The CHOSYN one

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Hassen al Hussein, born on Nov. 6, is a miracle child whose birth has knitted together two churches, a mosque, dozens of local volunteers and caregivers, and a medical staff that defied the odds.

Hassen’s family—parents, Mostafa and Bahijeh, and his two older brothers, Mohammed (6) and Yassine (5)—arrived in Canada in February from a refugee camp in Lebanon. They were originally from Aleppo, Syria. They were sponsored by a joint effort between St. Andrew’s and St. David’s congregations in St. John’s, Nfld.

Rev. Derek Krunys, minister at St. Andrew’s and interim moderator at St. David’s, arrived in Newfoundland last September. He hit the ground running with St. Andrew’s as they got their application in to sponsor a refugee family by late November 2015.

The two congregations founded Churches Helping Our Syrian Neighbours. Krunys admits the acronym—CHOSYN—is a bit misleading since it reflects only the two congregations but “how could we resist something so catchy?”

CHOSYN knew early on that the al Hussein family was designated as having a health concern; however, only a week before their arrival did they learn the mother, Bahijeh, needed regular dialysis treatments due to a kidney problem. She was receiving dialysis in Beirut twice a week, just enough to survive. CHOSYN found the right mix of people with the medical skills to navigate the extra needs of the family.

Bahijeh would have been placed on a kidney transplant list but almost immediately upon arriving in Canada she got pregnant. She needed to be transported to her treatments—each dialysis session can take four hours—six times a week.

Baby Hassen is only the second child to be born to a woman undergoing dialysis in St. John’s. The American National Kidney Foundation advises against pregnancy until after a kidney transplant. The CHOSYN community, along with others in St. John’s, provided a support group for the family to allow a miracle child to be born.

The father, Mostafa, was a shoemaker in Aleppo. Bahijeh, a homemaker. They spoke no English and have little formal education. St. Andrew’s and St. David’s partnered with the local mosque to provide translation help. Bahijeh found herself in the odd position of learning how to read Arabic while at the same time learning English.

Eager to start work as soon as he landed, Mostafa was advised to improve his language skills first. He started with a part-time building maintenance position which has the potential to become full-time as his skills develop.

Krunys said the congregations and the local community have become involved in the life of the al Hussein family to the point where they intend to continue supporting the family past their legal obligation of one year. CHOSYN will direct the family to social and educational programs and will help in any other way. Bahijeh’s medical bills alone can cost up to $1,000 per month.

Krunys has noticed that the two congregations have developed deeper relationships with each other and with the local Arabic community through this sponsorship experience. “As we hear our call, it is amazing what else can happen,” he said.

The two boys—Mohammed and Yassine—have also developed friendships through school. Their new English skills allowed them to exclaim to a team member who had moved to Halifax but came back to visit in November: “We speak English good now.”

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About Andrew Faiz

Andrew Faiz is the Presbyterian Record's senior editor.