A couple of weeks ago I attended my first JRS Europe meeting in which staff working on communications and advocacy in JRS offices around Europe came together to share experiences. Much of the discussion in our communication sessions focussed on narrative and storytelling, with people reflecting on the difficulty that can come with sharing stories that have a mixture of darkness: detention, destitution, stereotyping that refugees face; and light: stories of individuals who have been able to start new lives, the hope and resilience of refugees.
In the past month or so, I feel that I have been even more acutely aware of the darkness in stories that I share as part of the outreach work I take part in at JRS. Sharing the stories of our friends who are living through street homelessness as the weather gets colder or those mothers who give birth to their children surrounded by the great uncertainty that comes with having an unresolved immigration case. I have been invited to share the stories of our friends who live through the darkness of indefinite detention, deprived of their freedom and threatened with removal to the very places they have fled from. The stories of those who have survived human trafficking and modern slavery who, despite the horrors they have endured, are still held in detention centres are particularly tragic.
The darkness is not limited to those who JRS work with. We hear almost daily the stories of so many perishing in the dangerous crossing of the Mediterranean in boats that are not fit for the journey. Just last week, and much closer to home, we heard the heart-breaking story of 39 people who died in the back of a refrigerated lorry; all individuals with their own dreams and hopes for life. Seeing the images of the families who fear their loved ones may have been among the dead, it was plain to see the intense pain and suffering they were enduring.
These stories can sometimes feel overwhelming, leaving us shrouded in darkness.
Being a person of faith, these are the moments I find myself turning to the Book that I believe contains the most compelling narrative ever told. I am particularly drawn to a verse at the beginning of the Gospel of John:
and light shines in the darkness, and darkness could not overpower it – John 1:5.
I am blessed in my work here at JRS to be surrounded by people that I believe bring the light of Christ into the darkness of the world around us. I see my colleagues work tirelessly and diligently to provide support to our refugee friends with such care and loving attention. I see volunteers who give up their precious time to accompany those who come to our day centre and who go out to the darkness of the detention centres, bringing light to those who are held there.
I see the light most clearly in the refugee friends that I meet each day here at JRS, who are living through challenges that I have never experienced with a perseverance I doubt I could muster. However, it is often in the simple moments spent with them that I see the light shining brightest. Whether it is hearing the laughter coming from the game of cards being played, taking part in a discussion over which team will win the league title this year or hearing updates about the progress of a child’s development in school, it’s these very normal, human moments that I feel provide the most light, reminding me of how remarkable each and every human being really is.
It is when I think of those moments and all those people who make up our community here at JRS that I realise the great privilege I have in being given some responsibility to help share some of their stories.
Would you like to inform your parish about the work JRS UK does?
Order a Parish Pack, a pack will be filled with information about our work and how parish communities can get involved. Please contact Nick if you are interested in receiving one of these: email@example.com or call 020 7488 7310.