Refugee Week 6: Breaking barriers

By Alexandra Foden

sofa

It’s interesting to think that 12 months ago I was asked to take the role of a Refugee Resettlement Caseworker. From being young, attending school, college and University I always felt I was destined to help people live a better quality of life and make a difference, yet I never thought I would get an opportunity like this. It has been a privileged experience supporting refugee families with their resettlement in the UK after living in hardship, persecution and fear in their home country. The day the refugees arrived I greeted them at the airport and was overwhelmed with empathy and the need to help them. From that day on the families faced many challenges and I began to see them with a new perspective.

Continue reading “Refugee Week 6: Breaking barriers”

Refugee Week 5: My story – from Sierra Leone to London – building a new life through resilience and strength

By Francis Haffner

WhatsApp Image 2018-06-21 at 17.36.15As a child, I was forced to leave my homeland due to conflict and build a new life in the UK. I have come through many struggles. Today I thank God for his blessings. Here’s a little of my story.

I grew up in Sierra Leone in West Africa with my mum and dad and the rest of my family. We lived a normal life, but when the civil war started in 1991 life became impossible. Rebel soldiers went door to door asking occupants whether they supported them. Thousands of people were being killed, and I saw things no child should ever witness. Friends of mine were victims, and some children were forced to become soldiers. By God’s grace, my family were spared death when we fled for our lives to the Gambia. At the age of 8, I became a refugee.

Continue reading “Refugee Week 5: My story – from Sierra Leone to London – building a new life through resilience and strength”

Refugee Week 4: 3616 miles – making the journey from Tehran to Ellesmere Port

By Laurence Sandman (adapted and updated from a blog originally published on The Whole World Mobilizing, with permission

ellesmere port3616 miles. 5820 kilometres.

It’s a simple matter to type a departure point and a destination into Google and it tells me that it is 3616 miles or 5820 km and will take 61 hours by car. Easy.

Departure point: Tehran, Iran
Destination: The Salvation Army, Ellesmere Port, UK
Distance: 3616 miles / 5820 km
Duration of journey (by car): 61 hours.

Easy.

Easy?

As great and, I’m sure, as accurate as Google maps is, the figures don’t reflect the real world for real people. They certainly don’t even scratch the surface of the circumstances, the conditions and, above all, the emotional struggles of those who, as Christians and other faiths, find themselves in such desperate straits that a long, dangerous and uncertain journey seems the only way out.

Easy? Certainly not.

Continue reading “Refugee Week 4: 3616 miles – making the journey from Tehran to Ellesmere Port”

Refugee Week 3: Turning Hope into Action – glimpses of the Kingdom of God in Bicester

By Captain Will Pearson

M2 (5)It was the photo of Alan Kurdi that was the tipping point.  How can one photo make such a difference?

We knew in our heads that thousands were dying, but little Alan forced us to pay attention to our hearts and to do something.  It wasn’t just numbers anymore, it was people, people like us, children like ours, desperate, afraid and dying every day.  We claimed to be a people of hope who believed in a better world.  We had to act.

Continue reading “Refugee Week 3: Turning Hope into Action – glimpses of the Kingdom of God in Bicester”

Refugee Week 2: ‘And they started to come…’ – welcoming refugees at Bootle Salvation Army

By Captain Annette Booth

hallA year ago, I attended a meeting about asylum seeking in the UK and learnt that many people were being housed near me in the North-West of England by the Home Office. Individuals and families were placed in shared accommodation, most with little English language, whilst they awaited their asylum decisions.

I asked what the best way was to make contact, and was told to knock on doors and ask people directly.  I went home dismayed and began to pray that God would help these hidden people find their way to us, at The Salvation Army Corps in Bootle.

And they started to come….

Continue reading “Refugee Week 2: ‘And they started to come…’ – welcoming refugees at Bootle Salvation Army”

Refugee Week 1: Why Should Christians Welcome Refugees?

by Lieutenant Sam Tomlin

When I was advertising the information evening for the community sponsorship of refugees in our local community, I put a post on our local community Facebook page. One of the first responses I had was from a lady who said something along the lines of: ‘Why are you letting these people in when our people don’t have anywhere to live?’ Someone else piped up calling her a racist bigot who didn’t care about the horrors Syrian refugees had been through, and this continued back and forth for a few hours until the moderator took the discussion down.

