Saturday, 26 December 2015

Glimmers of Christmas

A young family on an enforced journey
Through weary days and fear-filled night
But in the midst of a bewildering message from God
A glimmer of a promise still shines bright

A flock of humanity huddled on a hillside
Pushed out into the darkening night
Yet in unearthly melodies of angel song
A glimmer of heaven’s beauty still shines bright

Strange visitors travelling westward
Daring to offer what gifts they might
In pinpricks of starlight in a shadowy sky
A glimmer of a new kingdom still shines bright

Curled in a place fit only for animals
Hope of new life stills a relentless plight
As in outstretched hands of human welcome
A glimmer of humanity still shines bright

Halting but for a moment, as further exile waits
Struggling onwards in hurried flight
Somewhere in hazy dreams of a hidden future
A glimmer of possibility still shines bright

Journeying through the cold, dark pain of exclusion
Too many still live with that first Christmas night
But in the eternal resilience of the Spirit
A glimmer of the incarnation still shines bright

Merry Christmas!

Friday, 4 December 2015

Of Sodom

The Old Testament story of Sodom is not necessarily the most obvious choice of a text to reflect on for a Christian pacifist: God destroying an entire city because of their misbehaviour can hardly be described as helpful in speaking of a God of Peace.

And yet, when part of this text cropped up in our prayer this week, I felt it spoke into the heart of at least one of my reasons for objecting to military action in Syria.

Before the destruction of Sodom, we read an interaction between God and Abraham.

Abraham speaks to God saying “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it?” Genesis 19:23-24. For righteous, a word that perhaps doesn’t have the same power today, we might read innocent lives.

And God replies that for the sake of fifty he will not destroy it.

The dialogue continues, with the number of innocents gradually reducing until God answers “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it” Genesis 19: 32

And this is where, suddenly, the Sodom story is not so inaccessible to those of us who want to speak for peace.

Will ten innocents die?

Because if so, God’s answer is clear: even in the midst of one of the most violent biblical stories; even in the very earliest days of this people’s walk towards understanding the true nature of the God who loves them; even here, for the sake of ten innocents, disaster is stayed.

Why, oh why, do we still have so much to learn?

Saturday, 28 November 2015


Those of you who read this blog regularly will know I quite like writing poetry.

Beginning to share my writing here was something of a leap of faith - putting something of myself into the public domain (even if I knew it was to a fairly sympathetic audience). I was really pleased to be able to share what I had written beyond just me and a very immediate audience, but nervous too.

Now I have taken the next step.

Several of my recent poems have been inspired by my work at St Chad's Sanctuary. Others naturally link in to my experiences there. So I have collected some together and created a short poetry book. Well, book might be a bit of an exaggeration, more of a pamphlet I guess.

I'm selling them to raise money for St Chad's Sanctuary.

I can definitely acknowledge a thrill in seeing them in print. The arrival of boxes of my "published" (albeit self-published) work was very exciting. I am pleased with how they look, have appreciated the positive feedback, and am guarding against (hopefully) any adverse effects on my ego!

But it is a bit more complicated, because for the first time (I don't count primary school crafts and the like!) I am daring to ask people to part with money in exchange for my creative efforts. And who am I to say my work is worth paying for? It takes a degree of confidence I only partly have to make that assertion.

I do want them to sell though, and it is ultimately the knowledge that all the proceeds will go to a very good cause which I deeply believe in which gives me the confidence to invite people to buy them. It is after all a donation to something worthwhile and if someone appreciates what they get in return, so much the better.

PS ... This is in no way intended as a sales pitch, just my usual rambling reflections on how I'm feeling about my latest venture.

Monday, 23 November 2015

A time for saying no

We have now been at Carrs Lane for well over two years and I think it is safe to say we have learned a lot along the way. There have been predictable challenges and unexpected ones; there have been lessons we have learned relatively easily and those which have been much harder to get to grips with.

