You might remember the story. A Syrian family pushed out of their ancestral home by war and violence. If you don’t remember Albert Sayegh specifically, you might remember the smiling son – Jack.
Finally, this is one Middle East refugee story with a happy ending.
When I met Albert in Jordan last fall, he was pensive and struggling to make sense of it all. He was just few months removed from leaving his career as a mechanical engineer, his shop and his home. Aleppo Syria was his home – his families heritage. But it had fallen to terrorism, war and strife.
There were no real prospects as a Christian refugee family. In Jordan he wasn’t allowed to work and he was living off their meager savings and the charity of loving family and friends. Europe and the United States had shut the door to Syrian refugees out of fear of ISIS cells. He was stuck.
“I had a good job as a mechanical engineer. I had my own shop with $50,000 in inventory,” he told me with wistful, look-away eyes. “Then they just took it.”
“More than 75 percent of my neighbors were Christians, but the terrorists came through and identified each of us by our faith. After that, we were targets,” he said.
The snipers would train their rifles on their street facing windows, so they couldn’t go near the front of the house.
“Two or three times a week, bombs would drop in our neighborhood,” he said, almost matter of factly.
The final straw that pushed then out of Syria was a bomb that landed near their home, tearing out the front of it, impaling glass in Jack’s face and shrapnel in Albert’s hip.
That’s when they decided to leave their home and country.
Albert still has the shrapnel and apparently it caused some degree of scrutiny as they hopscotched across the globe to their new home.
But undergoing a little more scrutiny was a small price to pay for this family that just a few months agao had no hope.
Today, they are new immigrants to Canada. Sponsored by the Vancouver Martyr’s Church, a Chinese Roman Catholic assembly, the family now has a new home.
When they disembarked from their multi-day trip, more than 40 people were at the airport with signs, flowers, toys for the children and hugs.
“We all just cried.”
Even now talking about, Albert eyes began to mist and he looked away from me.
“We just felt so special. They don’t know anything about us, but they loved us. I don’t know how.”
The family was ushered to an apartment, furnished and paid for by the parish. “Even the cupboards were full.”
Life has changed for this young family.
Snipers on the way to school
When I interviewed him in Jordan, Albert described taking the children to school in Aleppo, one at a time, each with a different parent.
“We didn’t want both parents to be killed at once, leaving the other children to fend for themselves.”
So each parent bore the weight of death, walking alone to preserve the family in case the worst thing happened.
Today, life for Lilian, 14, Jack,12, and Emil, 10 is safe and secure. That’s all Albert and his wife ever wanted. Walking to school in Vancouver? The rainy weather only makes the foliage smell sweet. There are birds and the children laugh on their way to school.
“And then I go home and have coffee with my wife,” he laughs. “Yes, it’s very different now.”
The principal of the high school personally bought the family a $200 Safeway gift card. Then she bought Jack a bicycle.
“Everyone has just been so kind to us,” said Albert.
I asked Jack, the precocious 12-year old if he is happy. “Yes, very much,” he said.
Why are you happy?
“Because in Canada there is no war.”
This family has found home.
“This is a very nice city with lovely people,” Albert said.
They’ve been living in a one-room apartment in Jordan, so the three bedrooms with two balconies is an abundance of blessing. The family won’t need pay rent for a year. In the meantime, Albert is immersed in English lessons and a jobs program that will match his skills with local work.
“We are so blessed to be here.”
Albert is ready to be a “Great Canadian” now. “I want to give back to this country for helping us. We want to show them that Christians make great citizens.”
“Our lives have changed. We are now 180 degrees from where we were,” he said, tears streaming down his cheeks. “Thanks to all the people who prayed for us. Thanks be to God for blessing us.
Albert now asks that we pray for his sister, who is still in Allepo, Syria.
“She won’t leave. So we pray.”
This story is part of a series written after a journey to Jordan in October where I met with Syrian and Iraqi Christian Refugees. Please read and consider sharing each of them.