To whom do we owe our love? Two competing answers to this question were rehearsed in this short Facebook exchange which seemed to encapsulate the divisions that had been building for decades in Western nations, brought to light so evidently with Brexit and Trump. Continue reading “Refugee Week 1: Why Should Christians Welcome Refugees?”

Salvation Army In London Welcomes Family Fleeing War-Torn Syria Under Community Sponsorship Scheme

The Salvation Army has welcomed its first refugee family under the Community Sponsorship scheme recently introduced by the Government. Fleeing conflict in Syria, the family had lost their home and been identified by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as being particularly vulnerable and in need of resettlement to the UK. Welcomed under the scheme they will now have the opportunity to rebuild their lives in London, supported by The Salvation Army and its community.

Read more here: http://news.salvationarmy.org.uk/salvation-army-london-welcomes-family-fleeing-war-torn-syria-under-community-sponsorship-scheme

Fostering Carers: how working for justice changes us too

Following the passage of the Dubs Amendment, the Home Office is consulting with local authorities to determine how many unaccompanied children the UK will be able to accept. Since each council’s pledge will be determined by its fostering capacity our local Refugee Welcome Team has been working to promote fostering in Redbridge.

We’ve held an evening to promote fostering to those within our faith communities and to ask the Leader of the Council, Jas Athwal, to pledge to accept five Syrian refugee children. The evening featured presentations from CORAM, Home for Good and Redbridge Council about fostering, as well as testimony from Ernest, who came to the UK as an unaccompanied Albanian refugee, and Farduous, who came here as a Syrian refugee.

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Following the action, we took time to evaluate. This was an opportunity to celebrate people who had done well, congratulate individuals who had developed their skills and recognise leaders who had brought others to participate in public life. It was also an invaluable chance to learn specific lessons about community organising. How did you feel? What had gone well? What could we have done better? What had changed as a result of the evening?

My instinctive response to the final question surprised me. It wasn’t the answer I or anyone else was expecting. Because the answer was me. I had changed.

Before the fostering event, I and another member of the team went to meet representatives from the council for a pre-negotiation. I came away thinking that we were asking for the impossible. And so before our event I was a nervous wreck – what was I going to do if the Leader of the Council tried to deflect the question or, even worse, refused outright. I wondered, should we ask for something smaller – maybe ask for less children, maybe not even ask him to commit to act at all. But with the encouragement of others on the team, I found the courage to live with the tension and ask anyway.

Justice seeking demanded that I broke free from my concern about looking foolish. It required that I was prepared to fail if the Leader didn’t give us what we wanted. I needed to ignore my natural inclination to play it safe and disturb the present to better the future.IMG_0173
Of course, this wasn’t all that had changed. Together we had secured a commitment from the Leader of the Council to accept unaccompanied refugee children under the Dubs amendment, although we were disappointed he would not commit to a specific number in contrast to the Leader of the Council in Hammersmith & Fulham, Stephen Cowan, who committed to his borough resettling at least 10 unaccompanied children. Furthermore, we had recruited sixteen potential foster carers. But nonetheless, the change in me is important because it makes me a little bit more who God would have me be.

When the prophet Micah questions what the Lord requires of his people, he responds ‘ To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.’ (6:8)

God’s intention is that our justice seeking, our acts of compassion and our rhythms of discipleship are integrated and interconnected; each a vital and connected part of our spiritual formation.

Justice seeking inevitably arises from a frustration with acts of compassion that serve the suffering but don’t address the causes of the misery, However, justice seeking should also shape our acts of compassion so we serve in ways that empower and bestow dignity rather than foster dependence. Similarly, while justice seeking is an important expression of our discipleship, it is also a place where we are spiritually formed as God challenges us to change, highlighting the places where our character isn’t consistent with the person of Jesus and giving opportunity for the fruit of the Spirit to grow within us.