One of the things we have continuously struggled with as we have tried to establish our rhythm of life here has been the right amount of busy-ness. To know when it is right to say yes, and when it is necessary to say no. It is a balance we know we haven't always got right: There is so much to do. So much of it is good. 

Expectations we place on ourselves, balanced against the expectations we sense from others. The things we know we could easily give up but which we really value balanced against the things we don't particularly enjoy but over which we feel we have little choice. The pressures of the little things we forget to take into account when planning out what we can fit in. The endless juggling of the many different building blocks which make for a fulfilled life.

All lived in the knowledge that we all have a breaking point and while it may be fine to tip towards it, going through it is not recommended. Like all the other lessons we have learned and are continuing to learn though, this one too needs to be taken seriously, and, two years in, it is one towards which I feel we are making some progress. We are beginning to make more space. Together, and individually, we are learning to value rest as part of our contribution to community too.

This is the context in which, at half-term, instead of ploughing on regardless or catching up on all the jobs that inevitably build up, we decided to just say no. To leave the undone undone and to just go away, right away. Away from endless emails and the distractions of the detritus of life. Away to cups of tea, walks in the countryside and an open-fire. Three weeks back into another busy term, the value of those days, the value of stopping, still holds firm.

Maybe it is an inevitable reality of this life we have chosen that we will always be close to the limits of how much we can handle. Even though it is exhausting at times, I love it this way. Life is rich and full and varied, and much of it I would never want to change.

We are still walking the tightrope but perhaps this year, we are closer to falling off on the right side.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

I'm sorry I do not know your name

Names are important. They are the words by which we make sense of the world. They are tied up in history, and religion, and culture. They are how we create and receive our identity, or identities. They enable relationship. They are given as a gift from those who love us most.

Anonymity can be important too. A place to hide from who we really are or from who others think we may be. A freedom to express something the identifiable self cannot or will not say. An escape from a reality too painful or too constrained to contain who we have become.

One of theblogposts I wrote during the summer included references to the “Sudanese male” who died in the channel tunnel. There have been others before and since, both here and at every other stage on this arduous journey. There are exceptions, but most, like him, have remained unknown and unnamed.

I was struck at the time by this absence of a distinguishable, personal identity. It was so different from my relationship with the asylum seekers I know: real people, with not just names, but families and histories, with fears and hopes and dreams.

And yet I knew I could not challenge his anonymity by revealing theirs. When I have written about them, I have also concealed their identities behind a protective veil of anonymity. But there is a difference, I think (hope) because they have taken ownership of their anonymity. But his is an anonymity that has been imposed rather than chosen.  It is not the anonymity of protection, but the anonymity of being ignored.

Maybe he would have wanted it this way. I doubt anyone tried to find out. We will never know.

There is a place
A safer space
In the protection of a promise
Anonymity can choose its name
And each can opt
To not be known
To hide
From all they are and cannot be

But what of you
Was this your choice?
To remain forever
Unnamed, unknown

Or were you victim of a system
In which
No-one tried to learn your name

And would you choose that once
Just once,
A friendly voice might whisper

Your name

Was it far from here, and long ago
That someone
The promise of an identity
Inscribed in love
With all you are and hope to be

This the gift
Of those you knew
Left far behind
To wonder
Where are you now

Who’ll never know your final fate
A better way
That they might live with this
The hope you dared to share
That you might find
A better place
A safer space

 The protective veil
Through which one day
You might just dare
To whisper once again

Your name

The promise of an identity
Inscribed in love
With all you are and hope to be

In the midst of this,
Our nation’s shame
I’m sorry
That I do not know
And cannot speak
Not even once

Your name.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

"It was difficult for me"

This particular poem has been a work in progress for quite some time. Well that's not strictly accurate; for most of that time it was simply the germ of an idea. It was inspired by the film making project I did with my St Chad's Sanctuary students - the same project that led to the "In their own words" posts before the summer. 

