I came across JRS through my parish in Wimbledon which was served by the Jesuits. I have always been interested in working with people who are marginalised in our society and had previously volunteered with a multi-faith charity in Merton called Faith in Action. A charity that helps the local homeless by running a Drop-in to welcome the homeless and vulnerably housed. However, I had always wanted to work with refugees and was interested in JRS’s work.
I worked for Faith in Action for several years and found it very rewarding but was ready to do something different. I was aware that JRS were looking for volunteers and as I was still interested in working with refugees, I thought it was time to make that change. I started volunteering with JRS – Detention Outreach team as a visitor in 2015 visiting those held in detention at Heathrow.
What stands out for me is the importance prayer for detainees, whatever their faith. Very early on during my visits I became aware of how powerful prayer can be in helping those we visit, who feel dejected, isolated and vulnerable. I have often been told by detainees that to know someone out there is thinking and praying for them, means a lot to them as they realise, they are not forgotten.
An example of the significance of prayer, was when I was visiting a detainee he asked if we could pray together. To sit and pray alongside him in an environment where there was lots of background noise, which seem to disappear during our time of pray, was for me overwhelming, a truly moving and joyous experience of accompaniment.
Here are some quotes from those detainees I have met during my time as a visitor, “pray for me” “don’t forget to pray for me” “I appreciate it that you remember me in your prayers”.
As the number of volunteer visitors has increased, I am in the meantime doing the admin in the Detention Outreach team, working for the Detention Manager, for whom I provide clerical support. I also provide support to detainees, as well as detention volunteers.
The changes I have seen during the past year are quite significant, we now have someone who follows up on those detainees who have been released from detention, providing support where needed. This is an area of work that is continually being developed. It is such a pleasure to hear how detainees are getting on following their release, hearing a detainee say, “It’s good to be back with my family and holding my daughter”.
Another area of change is the work that is going on in seeing how we can support ex-detainees in the centre, an area of work that is evolving. One of those we visited in detention is now a volunteer at JRS.
My faith played a vital role in my decision to volunteer for JRS and my time at JRS has been quite a revelation to me, it has enabled me to reflect on my own spiritual journey.
Praying with Detainees
On the first Friday of each month, our Detention Outreach team send an e-mail focused on those we work with in detention, inviting you to accompany them in prayer. Each month a different member of the Detention Outreach team shares their reflections with you.