However, Adele Calhoun reminds us ‘experiences don’t necessarily bring wisdom, nor do they automatically transform us. We need to listen and reflect on our experiences in the presence of the Holy Spirit to learn from them’ (Spiritual Disciplines Handbook 2005: 57). It’s important that we take time to pay attention to how our justice seeking is shaping who we are, allowing it to transform us into the image of Christ.

Some prompts for reflection:

  • What do you personally find most challenging about justice seeking? Ask God to show you how this might be connected to aspects of your personality where He is leading you to change to become more like Jesus.
  • Look back over your diary for the last month – how much time have you invested in justice seeking, in acts of compassion and in rhythms of discipleship? Is there a particular area you’re not investing in enough?
  • Next time you engage in an act of justice-seeking, ask yourself ‘what’s changed?’ and write about this in your journal

Opportunities for Action:

Since January, when a small group of children were reunited with their families at St Pancras Station, another 178 children have been identified, living in terrible conditions in Calais, who have a right to be reunited with their families here in the UK.  Disappointingly, the government has transferred less than 50.  Worse still there are 14 waiting for up to 10 weeks, whose travel has been fully approved. It’s not good enough.

Join us in calling on the new Immigration Minister, Robert Goodwill to reunite these children with their families by the 25th of August.  There’s no reason these children shouldn’t be here in time to start school. Let’s challenge the Minister to find a way and show that we won’t take no for an answer.

In addition to this, The Welcome Summit on Saturday 10th September is a gathering for the groups behind the Refugees Welcome movement from right across the country.

It’s a moment, one year on from the tragic death of Aylan Kurdi, to come together and celebrate what we’ve achieved, take stock of the British response to date, and to plan, train and act together to build a more welcoming Britain. We will also use the time to build accountable relationships with key actors, from government ministers to UN agencies, around key issues including the protection of refugee children, development of community sponsorship, and building of strong communities.

You can read more about the details of the day here, and register your attendance here.

While Women Still Weep Conference

Guest post by Captain Sandra Pawar

sandra 8In 1912, General William Booth, founder of The Salvation Army, entered the Royal Albert Hall in London to give his last, most notable address to a packed crowd of 7,000 Salvationists. The most famous part of this speech is:

“While women weep, as they do now, I’ll fight
While little children go hungry, as they do now, I’ll fight
While men go to prison, in and out, in and out, as they do now, I’ll fight
While there is a drunkard left, 
While there is a poor lost girl upon the streets, 
While there remains one dark soul without the light of God, 
I’ll fight-I’ll fight to the very end!”

I have always loved this part of his speech and found it incredibly powerful. I loved the heart and passion behind it. I believe it was not only relevant for what was needed in the early century but I believe it is still relevant today and a call to mission for us.

There are still women weeping and there are still young girls lost upon the streets and there is still a need for people to fight for and with them.

There are women and young girls being trafficked around this world and in this country on a daily basis, there are women and young girls being exploited, there are women and young girls who have no safe place to live, there are women and young girls who are being abused by husbands and boyfriends. There are babies being murdered just because they are girls. There are women and young girls who are fleeing war torn countries only to be put on boats that sink or sent to refugee camps that are in incredibly bad condition offering barely any hope.

It is for these young girls and for these women that we must learn to fight.

As followers of Jesus Christ we have strategic responsibility to become aware of the conditions for many young girls and women not only around the world but in our local communities and we need to raise the alarm to others and we must do something with what we know.

I feel like my life has been full of different experiences that have led me to having this full on passion to do something for women and because of all these different experiences whether it be working with young homeless girls on the streets of Sydney who were being prostituted by other homeless young people or whether it be the older women I met in the women’s shelter who were being abused by their lovers and husbands or the women I met in the strip clubs in Atlanta or the rescued young girl with AIDS in India who did  henna on my feet for my  wedding as a way to escape the red light district. Each one of these women that I have met has stirred a deep passion in me to fight for them and with them.

