a former MCC refugee sponsorship coordinator, poses with the Quach family, who were one of the first Vietnamese families to arrive in Abbotsford, B.C. (MCC B.C. photo)

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