Q: How would you describe your charity and your role within it?
Sue: Welcome Churches exists to see no refugee alone. And our vision is that every refugee arriving in the UK is welcomed by the local church. We have a growing network of over 400 churches throughout the UK. And they are committed to actively welcoming refugees and asylum seekers in their area. We offer a wide range of training to churches to help them welcome refugees in that particular location. I've been recently appointed as joint CEO, alongside Emily Holden.
Q: Why and how were you called into this area of work?
Sue: I worked in the Middle East region for over 24 years, and I speak Arabic. I moved back to the UK in 2016 and within two weeks of moving back to the UK, I was in a supermarket and noticed an Arabic speaking family. It turned out they were Syrian refugees and they'd been moved into my area by the local council, had no support and didn't know anyone. I got to know them and started to help them practically as well and introduce them to people from my church. I saw how isolated and alone they were. And that's really what God used to start my journey with supporting refugees and asylum seekers here in the UK, and then eventually working with Welcome Churches.
Q: Why do you think this work and mission is so important?
Sue: Refugees and asylum seekers arrive here in the UK, we all know, having left their countries, their home, their family, their jobs, their whole environment. They're very much in need of a warm welcome from the community, people who will make space for them and invite them into their lives. They're also in need of practical help and advice about life in the UK as well. The church is ideally positioned to provide that community and care for people who arrive here feeling like strangers.
Q: Can you share the story of someone that has benefited from your work?
Sue: A church that we're currently training in London wrote to us this morning to say thank you and said that a gentleman from their English class – a refugee gentleman – was moved up to Bolton quite suddenly. The church in London sent a Welcome Box referral. They referred the man to a local church who visited him, took a box of gifts to say hello and welcome. He texted to say, "Because of all of this, I have friends that I meet every Friday now."
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about Refugee Week?
Sue: Refugee Week is a dedicated week that happens every year for us all to hear from refugees, about both their situations overseas and their resettling into the UK. Organisations that work with refugees put on special events so that we get a chance to learn more about their struggles and successes. We can hear a lot of negative rhetoric if we only listen to the news, but refugee week is a chance to listen more carefully. The church often feels compassionate towards refugees and asylum seekers, but for some people, they haven't met any. So it's a really good opportunity for churches to learn and to think about what they could do.
Q: How urgent is the current crisis of asylum seekers?
Sue: There is a hostile environment for asylum seekers in the UK. And because of Covid-19, in the last year many people have been housed in hotels or disused barracks used for temporary accommodation. A lot of these are not suitable, and asylum seekers are having to wait months or years for their case to be heard by the Home Office. As Welcome Churches, we have been involved in petitioning the government regarding the new immigration plan, which has been put forward this year. We do hope for better and safer routes for people seeking asylum and a system that doesn’t leave them in limbo.
Q: Why would you say that Christians should help refugees?
Sue: For each of us individually, firstly, God welcomed us. He is the host, and we have been welcomed by him. So we reflect him as we welcome others. We're also specifically told to welcome strangers, both in the Old and New Testament. In the Old Testament, God's people were told to love those who are foreigners, ‘for you yourselves were foreigners’ (Exodus 22:21). And in the New Testament, in Hebrews, for example, we're told to not forget to show hospitality to strangers (13:2). Or in Matthew 25:35, Jesus says, ‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in’. So, the thread is there all the way through Scripture: God hosting and welcoming us, and then our mandate to go and do the same to others around us.
Q: What are some specific ways that Christians can respond to some of the verses that you've shared and get involved with Refugee Week?
Sue: This year, Refugee Sunday falls on Father's Day. So Welcome Churches have produced a fantastic short video in which a refugee talks about how it has affected him as a father. Churches can download a copy of the video to use in their services. We also have an online event on Wednesday, the 16th of June, together with Krish Kandiah and Patrick Regan, about refugees, Jesus and justice. The other way for churches or individuals is to respond with a financial gift, to Welcome Churches or other refugee charities.
You can give to Welcome Churches here.