For so many of us – certainly, for me – Christmas means time spent with family, copious amounts of food, the exchanging of gifts (and we try to squeeze Mass in when we can).
At JRS UK, we try to create some of this atmosphere of anticipation and joy for those who regularly visit our Thursday Day Centre. The final Day Centre of the year is always a special occasion for us, and our volunteer chef works for weeks to prepare an exceptional menu for our refugee friends. This year will be no different. Volunteers and staff have worked flat out to prepare a menu of deep fried red snapper fish, roast lamb and chicken casserole – it’s set to be delicious, and it’s today’s lunch! I for one can’t wait.
Looking ahead to Christmas, we give gifts for the children we accompany and serve. I remember how exciting it was, as a child, to tear the wrapping paper away to discover a toy on Christmas day. I’m really glad that the children among our refugee friends will be able to do this too.
Nonetheless, something we all know on some level is that as well as a time of joy, Christmas can be a time of loneliness and of isolation, especially when you’re going through a difficult time, or when you’re far from family. This is the case for a lot of our refugee friends, many of whom might struggle to get a chance to talk with loved ones on Christmas day. This is why I’m really glad that we are able to give out mobile phone top-up vouchers at the final Day Centre this year – allowing our refugee friends the chance to keep in touch with their family and friends.
The collective gift of these Messages of Hope fits well with the rest of JRS UK’s Christmas extravaganza, because none of it would have been possible if we were working on our own. Not only do we need our wonderful volunteers – including our chef – but the presents for the children come from pupils at St John’s Beaumont, and the mobile phone top ups are funded by a number of regular donors. I want to take the opportunity to say a huge thank you to all of these people!
There is something in all of these gifts that builds hope where the world seems bleak. Communities come together to offer support in potentially difficult situations. And this reminds me of what I am most grateful for this Christmas: the gifts that our refugee friends share with me, and with all of us at JRS, on a daily basis – of their generosity of spirit, their friendship, and their kindness.