As Advent begins and we start our spiritual journey towards Christmas, I have the words of Pope Francis in my heart. Earlier this year, on the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, he spoke of compassion, and its power to inspire us to be a good neighbour to those in need.
“Compassion strikes the most sensitive chords of our humanity, releasing a vibrant urge to ‘be a neighbour’ to all those whom we see in difficulty.”
Whilst we are preparing the way, waiting in anticipation for the birth of Jesus (and often looking forward to enjoying time with family and friends); some of our friends at JRS are facing lonely nights on the streets, and taking shelter where they can find it.
For the men and women we accompany, waiting is a daily reality. I’m thinking about some of the extraordinary people we have the privilege to work with. People like Juliet, who came to the UK hoping to be safe. Ten years on, she is anything but safe. Our cruel and unjust asylum system has left her destitute. Like all of our refugee friends, Juliet is not permitted to work and isn’t eligible for state support. She has nothing to live on, “the hardest part is accommodation,” says Juliet. “You’re always scared to find yourself on the streets.”
Juliet is strong, brilliant and funny. She faces her situation with a resilience and humour that inspires me. But nothing can hide the fact that her daily life is very difficult indeed.
For many of the people like Juliet who we support, doors are closed. But with your support, JRS’s doors are open. We offer a place where people can get a hot meal, where people can sit in comfort and safety for a few hours, and where practical help, including toiletries and bus passes, are provided. We offer a space where people can relax with friends; where they are greeted with a smile and called by name, and where we all share food together. As we sit down to eat together, we talk and we laugh, and friendships are formed.
A warm welcome. An open door. A hot meal. Toiletries. A weekly £10 travel grant for a bus pass. These are some of the things that bring refugee friends like Juliet to us. But what makes refugee friends return is being treated with dignity, as a fellow human, because for many this basic courtesy is too rare an experience.
Juliet doesn’t know when or where her journey will end, she is still waiting. Like all of our refugee friends, she just wants the chance to live a regular life – to work, to have a home and to make a positive contribution to society. The years continue to go by and – through no fault of her own – her immigration status remains unresolved. There is little she can count on except the strength that comes from her faith, and the steadfast support of her friends.
To Juliet, JRS is a ‘good friend’, and through your support, so are you: “You show you care – through the welcoming you give, the food, the warm clothes.” She says. “At JRS there are people who are there for us.”
I’ll finish my thoughts by returning to the words of Pope Francis and my hope you’ll be ‘a neighbour’ to refugee friends like Juliet. Your kindness helps put food on the table, and hope in hearts. We’re so grateful to you and all our supporters for your compassion and kindness. Please remember us in your prayers this Advent, and you can be assured of ours.