This is Saadiya's story*

My husband was not good. He was 33 years old and I was 17. He insulted me and hated me. He did not like my girls as he wanted boys. I had many problems with my husband. I went to one organisation to ask for help and they refused. My husband was a political member, so they were afraid to help. I tried to make a case against my husband, but it was very difficult to stay in my country with my children.

After arriving in the UK in September 2012 I applied for asylum. It was really difficult. I was so scared for my life. At this time I felt so lonely. 

Einir came with her family to my house with a big Welcome Box. It felt really good! There were lots of things in it: toys, things for the bath, lots of nice things! She arranged for lots of communication with other people who lived near me who could help me. Sometimes they brought cakes and other things to make me and my children happy! Einir would invite us to her house and we could eat dinner together.

Einir arranged to bring me to Upbeat Communities every Thursday. It was good to feel busy again. I felt good. I joined the English class and sewing club. I got to make friends from lots of different countries. They are all good people. My English got a lot better by coming to Upbeat Communities and I enjoyed learning to sew! Einir also saw that I didn’t have a jacket so she got one for me.

Everyone at Upbeat Communities is very helpful and kind. All the time. Einir also took me to church on Sunday where I met lots of good friends. I went there lots of times, including Christmas day. I got nice gifts for Christmas which I still have now and my children enjoyed very much.

It took three and a half years for me to get permission to remain in the UK. I was refused three times before they finally trusted me. People at Upbeat Communities were all friends to me through this time. They were praying for me and gave me hope. They texted me all the time and were lovely.

Life now is so much better, so good. I feel like freedom! 

Welcome Boxes began in Community Church Derby, who set up Upbeat Communities to help strangers become neighbours.  Community Church Derby has seen their church grow to be around 20% non-white British, many of whom are from a refugee background. We are now helping other churches across the UK to be good news for refugees arriving in their communities too.

*name changed for confidentiality

This is Emma's story

Have you ever wondered what it's like to take a Welcome Box to a newly-arrived neighbour in your community? Emma is one of our Welcomers with Welcome Boxes in Derby. Here's an insight into some of her experiences of welcoming people from across the world to her city.

Hello, pleased to meet you.

*Silence*

My name is Emma. What’s your name?

*Silence*

How are you doing?

*Silence*

Have you ever tried to communicate with someone who doesn’t speak a single word of your language? This was the case for one of my first Welcome Box visits. It is from this moment, whilst clutching a box full of love, compassion, vulnerability, hope and friendship, I realised the impact I could have on the lives of refugees and asylum seekers.

Welcoming refugees and asylum seekers is one of the most rewarding things I have ever done but also one of the most challenging. Nobody can prepare you for what the next few moments hold as you’re stood waiting on the doorstep of a stranger, waiting to greet them for the first time with the Welcome Box. It’s an emotional experience meeting somebody who has fled their country. I will never understand what many of our neighbours have been through to get here but, I can offer a friendly face and open arms into a community that will welcome and support them in this part of their life.

In this venture to befriend and welcome refugees and asylum seekers to the city, I assist with integrating them into their community helping with any of the basic needs. This includes registering with the GP, optician, orientation within the city and introducing them to Upbeat Communities, where they can gain access to other areas of support such as free English lessons, skills classes or attend a family group. Undoubtedly, you face challenges along the way and in these moments, you have to rise up even higher. This is where I found myself becoming my neighbours’ biggest advocate. I have had to fight prejudice to get my friends registered with a GP and ask difficult questions regarding access to foodbanks in the most sensitive way but all of this becomes possible through the relationships you build.  

The friendships I have made are a two-way investment that nobody could have prepared me for. Sharing one another’s culture has been one of the highlights of my friendships however, not one that I was necessarily anticipating or prepared for at the beginning of the journey. There is no training to assist with explaining what Bovril is to a family with Halal requirements; nor did I anticipate learning the ‘correct’ way to receive a cup of Turkish coffee without offending somebody of the Albanian community. These experiences however, have been priceless in our vulnerability with one another and building friendship. I’ve also been able to share my own language and learn bits of new languages along the way; including Farsi, Albanian and Russian.