When telling her story, one of the students interspersed the account of her leaving her home, her journey, and her arrival in the UK with the phrase "it was difficult for me", and I was struck at the time by what a spectacular understatement that was when talking about leaving all she knew, crossing the channel in a lorry "like a freezer", and arriving in a place where she understood not one word of the language. 

Crossing the Mediterranean in an undoubtedly unseaworthy boat, and having to eat rice for her first days in the UK in the hostel, were treated to the same "It was difficult for me"; creating a strange equality between what seem to be incomparable experiences. I am struggling to explain, even to myself, why I found this equalising of the major and the minor oddly moving.

It was an understatement, no doubt, borne of not having the complexity of language it would need to even begin to express some of the horrors she had lived: and yet in it's understated simplicity it somehow, perhaps expressed more than a much richer vocabulary might be able to say (hasn't stopped me having a go though!) 

At 20, far from home
She has already etched 
So much of life
On pages torn and tattered

And here and now
She dares to tell
A story, her story
That echoes a million others
Yet speaks
Of a journey all her own

A tale which glows with warmth
At the tender memory of a homeland
And the riches of a culture
Scarred and scared
Yet deeply loved 
And deeply missed

In the midst of this
A narrative nightmare
Which does not flinch
Or turn away
From heavy truth
But speaks
With haunting honesty
Of the pain of loss and trembling fear
And bitter, biting cold

With these few words
The broken English stutter
Of a masterful understatement
“It was difficult for me”

But, pen poised, she knows
That this is not where the story ends
As with humble grace
She raises eyes of shining hope
To say 
I am happy to be here.
I am free.

Friday, 18 September 2015

I can, I will, I am (2)

Some time ago I wrote this poem:

A few weeks ago I used it as the starting point for a poetry workshop at St Chad's summer school. It was an opportunity to reflect on life and identity, as well as to learn some new English vocabulary along the way. With both a great desire to learn and a great willingness to share, a disparate group of people from around the world came together to create something beautiful.

Sometimes with very little English, but always with a great deal of honesty, the workshop proved to be about more than just writing: it became a place for the expression of pains and joys, of hopes and fears, of normal, everyday experiences and of horrors I can't begin to imagine. But after collecting ideas, sharing, developing and refining them, it culminated in the writing of a poem together.

I think the final result deserves an audience beyond that group who gathered one morning in July so I am sharing it here.

I can love in many, many different ways
I can dance when the music plays
I can help people who need me and show that I care
I can live my own life in a place of fresh air

I will learn always, every day, every time, forever until death
I will know about love, about life, about how the world works
I will share ideas for a better future together
I will go to new places and change my life

I am sometimes lost but I hope to be found
I am always surprised by the joy of life!

Sunday, 13 September 2015

God of the Open Door

A few years back in Taize, during a week in silence, we were invited to reflect on which facet of Jesus we most identified with. This was certainly not about denying other aspects of God's identity, but about discovering a way of relating to God which was helpful for each of us individually. 

There is nothing new about identifying with different images of God: the crucifix and the nativity scene; the brother, the lord; the one who rebels, the one who serves, the one who teaches. Focus on the specific does not detract from belief in the whole.

I realised very clearly that my image of God was the joyful Christ. The Jesus I was closest to was the one who dances at the wedding feast and makes more wine so the party can go on. It is an image that has remained helpful for me. Yes I believe in the Christ who suffers on the cross and calls us to share in that suffering in a world which makes God weep: but I also believe in a God who calls us to joy and wants us to be happy.

I found myself reflecting on a similar theme this year, and discovered another identity of God to be one I also now hold dear, "The God of the Open Door".   

Then again, perhaps these two images are not so far apart: it is the openness, the hospitality, the drawing in of the other, the building of community which enables the outburst of joy. It is together that we can discover true happiness.

