What does welcome look like?
What makes a difference for the people we serve on how you welcome them?
What is the impact of your work in your life?
How do you see the world now?
When I came to UK one year ago, it was an opportunity to see how the world really looks like aside from the small world in the Philippines I had lived for the past years. I could not imagine I would see, meet and encounter people from different cultures, races, and faith groups here in London particularly. And yes like most anybody here, I myself am a foreigner, a stranger and a migrant missionary here in UK. I myself need and have longed to be welcomed as I am by the people around me.
And since I did not come from here, I also struggle with the language. Basically, speaking English is not my first language, l also have to struggle in listening and understanding English words in different accents and meaning. In other words, when I came to UK, I needed to learn to communicate not only in words but also in non-verbal like giving a warm smile, a pat on a back or shoulder, and sometimes simply being with strangers in silent presence. I believe that, language is quite an important value in welcoming people most especially for those who cannot speak the local language. Coming from my own cultural background, we are used to share with others regardless of how much food was left in our table or space in our room. I tried to carry this significant value with me whenever I come in contact with strangers. How? I think the amount of time of present listening I am choosing to spend with people and for others to feel that there is a person willing to be with them is invaluable. In this way, establishing a relationship based on trust and openness is somehow touching other people’s hearts to share and entrust their own story with me. Most importantly, recognizing my own innate goodness is making me see and touch other people’s innate goodness too.
Where I am coming from, my roots, my faith encounters and my cultural values… these are the things I am bringing to welcome people whenever I set my foot inside detention centre. The effort to be mutually welcoming is beyond my expectation. Sometimes, there are times detainees are the ones making me feel welcome the most than I am welcoming them. Actually, I have learned so much from them especially for making a person comfortable and at ease. The detainees I meet every week will try to show their smiling though downtrodden faces at times but even in their darkest moods, there would always a space to welcome and accept each other. For me, journeying with detainees has turned my world upside down. As I listen to each detainees’ story, I learned to be more humane in relating with others and to myself as well.
The situation in detention made me understand the world I am living now. It is very scary, heart breaking, disturbing world and I could not imagine myself if I am actually in that situation, how will I be able to cope or even survive? Working closely with detainees and accompanying them all throughout is a sacred encounter for me. I will always be grateful for each opportunity that allows me to see, touch, feel and share in detainee’s deepest pain, longing and hope for freedom, healing and wholeness. I have to learn and accept most of the time that to be simply present especially in silence was just enough for me. I felt happy whenever a detainee would share their positive thoughts and hopeful disposition after some time of being with them. One of our client detainee in Harmondsworth who was almost eight months in detention, whenever he sees me, he will always say with a warm smile ‘Thank you…you have favoured me.’ My heart was touched whenever he would say those words to me, I could not help but recognize God’s speaking to me that this person could see light in such a difficult situation.
Well my dear friends, my desire to join the Refugee Tales walk last year has paved the way to immerse myself to places, people, culture and the presenting issues on refugee/migrant crisis which I chose myself to engage with as a Medical Mission Sister and a volunteer detention visitor here in Jesuit Refugee Service. My journey with all of you indeed helped me to experience to be welcomed and how to welcome strangers. Your warm, gentle, encouraging and supportive way of making me feel at home in this country is immeasurable and unforgettable in my entire lifetime. Your presence and accompaniment are gifts and blessings to me. You also taught me something that even our world is dark and life can be difficult, we would never walk alone. We have each other and we are walking together…this gives me enough courage and strength to continue walking with the refugees and be in solidarity with you who are working to effect change in our society.
Thank you and welcome!
Rosalinda who volunteers with JRS UK and visits asylum seekers detained within one of the Immigration Removal Centres near Heathrow took part in the Refugee Tales pilgrimage initiative: www.refugeetales.org