I repented of my attitude to SatNav very rapidly as I went out on my first trip to deliver food across West London. I love maps, and know most of London fairly well but feeling nervous and not sure what Covid-London would be like, I have become attached to the voice in my car telling me ‘your destination is on the left’. Sometimes it isn’t, and sometimes it is on the left but a few storeys high – but I have arrived. That is what really matters; not how I find a person and the place where they live, but that I do, and can hand over food for a week, nappies for small children, toiletries, fruit – at Easter, chocolate, and during Ramadan, dates.
Through no merit of my own, my Covid-world is a bubble – born in a particular era, culture, country and because of guidelines and lockdown faced with being unable to ‘do’, to distance myself from the uncomfortable feelings of guilt or shame around privilege. I had stepped down from coordinating a winter shelter at the end of 2019 – to listen to God, to wait – to discern. The JRS has for long been on the horizons of my thinking: receiving newsletters and going to monthly retreat Saturdays at the Hurtado Centre in East London (where JRS is based), as well as being involved on the periphery of other ways of being with people who are refugees – Calais, hosting, friends at church seeking asylum. In these times I was being challenged about money too – what does it mean to have ‘savings’ when there are people without country and home, food, shelter, clothing – in whatever context? What does it look like to read Acts 4 when the early Jewish Christians all contributed so none were in need? What are the implications for my life – are the questions I am being asked – and grappling with – and full of uncertainty.
My commitment to JRS strengthened when a weekly newsletter arrived describing the hardship fund, and asking for volunteers. What caught me was both the narrative of refugee friends isolated from the centre, and the need for drivers to take food parcels out. I love to drive – and that I could use this to take food to people made sense of offering what I have, and can do, to serve others. I think, as I reflect , I would describe this as stepping across a new boundary in my life. I don’t know where it will lead, but everything about JRS is compelling and important. If in the words of Teresa of Avila – God has no body here on earth but ours – hands, feet, voice etc. – then where do I put my body?
And this is how I arrived at the Hurtado Centre a few weeks ago….. very, very nervous, to go on my first delivery, destination unknown. I was greeted with such warmth and welcome, and reassurance – and sent out to far reaches of West London. I was immediately struck by the professionalism supporting me as a volunteer as well as each refugee friend to keep all safe and held – policies in place, clear guidelines, health and safety, explicit instructions for distancing, contacting friends, contact numbers for support, documentation to carry with and the wonderful JRS T-shirt. I have spoken since, and often, to friends and family about the example that is shown in an approach that is holistic – where everyone is equal and valued.
I have yet to experience the Day Centre being open – but the hospitality that I imagine is there – around tables, around food, art, sharing stories – is now being shared in food deliveries, in phone calls, in small conversations on doorsteps – that are exchanges of hello and welcome , in continuing to advocate. I carry with me many of the faces and voices of those friends I have now met, spoken with, remembered in the week and at morning prayer – with the JRS – do join at 9 30am if you can – it’s a quiet, Godly and wonderful way to begin each day .
It is an astonishing experience to have started volunteering at JRS, in a time where meeting others is not possible, to know no one and yet to feel part of a community of people – refugee friends, other volunteers, the staff team. I think this can only happen in a place where a huge amount of time, skills, care, prayer, hard work are invested – with God’s agenda to accompany those who are on the edges and invisible, at the very heart.
Find out more about our Emergency Response Outreach programme which delivers food packages to our refugee friends in need.
Do you live in the London area and have a car? Volunteer with JRS as a delivery driver