Ultimately, it’s a journey. Whilst being a Welcome Box volunteer I’ve experienced mountain top highs and valley lows which have made for the most rewarding experience. Making new friends amongst situations that are otherwise petrifying is incredible. I get to walk into some of the darkest moments of peoples’ lives and offer community, friendship and the hope of Jesus. What an honour.

Would you like to welcome refugees and asylum in your church? Click here to find out how.

What does Good Friday mean for a refugee?

Mark 15:33-47

'At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”

Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.

With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.

The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome. In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.

It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where he was laid.'


300 bodies, anonymous and far from home, laid out in rows in a sports hall. Before migrant drownings in the Mediterranean became almost commonplace, that image really struck me and comes to mind today as I reflect on the cross.

Jesus on the cross demolishes the wall between us and God. Through him, we become citizens of the kingdom of God: the ultimate ‘durable solution’ if we articulate the gospel in refugee policy terms.

Yet this comes about in the most upside-down of ways as God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. Taken at face value, the cross was a failure; just another body, shamed and abandoned.

How many refugees, I wonder, would readily claim Jesus’ words of abandonment as their own? My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Yet, at a time of definitive abandonment for Jesus, some people remained. Mary, Mary and Salome, and other women who had followed him and cared for his needs after he had welcomed and valued them, and Joseph who was waiting for the kingdom.

Who knows how much they really grasped that side of the cross, but they knew enough to be there and to align themselves with Jesus at his crucifixion, bestowing dignity on him in death as they had in life when they had clothed him and fed him.

Unlike them, we weren’t there in person and we can’t actually do these things for Jesus. But, as we reflect today on the cross - the means by which citizenship of the kingdom is bestowed on the undeserving likes of us - we can nevertheless heed Jesus’ call to do them for others.

Because the things we do for the least of these, including for those migrants dehumanised and ignored by our society, we do for him.

Emily Bowerman, Refugee Support Network, London

Advent 1

Luke 2:1-5 (MSG)

The Birth of Jesus

‘About that time Caesar Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Empire. This was the first census when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone had to travel to his own ancestral hometown to be accounted for. So Joseph went from the Galilean town of Nazareth up to Bethlehem in Judah, David’s town, for the census. As a descendant of David, he had to go there. He went with Mary, his fiancée, who was pregnant.’

Had to - Mary and Joseph had to travel.  We could spend time arguing about the validity of the translation but none of the translations suggest that the couple had run out of things to do locally. They didn’t want a little distraction from daily life. As far as I’m aware it wasn’t a ‘get rich quick’ scam.  You wouldn’t choose to travel such a journey with a pregnant fiancée.  They were compelled there wasn’t any other option.

The direct distance is around 70 miles. The shortest route was scenic, hilly arduous, across lands dominated by hostile people. Bandits would have been a constant threat, as would have been wild animals.  Overnight accommodation would have been difficult to find.   Scholars think that the safer and more comfortable route would have taken the travellers anywhere between 4 and 10 days and would have been around 90 miles.

There is no mention of a donkey. Richer families may have owned horses or chariots. Poorer families would have travelled by foot. As a tradesman, Joseph may have had use of a donkey to transport tools and materials around. (Did it have a sticker saying no tools left on this vehicle overnight?) There are two varieties of donkeys: those that can be ridden, and those that are used as pack animals. I’m not sure which would be worse - walking alongside, or bumping along on perhaps an unpredictable and unreliable vehicle.

Many people have left their place of belonging because they had to.  They didn’t want to. It wasn’t a choice. Coming here was a perilous journey.  It was physically and mentally uncomfortable.  Making the decision to leave loved ones was difficult.  But for many there is no choice.

  • When was the last time you had to do something?
  • What is the most difficult journey you have had to undertake?
  • What is more difficult- saying goodbye to loved ones and leaving, or saying goodbye to loved ones who are leaving?

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