Asylum Seekers

St Chad's and St Mary's have been blessed with a number of Christians who have fled from persecution in Iran, Pakistan and Nigeria. The Church has offered welcome and practical help, langugae lessons and small emergency grants as funds have allowed.

Welcoming the stranger is a key theme in the Bible and we are enriched as a community when we do. On the 11th March 2017 St Chad's hosted a Christians Aware event "listening to Refugees". Revd Mark's wrote this for the magazine.

Christians Aware Listening to Refugees Day 2017

How do you measure the success of an event ? Sufficient numbers coming perhaps, the happy buzz of conversation over coffee, the quality of the introductory talks to inspire and set the tone?  These are all good measures and were true of the CA Refugee Day in Rochdale. But for me, it was the near silence, the attentiveness, as people listened to and felt for the refugees who shared their stories. This was the real measure of success, in the sense of a capacity to teach and transform.

Listening is too often in short supply. Whether in lonely suburbs or in austere inner cities there is an absence of listening. People live too private lives, and their hearts get lonely. Interesting I think that the word private comes from the Latin privatio meaning to steal. The community is impoverished by too many private lives. That was not the case at our day. We were made rich by the stories of refugees.

The format of the day was simple. After some introductory words around a dozen who had newly arrived in Rochdale sat at tables and told their stories in their own way and in their own time. These very important guests came from largely Iran, Egypt and the DRC. Their stories were sometimes harrowing, often inspiring. As I walked around the large space filled with old stone and wood that is Rochdale Parish Church, I could feel the atmosphere like arriving at a Church as people received the consecrated bread. There was something sacred going on.

I heard the story of the woman from Egypt suddenly finding herself on a French rural road in the rain with her small children. She was walking in the night looking for help. She called the French emergency services when one of her children began to collapse only to find that no-one spoke English on the other end of the line. She soldiered on and tried again later and got someone who understood her but she could not give their precise location on the long French road. She eventually met a farmer who gave the necessary details. Help came eventually.

My two churches in Rochdale have been blessed with several Iranian Christians seeking asylum in the last 2 years. Rochdale is one of the towns that is given a large number of refugees after they have been “processed” by the Home Office in Liverpool. I say blessed because their presence gives us lives rich with stories and courage, and show up our often rather tame faith for what it is. However I was aware before this day that some of the deeper questions had not been asked of those we knew well. How was your journey here ? Why did you leave ? What was Church like in your country ? What was the threat you felt? Sometimes we don’t let these stories be told, being too busy with the practical matters of housing, benefits, Home Office interviews, food.

At the refugee day, I heard from a man about how his marriage to a Filipino Christian woman was for him such a joy. Love transcended culture, nation and faith. She agreed to convert to Islam but continued to practise Christianity secretly. He felt drawn to Christian faith and began to see that they could not safely stay. A member of his family was in the secret police and he began to sense the danger. In the end he and his wife left the country of his birth. He said to me: “You people, you UK people, you are like the Good Samaritan. My own people would not help me, as I hoped they would, but you, the foreigner have given me and my wife such a good welcome”.

It’s not difficult to organise a listening day. If you do set one up or go to smoothing like it you will be enriched and encouraged. You can read refugee stories in books – and that is worth doing – but I commend us all to seek out chances for real listening. 

 


Asylum Seekers
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