Friday, 11 September 2015

No Faith in War

It's been a while, so I guess it must be high time for another blog post! Especially as I certainly have no shortage of things I would like to write about ... so many that actually fitting in the time to write about them is proving something of a struggle! After a very full summer and a slightly hectic return to the new year (because everyone knows "new year" is in September, right?!) I probably have enough material to bore you all in many posts in the weeks to come.

To begin though, I want to write something about Tuesday, when I, along with may others, gathered at the gates of the ExCeL centre in London where preparations are going ahead for one of the world's biggest arms fairs. Part of a sustained week of creative action to impede the setup of the event, Tuesday was entitled "No Faith in War" and was an invitation to people of faith to stand against the evils of the arms trade. Gathering from about 9am, we maintained a presence of both prayer and protest at the gates all day, with people coming and going throughout.

Peacefully, prayerfully, many of those present stepped out into the roads, preventing access to the entrances to the centre where preparations for next week's exhibition are underway. Multiple blockades throughout the day, including one point where entrances at both ends of the centre were closed. Informal prayers and songs sat in front of a growing tailback of lorries and a funeral procession for the unnumbered victims of the arms trade were among the powerful moments which took place in the approach roads to the ExCeL gates.

This was not a passive vigil of witness but a creative, active response to one of the great evils of our time; but the atmosphere throughout remained one of respectful peace as well as of passion deeply rooted in gospel values. I remained conscious through the day of the stark contrast between this and the preparations behind closed doors for an event which will contribute to the continuing escalation of instability and conflict; the human cost of which is increasingly evident.

DSEi takes place once every two years and brings thousands of arms manufacturers and dealers together with representatives of global governments and military, including those from some of the world's most repressive regimes. Even if actual money doesn't change hands, we are facilitating relationships between some very dodgy characters. As the refugee crisis in Europe draws our attention to increasing global conflict and human misery, there is an almost sickening irony in knowing many of these conflicts are fuelled by a trade which is being encouraged here in our capital.

For me, the theme of the beatitudes reverberated through the day. We heard them several times with different groups independently choosing its inclusion in their liturgies.
The power of Jesus' words, spoken as they were to an audience living under a military occupation, resonated through acts of repentance and resistance, in the face of a system which continues to perpetuate violence and oppression.

The sense of joy and community which pervaded the day, even in the seemingly impenetrable face of death and destruction allowed me, us, to experience the truth of His blessing, that the peacemakers and those who hunger and thirst for justice will know happiness.

I came away uplifted and inspired. This for me, is where and how the church should be. Thank you, to all who were church with and for me that day.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

The duty, and joy, of welcome

"Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution"
Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948, Article 14

It is conflicting emotions and experiences this week that have compelled me to sit down and try to draw together into a blog post the numerous strands of thought which are currently floating around my brain. It risks being both much too long and somewhat confused, but hopefully a few vaguely coherent thoughts will be discernible somewhere within it.

I have the pleasure of spending most of this week in St Chad’s Sanctuary, a place regular readers of this blog will know is very dear to my heart. It is summer school this week, when our students are invited to spend the week participating in a variety of activities and it is certainly no sacrifice to dedicate a week of my school holidays to spending time with them.

There have been any number of highlights, among which:

·      The week began on a high as I invited 12 students from 7 different countries with varying levels of English to explore life and identity in a poetry writing workshop (there may be another post to follow with some of the results of that one). As well as serving as a testament to their engagement and enthusiasm for learning, some profound ideas were shared, even with very few words.

·      Playing football with a group of young men certainly both fitter and more talented than me, but who were determined to include me and who, along with their energy and enthusiasm, exhibited a sportsmanship and concern for one another from which the premiership players have much to learn.

·      Tuesday was our annual “school trip” which this year took us to a National Trust property outside Birmingham. There were exclamations of pleasure over fresh air and views of the countryside. There were discussions in the vegetable gardens about memories of farms back home. There was sharing and conversation and games and music and laughter.

