Reflection: volunteering with JRS

04 October 2013

“…the beggar stretches out his hand not to ask but to give you the Kingdom of heaven and yet you do not see…” Elder Arsenie (photo: JRS malta)
In certain respects the Spiritual Wisdom of a Romanian Monk who lived through some of the most turbulent and unhappy periods of world history in the 20th Century might well seem to be far away from 21st Century Wapping. However, the teaching which Elder Arsenie gives was proven to be correct – in my own experience – over the past year when I worked as a volunteer with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS). 
I was not, on one level, working with beggars but I was working with destitute Asylum Seekers – among the poorest and most misunderstood members of British Society. In the current debate on Asylum and Immigration – fuelled by the wish of all political parties to appear ‘tough’ – it is fashionable only to talk about how much Sanctuary Seekers cost: how much money might be ‘lost’ from the NHS or the DSS (despite many Sanctuary Seekers being denied any basic support at all); how much pressure is being placed on the education system; the transport infrastructure; the housing stock etc etc What is not talked about – and what needs to be talked about – is how much is contributed by those who come – through no fault of their own – to claim Sanctuary in the UK.

The Government forbids our refugee friends to work and from that point of view their financial contribution is minimal. Spiritually, however, their contribution is immense. During my time in Wapping I have met some of the most remarkable, kind and loving human beings I have ever encountered and it has been my privilege and joy to serve them and to accept their immense giftedness. That this has become clear to me is largely due to the Ignatian ethos of the JRS which encourages the volunteers to simply ‘be’ with the person in front of them, seeing them as neither a problem nor a cause but a Brother and Sister in Christ; a human being who, like all humanity, reflects something of the wonder of God. I have now left London and am living in a very different setting in Northumbria but I can safely say that I will take from my experience in JRS some truly wonderful lessons. I will take all that our friends have given me and I will also carry with me the example set by those who work ‘full time’ with JRS – both volunteers and staff.

I looked at the person opposite me; the person who had been tortured; deprived of their basic human dignity not only by the regime they were fleeing but our own Government and I saw Christ in them and in seeing him I saw the Kingdom of Heaven.

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Jesuit Refugee Service UK
The Hurtado Jesuit Centre
2 Chandler Street, London E1W 2QT

020 7488 7310

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