Who couldn’t be moved by…

Jeremy writes:

Who couldn’t be moved by the photo of three year-old Aylan Kurdi washed up on a beach? It triggered a shift in media coverage and public opinion. Many asked, “What can I do to help?”

Restore logoI work at Restore, a project of Birmingham Churches Together supporting refugees and those fleeing persecution and seeking sanctuary in Birmingham. Joy, anger, relief, frustration, satisfaction, fear and hope are all emotions I’ve experienced whilst working with refugees. God is passionate about justice and has compassion for the oppressed, so at Restore we have a heart for refugees. Our aim is to show God’s love and unconditional welcome in practical ways.

But how does Restore help? Our work is relational. One-to-one befriending where volunteers stand alongside refugees or asylum seekers offers welcome, support and, where possible, hope as people experience great uncertainty in their lives. It can be pivotal. One refugee wrote, ‘‘My befriender is very supportive, informative, caring and considerate. Restore has enabled me to confidently integrate myself into the community. I found Restore like a shelter for people, like me, who are lost in this world.”

At Restore our strapline is ‘welcome, include, integrate’. Integration takes time and is shaped by the host community’s response to newly arrived refugees.   Arriving in the UK does not wipe away the trauma they have experienced.   My role is not to pry into their past but as trust grows some offer glimpses of their story. One man told me of his escape as his home was bombed and then looted by the army. Another, whilst we were on a canal boat said, “This is very different to my last boat trip, I don’t need a life jacket.” Other men have fled to escape being conscripted into the army of a government they don’t support. Who wants to fight against their own family and people?

Some Syrian refugees may be safe here in Birmingham but live with the burden of ongoing fear for family members still in their home country. One confided, “I could lose them at any moment!”

This autumn following two training courses, we’re now processing nearly 40 new applications from people who want to befriend, that’s many more than we’ve ever had in a whole year! To my shame, at times, I’ve felt overwhelmed rather than grateful for this added workload. Then in the nick of time we’ve been offered funding for two additional part-time staff. There’s joy as this will enable us to respond more effectively. Even so, we will enter 2016 knowing that only 50% of our existing work is already funded by committed giving. We, therefore, remain grateful to St John’s for the fantastic support they give to Restore in many ways.

Even the UK government has shifted its stance. When the Prime Minister announced that the UK would expand the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme to 20,000 by 2020 my reaction was, “At last!” We may not agree that’s enough but we welcome progress. Birmingham City Council has agreed to take 50 Syrians and some of those people are expected to arrive in Birmingham before Christmas.

At carol services we often hear, “Unto us a child is born….” Our thoughts turn to baby Jesus in a stable. That was nothing like the comfort of Birmingham Women’s Hospital where my own children entered the world but a squalid, stinky cow shed. His country was under occupation and his own king attempted to eliminate him. Joseph, Mary and Jesus fled that persecution and became refugees in a foreign country. Jesus spent his early childhood as a refugee then during his adult ministry called us, his followers, to ‘welcome the stranger’. The world did not save Aylan Kurdi. But we all have the opportunity to ‘welcome the stranger’, the refugee living here as our neighbour.

Jeremy Thompson

 

Jeremy Thompson Befriending Coordinator, Restore, Birmingham. www.restore-uk.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

16th Dec 2015 Posted in: News, St John's Stories by Fran Varley 0

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