·      Taking a group to the library where, with lots of support, two ladies with virtually no English were able to become members of the library and were clearly delighted to take away dual language picture books to improve their English.

·      There is more still to come and I am really looking forward to this afternoon's end of year barbecue and celebration event and to seeing my students collect their certificates, well-deserved after a year of hard work.

Meanwhile every day the media swirls with stories of the desperation of those still trying to seek sanctuary on our shores. Except often, it is not that desperation which dominates the headlines: it is the inconvenience of traffic jams, the determination to build a better barrier, the complaints that the French aren’t doing enough, the myths and contortions that are allowed to shape our understanding of a complicated situation. Myths that mean it is acceptable to "blame the migrants" for social strains which clearly would be more appropriately blamed on the ever-increasing concentration of our nation's wealth in the hands of the privileged few.

I know we have, as a nation, a long history of blaming the French, always an easy target as the butt of our jokes, but while their failure to stop migrants reaching the UK is oft cited, it is rarely mentioned that the French received more than twice as many asylum claims as us last year and rank above us (but below Germany, Sweden and Italy) among European countries welcoming the highest numbers of refugees. All of these pale into insignificance compared to the countries which welcome the most displaced people, all of which are in the Middle-East, Asia and Africa (with Turkey taking the top spot in 2014). It is by no means true that “they all want to come here.”

Actually, Britain hosts less that 1% of the world’s refugees. At a time when increased conflict and the ravages of climate change are creating the greatest refugee crisis since the second world war, that is a shocking, and to my mind shameful statistic.

Among yesterday's headlines was the news that one young man died, the ninth so far this year to die on that stage of the journey: to be added to the hundreds who have died in the Mediterranean, and the deaths in the Sahara of which no-one even keeps count. The news coverage spoke dispassionately of the death of a “migrant” or “Sudanese male”. ... but he was, first and foremost, surely, a human being. A son and probable a brother, perhaps a husband and maybe a father. Unnamed, unknown, forgotten. I wonder how different the headlines would have been if he had been a young white British man instead. 

David Cameron’s response was to express concern ... which might have been encouraging: except his concern was neither for this young man who lost his life, nor his family or friends who may never know of his fate, nor even the others so desperate they continue to take this same risk. No his concern was for British holiday makers facing delays to their journeys ... where, oh where did we go so far wrong?

And then this morning I was further enraged by another news headline, in which Cameron declares: “Britain is no safe haven” And somehow that is supposed to be a good thing? Taking a hard line as we turn away those fleeing desperate situations we neither want to nor are able to imagine is something of which we should be proud?

I have met some of these people.

Many of the students I teach at St Chad’s entered Britain this way. They risked their lives crossing conflict zones, the Sahara, the Mediterranean. They left behind families, friends and familiarity. They came because they had no other choice. They came because they had experienced poverty and hunger, violence and torture, corruption, destruction and fear. They came because they hoped to find a place of safety. They came, too, to give their gifts and talents and time and love to a place they believed would make them welcome. They came to participate and contribute as much as to receive and to be appreciative of things which, by an accident of birth, we completely take for granted.  They came with hopes and dreams and aspirations. They came as human beings. 

My life is infinitely richer for knowing them.

That young man who died, had he not done, might have been one of those who I encouraged, in faltering English, to express something of his deepest desires in a poem. He might have been one of those who asked others to slow down so that “Teacher” could have a kick of the ball. One of those who, looking at a vegetable garden, shared stories about farming back home. One of those whose face would have been wreathed in smiles receiving a very simple certificate recognising an effort made.

For many of those who make it, Britain does, eventually, recognise its responsibility under international law. 87% of Eritreans who claim asylum here have their claim accepted. That is little consolation for those who died on the way. There is nothing “bogus” or “illegal” about these people. They have a genuine and legitimate fear which drives them away from a desperate situation and brings them through unimaginable trials to our shores. It is our responsibility and should be our joy to offer them new opportunities in a place of safety.

