It was January 18th when the Wahed family moved from Azerbaijan to Canada and landed in Portage la Prairie. The family experienced some extremely hard setbacks that were all focused on religious persecution against them.
People from several countries were involved in helping the Waheds immigrate here including James Gavitt from Chicago. Gavitt spearheaded the effort for the last four years, after having helped numerous people in similar situations. Portage Evangelical Church had been working closely with him and rejoiced to see their efforts come to fruition when the Waheds arrived in our city.
Abdul and Safiya Wahed are originally from Dubai where he owned and operated a car wrapping and decal business. They fled to Azerbaijan where efforts were made to eventually come to Portage. Abdul says he didn't have time to sell and close his shop in Dubai, and just had to abandon it with all its equipment including his car, noting they didn't have time to deal with those things as they left.
Pastor Glenn Loewen of Portage Evangelical Church heard about the family needing somewhere to live in Canada, arrangements were initiated.
Pastor Les Kroeker explains how Loewen came to learn of their plight.
"Glenn met a man at the gym one morning and they started talking," says Kroeker. "He was a friend of the Waheds and told Glenn of the situation. He invited us to help in some way. As we explored that further, it seemed to us that God had brought this all together and it was meant to be that we were a part of it. We spent four years of communicating through emails with Gavitt as well. So, there was this little team that formed. None of us knew each other at all before, but we worked together. Little by little, we were able to get them more time to stay in Azerbaijan and be safe there, as opposed to being deported. And so after four-and-a- half years of interacting like that, they are finally here."
Safiya explains that being in Portage la Prairie today is like a dream come true, noting she often would say to her daughter, "Are we really here in Canada?" She adds, even to the point of being in the airport overseas to come to Canada, that they were on edge expecting at any moment for the authorities to rush in and seize them.
"We didn't have any legal papers at one point," says Safiya. "We were in zero position. But God gave us everything. Today we are here as Canadian, like this is our country. No one can throw us out of here. We heard that so many people dream to come into this country and we had zero balance. We didn't come here as illegal immigrants, while others take their whole life savings to Canada. But God brought us here without anything."
Pastor Loewen adds the family is fitting into the church very well.
"They're bringing fresh life to our church. We love them, they love us, and we're actually their church family. It doesn't mean that there aren't problems that there aren't struggles or difficulties and so on, but we're working together and accomplishing what needs to be accomplished," says Loewen. "The other pastor, Les (Kroeker), is actually doing more of the groundwork, as is also our administrative assistant, Twylla Wiebe. What's interesting is, a few days before they arrived in Canada, Mr. Wahed had an interesting experience. He heard the audible voice of God and the voice said, 'Today is the day to confess me.'"
"They're settling right in. They've got a van. They've got a house. They're looking for jobs. They want to work. Their children are involved in education here. One of them's involved in a public school," adds Loewen. "The other one is taking her education through the Portage Learning & Literary Centre. They're really seeking to be integrated into our church community and in Portage of Prairie."
You can check out the video below for the full story: