In 2016, Murray Clark banded together with other members of Bethel Bible Chapel to help a refugee family from Syria — they collected furniture and set up their first home in Sault Ste. Marie.
Since then, Clark has dedicated his time to helping newcomer families get acclimatized to life here. He is a regular volunteer with the Sault Community Career Centre’s New To The Sault program, which helps newcomers and refugees settle into the Sault area.
As the coordinator of donations, Clark sees firsthand how people in this community are eager to help.
“We’ve had dining room suites from Mio’s, and people move and hear about the need and will just give so much [furniture]," said Clark.
The retired teacher has forged friendships with a number of newcomer families; they’ve shared meals together, deep conversations, and still keep in touch with to this day. The experience has given him a better understanding of his new neighbours.
“Listening to them talk, you start to realize what they’ve been through and what a shock it is to come here,” he says. “You gain a better understanding of their culture. Some of the families are Christian, Some are Muslim. We feel comfortable with both because we want to show kindness and neighborliness to whomever comes across our path.”
Despite the cultural differences and the challenge of getting used to a new environment, each family he has worked with has expressed appreciation for what they have here. In addition to tutoring them in ESL, connecting them with doctors and dentists, and driving them to appointments, Clark and his wife enjoy showing off the beauty of the Sault; even taking families on trips to Gros Cap and Lake Superior.
“There was a family from the Congo with five children — we would take for them to Bellevue Park,” he says.
“They just were delighted, they would get there and take off on me. When we ran down by the river, the little girl looked at us and asked: crocodiles?,” he laughs. “She wanted to put her feet in. We said; ‘Nope, no crocodiles here!” So then she ran into the river. That's what she was used to.”
While he has noticed that children have an easier time adapting and learning the language, it is the adults — the older men especially — who find it most challenging. “I try to keep on encouraging and communicate to them that they’re doing well--to keep going.”
The whole experience has made Clark empathize with people who come from away.
“It does away with the distinction between ‘them’ and ‘us,'" he says. “We’ve benefitted from getting to know and understand what it feels like — things we’ve never been through. We’ve also developed quality friendships with people who we wouldn’t have thought we’d have a lot in common with — but you do — because we’re human. Just having coffee together, and talking. They crave conversation; and friends; someone who will listen and talk. They want to reciprocate that.”
“I’m a Christian, and I believe in following the example of Jesus who said that if you love God and your neighbor, then you've summed up the law,” he says. “So if you love other people and show kindness to your neighbor — whoever that is — then I feel like I'm following the master. That would be ultimately what's what's behind it, but [helping] brings its own enjoyment, too. It’s very rewarding.”
Want to help? New To The Sault accepts donations, but they can also use help with sorting donated items, hauling furniture, driving, etc. Contact them here.