Welcoming the 'stranger': an article Emily wrote for the Evangelical Alliance

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World Refugee Sunday is observed around the world on the two Sundays surrounding World Refugee Day on 20 June. This year, it falls on 16 and 23 June, giving your church a fantastic opportunity to celebrate refugees who have come to be part of our communities and our church families.

There are 68 million refugees across the globe who are fleeing war, conflict and persecution today. Each one of these people represents a very personal story. Take Abbas, a young man from Iraq. He fled Iraq after ISIS killed every member of his family whilst he was away from his village. His life was in danger and he had lost everything, leading him to flee to the UK.

“In May 2015 ISIS came to my village. I didn’t see any good things in them. When I was not at home ISIS came to my house and they killed all my family. When I saw this happen to my family I was very angry and felt hopeless,” said Abbas, who was baptised in one of our Welcome Churches just a few weeks ago.

“I felt very sad that I had to leave Iraq. In January 2016 I arrived in the UK. It was very difficult, and I had a very hard time as I was put in a detention centre. Eventually I was released and arrived in Derby in 2017. 

Before I found the church, I was really struggling. All my family was gone. I felt so lonely and lost. I remember the first time I visited my church; I felt so welcome and I found a new life with Jesus. I was really encouraged, especially when people prayed for me. I had lost my whole family, but with my church I have found a new home and a new family.”

Psalm 68:6 says: “God sets the lonely in families.” In the UK today, many refugees are finding new families to belong to in their local church. Your church could be a family where the lonely can find a place to belong.

At Welcome Churches, our vision is that no refugee should be alone when they arrive in the UK. That’s why we’re building a network of churches, across UK towns and cities, that are ready and able to welcome refugees who are arriving in their community.

Many refugees’ and asylum seekers’ lives are enriched by finding a home in a local church community. Refugees and asylum seekers are a very transient people group. Often through no choice of their own, they are required to move around the UK at short notice. This means that they can arrive in a new place feeling isolated and being unfamiliar with their new surroundings. 

When they move they want to quickly find another church community that can support their practical and spiritual needs. Your church is a wonderful place that can offer family and community to those who are fleeing war and persecution. We want to help refugees find your church family, so that they can receive the love and welcome you are able to give. 

That is why Welcome Churches is building a Welcome Network of churches in the UK that is committed to welcoming refugees. We are creating a simple-to-use web platform and national referral system to churches around the UK. This will help refugees, churches and other organisations identify churches in their area that are committed and equipped to welcome refugees.

Whether your church has been welcoming refugees for a long time, is just beginning to think about welcoming refugees, or if you’re somewhere in between, we have a place for you in our Welcome Network. 

For churches that would like to run one of our Welcome Projects, we provide training to help you connect with refugees who have just arrived in the UK. This could be through Welcome Boxes, Welcome to Resettlement or Welcome Holidays.

Welcome Boxes is our longest running project, currently in 12 locations across the UK. This is an excellent way for newly-arrived asylum seekers and refugees to meet local people and find their way around the local area. 

Churches send trained volunteers to deliver a box filled with small gifts and local information to refugees who have recently arrived in your area, to give them a warm welcome. Your volunteers will continue to welcome the family or individual over the next three months or so, helping them access support and linking them into your community. 

Welcome to Resettlement and Welcome Holidays are newer projects that help churches engage in areas where refugees and asylum seekers haven’t previously been housed. We believe that, no matter where your church is in the UK, there is something you can do to help welcome refugees. We want to help you to identify what your role is. 

We need your church to be involved! We need you to be ready to welcome people, like Abbas, who have lost everything, but have found a new home and a new community here in the UK. Refugees have lost homes, family, communities, jobs, and your church can be a place where they find hope again. 

Make sure to take part in World Refugee Sunday in 2019 and get in touch to find out how your church can be part of the Welcome Network.

Emily Holden