God has a deep deep love for women, for girls and now that I am aware of all the various circumstances women and young girls find themselves in and the often horrific situations they face I cannot stand back and pretend it doesn’t happen. I must do something.

sandraSo the justice conference “While Women Still Weep” held at Southwark Corps recently was my effort to do something.  An effort to bring awareness to others, to create a day, a moment where God could speak and stir our hearts to action. We had speakers  from International Justice Mission talking about the international efforts being made to rescue and restore, we had speakers from local Salvation Army chapters like Faith House and the Territorial department for Anti Human trafficking to give us information on local situations and how we could join the fight. A representative from Citizens Uk was there to speak about the importance of listening to people’s stories and Stephanie Chagis Bijl talked about joining the justice fight through prayer.

sandra 3It was a day where hopefully people came away with some practical tools and ideas on how they could join the fight. Once you know, you can no longer stand back and do nothing.

Some of the steps that people have been encouraged to take after the conference are:

  1. Look into partnering with Citizens UK or any other organization that fights against injustice in their local communities
  2. Set aside time to pray daily for any issue that God has laid  on their heart in regards to the injustices facing women and children. One such prayer need was cyber trafficking especially in Thailand
  3. Volunteer to be either a driver or passenger for the Anti Human trafficking department’s transportation program
  4. Volunteer with Faith House on their prayer walks and ministry with exploited women
  5. Give financially to an organisation that is making a difference in the lives of women and children
  6. Bring awareness to others about these issues and encourage others to take action
  7. Think about purchases you make and how they may be affecting women and young children around the world. Buy ethically.
  8. Attend the next  ‘While Women Still Weep  Justice Conference ‘on March 18th 2017

While Women STILL weep….I will fight.

sandra 7Sandra Pawar is currently the Corps Officer at Southwark Corps. She is passionate about seeing broken lives made whole,  captives set free and chains of injustice broken. 

Freedom Highway

staple singersBy Nick Coke

I’m listening to The Staple Singers bellowing out ‘Freedom Highway’ from their legendary live performance at Chicago’s New Nazareth Church in 1965. It’s three days after my second visit to the Jungle in Calais. I’ve tears in my eyes and a sickness in my stomach.

Pop staples introduces the song:

“A few days ago, the freedom marchers marched from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. I know some of you know about that. That was in March of nineteen hundred and sixty-five. And from that march, word was revealed and a song was composed. And we wrote a song about the freedom marchers and we call it the ‘Freedom Highway’, and we dedicate this number to all the freedom marchers.”

I’m holding the original record sleeve in my hand. It’s a thrill to know that the person whose hands pressed this vinyl half a century ago and the first owner of this particular LP would have lived through the Martin Luther King led march that made history. The concert was recorded only 3 months after that event.

The guitar kicks in, then the drums, hand-clapping and finally the vocals.

March for freedom’s highway
March each and every day
Made up my mind and I won’t turn around
Made up my mind and I won’t turn around
There is just one thing I can’t understand my friend.
Why some folk think freedom
Was not designed for all men.
Yes I think I voted for the right man
Said we would overcome.

portaloosI’m back in the Jungle, standing in the winter rain and mud. There’s a hopelessness hanging in the air I hadn’t sensed the last time. There are rumours of a government demolition, of police brutality, of vigilante gangs beating up migrants whilst the authorities turn a blind eye. I’m told by a Syrian refugee about the orphans living in the camp with no-where to turn. I’m struggling to see the freedom highway.

Pop Staples knew when he composed his song that he was writing about an historic moment. Today we are making history. Future generations will look back and wonder about our response to the biggest humanitarian disaster in Europe since the Second World War. We will be judged for what we are doing and what we are not doing.

The Jungle in some ways has come to symbolise the British response. It’s the closest we’ll allow those fleeing war and poverty to get before they meet our high border fences. It’s a third of the distance than from Selma to Montgomery.

As I listen to The Staple Singers from 50 years ago, I can’t help but dedicate this song to the people I met in Calais. May you one day experience freedom – freedom from war, freedom from poverty, freedom from oppression, freedom from fear. May you find freedom – may you overcome. And Lord – help me be a freedom marcher.