Yes, I know what plans I have in mind for you, plans for peace, not for disaster; to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11
To be cared for
This verse has always been my guiding light since my college days. I regularly come across this verse in one way or another, especially when I feel the need to ask the Lord where I am heading.
I just feel amazed at how time has flown by since I started at the Springfield Project, St. Christopher’s Church. I volunteer for the ‘Crafts and Chat’ Women’s group every Monday. I am blessed to meet women, mostly Muslims, who come to the group to relax, chat and mingle with other moms sharing about their families, children, and life in general. There are various activities we do. They range from doing arts and crafts to gentle exercises, cooking, knitting/crochet, sewing – to name a few. And through these activities, women find the time to do what they want and are very welcome to share their talents and abilities with the group and make it even more fun!
I am thankful that for more than a year now, I have gained friendships with these women and I feel privileged when they invite me into their homes. We have table fellowship among different women coming from different faiths and backgrounds. It is nice to hear stories from other cultures and traditions. I would not have experienced this if I was not living here in a multicultural setting. I see myself at ease and at home because, I feel, they have welcomed me into their lives. I can remember one encounter I had with one elderly lady from Bangladesh, who told me while we did our knitting, “You can call me Grandma and I am happy to hear what you have to tell me”. At that moment I felt so grateful that even though I am far away from home, I realised that I do have a home here too.
To be accepted
Let me share the first time I went to volunteer at Stone Road Hostel. This is where asylum seekers live while waiting for their status to be assessed. They are here in the UK seeking refuge because of fear of persecution in their own country, unable to live safely. I knew that I was called to come and work here. I felt that I was drawn to go into the deep. I remember feeling scared when I entered the building, seeing people from different countries like Pakistan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Syria and Afghanistan among many others. I had not felt before what it was like to be in this place, feeling the air of uncertainty, boredom and anxiety. There were men and women with children. What I see everyday in their faces is the question about where they will be after their stay in the hostel.
One day, I and a co-volunteer for the Women’s group challenged ourselves to knock on doors, hoping that we could invite more women to spend time with us as we distributed information about education and health which might be useful to them. For me, it was another spiritual encounter as I knocked on doors. I remember Jesus knocking on our doors. I was humbled at the thought that God called me to knock because there are people inside their rooms feeling depressed, with no friends and, despite my own fear of being ignored or not being invited into their lives, I still continue to ask the Lord to give me courage to do it.
And now, every time we knock on doors, we are confident to call and invite them for we know that we are extending help in our own little ways. I feel inspired to continue doing the work God has given me because my heart leaps for joy as I see women and children leave the room with smiles on their faces after we have done activities together, like card-making or colouring books. I have read in newspapers how some people are not ready to mingle or welcome migrants maybe perhaps out of fear, but, to me, I would recommend taking courage and going into the deep and see, feel, witness the lives of these people. It may look really hard but I am blessed as I can relate to them. It gives me joy.
To be welcomed
Christ Church in Sparkbrook, a few minutes away from where I live, holds a ‘Place of Welcome’ for all people who live around the local community. It aims to foster good relationships, a place to welcome and offer hospitality to people who would want to just stay for coffee, have a chat and perhaps would also ask for help or advice for any concern. The ‘Place of Welcome’ is a network of small community organisations in Birmingham developed to give hope to people. I am grateful to be a part of this faith community in Christ Church because I get to know people and expand my knowledge to the different support communities and organisations around the area. With this, I can be of help to refer people where to go and form camaraderie with friends who come to the church.
It was through here that I met Mr Kumar, an elderly man in his 70s who lives near the church. One time, a co-volunteer and I were invited to come to his house for a cup of tea. He was so excited to let us come and visit him. When we arrived in his home, he made us feel so welcome and he shared stories about his family, what he does and also about his faith as a Hindu. I was surprised to see in his house many figurines of different Hindu deities like Shiva, Vishnu and Shakti. His house was full of these, ranging from small to big pieces and some were in frames too. Looking at all these, I felt unused to it because obviously we are of different religious beliefs in religion, but, I have to say, I also felt a strong connection and deep sense of gratitude because among all these deities in his house I saw a tiny figurine of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and a frame of the Holy Family, among others. I asked myself, “Why is Jesus here?” And Mr Kumar taught me one of the greatest lessons I must learn. He showed me how to respect other people’s beliefs. He is an example of being open to learn what another religion can offer. He even told me to pray to Jesus constantly, and that was coming from a Hindu friend to a Christian. I will never forget that encounter. Thank you, Mr Kumar. He assured me of his prayers for myself and our Christian community.
To be loved
A month ago, I accompanied Safa, a lady from Egypt, to an appointment at the Home Office. She is a Muslim asylum seeker fleeing from persecution. I was asked to help and be with her as she was afraid to go by herself. She is in a very vulnerable situation and it was a good to have somebody by her side supporting her. I was happy to accompany her and we were both hoping that I could go inside with her at the Home Office, since we both know that the office is strict about letting people in. Later on, our prayers were answered, I showed the letter from the charity I volunteered with, requesting to offer emotional support to Safa, and was admitted. When we were inside and her number was called, I too felt nervous like her because we didn’t know if she would be detained or not. And so, we said our silent prayers as we walked along the corridor towards the counter window where the officer was waiting. I was greatly moved that she held my hand so tight when the officer asked her questions and I glanced back at her saying silently, it will be alright. At that particular moment, I thank the Lord for being there for her when she needed it the most. I know how it feels when you can lean on somebody with full trust and confidence. I am transformed each and everyday when God shows his mercy and compassion for His beloved children who come to him with complete abandonment.
Everything went well with Safa that day. We are still hopeful that one day she will be given refugee status here in the UK. I believe that it will come and Safa will feel more secure and safe. I remember a friend of mine, who was an asylum seeker herself, said: “We Christians are people of hope and that gave me enough courage to express our faith to all people who are being entrusted to our care.”
Originally published in Laycom, CLM Newsletter, October 2015, Issue 9, by Columban Lay Missionaries, United Kingdom