Nick Hanrahan joined the JRS UK team just over four years ago as the Community Outreach Officer. He’s spent the last four years getting to know refugee friends, helping to amplify their voices, and creating opportunities for people across the UK to encouter refugees and the work of JRS UK. As he preapres to leave JRS to start a new chapter, he shares some reflections of accompanying – and being accompanied by – refugee friends.
All good things must come to an end
Whilst there is great sadness that comes with moving on from a place where you have made strong bonds of friendship, the overwhelming feeling is one of immense gratitude for the past four years.
I recall the very first day centre experience on my first week. The sheer number of new faces and names to remember as over 100 refugee friends and a dozen or so volunteers, made their way past where I was stationed on the welcome desk. After a long and very enjoyable day I knew this was the place for me. The most striking thing I remember was the sense of community. When I read that those refugees who came to JRS were known as ‘friends’, I wondered how true this title was. As I watched people being greeted by name and conversations being carried out with such warmth, I very quickly realised that friendship was exactly what was being nurtured here.
A mutual blessing
Over my time I am grateful to have formed my own bonds with refugee friends, staff and volunteers. My time at JRS has seen some huge changes in my own life, not least getting married and having our first child. We often talk at JRS about what accompaniment means given it is central to our mission. One wise colleague explained that accompaniment would be a mutual blessing and whether it be the advice I received from one refugee friend in the build up to my wedding on how to be a good husband or the outpouring of joy from so many of refugee friends when sharing the news of the birth of my daughter, I now realise how true that colleague’s words were.
Of course, accompanying those who have been forced to flee their homes is not always easy. I will carry with me the stories and sufferings of so many of our refugee friends. There is nothing quite like hearing for the first time the deep trauma that someone who you have come to care about as they explain why they had to escape their homeland or seeing the strain and anxiety that our unjust asylum system puts upon those who are seeking safety. I am all too aware that I leave JRS at a time when our government is seeking to pass new legislation that will only cause greater suffering to those who need our hospitality. It would be easy when looking at the news or social media to think that our community at JRS stands alone against a landslide of hostility.
Holding onto hope amidst hostility
Amidst those moments of difficulty, I have found much hope in the work I have done as Community Outreach Officer. It has been my privilege to go out and about representing JRS UK and meeting supporters old and new. I have met people who have been moved with compassion at the experiences of our refugee friends and have committed to doing something about it. I have met people who have spent a lifetime offering welcome and hospitality to refugees and other people who are forced to the margins of our society. I have seen young people express their incredulity at the way things are and seen the passion stoked in them to do something about it.
For some, this moving on might be the next step in a career or a ‘change of scenery’. For me, it means leaving a place that has changed me deeply and for the better, a place where have been loved and I hope I have passed that love on. As I leave, I can only pray in thanksgiving and humility that I have given back at least a fraction of the great gift I have received from God placing me at JRS, taking up in the words of St Ignatius:
“You have given all to me. To you, Lord, I return it.”
Image description: a photo of Nick and Fr Mike stationed at the Welcome desk, during Nick’s first week at JRS in 2018.