Amidst all the talk of bigger fences and better policing, there is a different solution to the delays for the holiday makers that David Cameron is so concerned about. There are alternative ways to respond to this crisis that are rarely suggested in the media or political discourse. 

We could, if we chose to, live up to our claim to be a “civilised nation”, live up to our desire to preach freedom and democracy to the world. As a nation we are richer than we have ever been. We do not have to spend our money on fences and security. If we provided safe routes for those fleeing war, famine, persecution, corruption, violence, poverty, and climate change, then perhaps they would not need to risk life and limb (and traffic delays) seeking the safety, we, and others promised we would afford them in the Refugee Convention of 1951. 

Saturday, 25 July 2015

A wind of love

A spirit’s breath
A wind of love
That chases leaves
Under shifting canopies
Of dappled light
Through wise old trees

A wind which
And oft times

The gentle breeze
And forceful gusts
Of shifting dust

The debris
Of lives lived
Made tangible in

A love that falls
Like summer rain
And pierced with pain
Lives on
In gentle joy

And elusive wisps
Of dark and light
On a spirit’s breath
Of a wind of love

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

We drink from many wells

In September, The Church at Carrs Lane will host the URC's national "multicultural day" as part of which churches are invited to contribute an artwork to an exhibition, relating to the theme "we drink from many wells". In a rash moment I offered to lead the congregation in producing a communal work of art which we did during the service one Sunday morning. I was (and hope others were too) quite pleased with the result; but recognise that it requires some kind of explanation to make sense to anyone who wasn't involved in the process.

I know this kind of activity will have suited some of those involved, while for others it probably sent their hearts into their boots; but I hope that something of the symbolism of the process as much as the finished piece, proved a meaningful way to explore both the challenges and the beauty of creating community. 

Initially, everyone was invited to create their own image of a well on a square of paper. Each one was unique and beautiful. Stage two then required each person to cut up the image they had just created, symbolic of the ways in which, in order to come together with others, we sometimes need to break or destroy something which to us already seems very beautiful; to give up parts of ourselves that we have constructed with time, effort and care.

Keeping hold of one of our own pieces, we each reconstructed an image made up of parts of each others’ original creations. We saw only part of each image, just as we can only ever glimpse parts of the lives of those we encounter.  Making the selection allowed us to look at pieces similar to our own, as well as very different, at pieces we instantly understood as well as pieces we didn’t really get, at pieces the beauty or talent of which was instantly recognisable, as well as those in which we perhaps had to look harder to see the value.

Finally these newly reconsituted images were put together: the final creation is the sum of all our individual parts, but put together in new and different ways that probably none of us (not even me who was orchestrating the whole thing) could have imagined before we began.  

The following poem came later in response to this shared creative process and something of what it tries to say about the process of creating community ... Being here, living this life we are aspiring towards, I have experienced both fractured walls and healing waters.

And here I am
In this, the waiting place
Unfathomable depths
And the echoing of silence
A space, my space, of carefully constructing
A beauty all my own

By this the well
The dwelling place
Of fractured walls and healing waters

Watching, waiting, holding
Until a single drop
That shatters in an instant
That silent stillness

And yet
Is it not here
Through these
The cracked and broken shards
A spark may shine
To release the reflected rainbows
Of the beauty of our broken whole

In this the well
The dwelling place
Of fractured walls and healing waters

And when we dare
To turn our glance from depths to heights
This place of isolation
Transformed, transfigured
By an encounter with the other

And here
To find our place
A hidden beauty

An outstretched hand
That does not seek to understand
But offers trust

A space, our space of meeting with the other
That we might glimpse our God

At this the well
The dwelling place
Of fractured walls and healing waters

Friday, 3 July 2015

In their own words (part 3)

The third, and final (for now) installment of my students' stories.

I hope others find them as inspiring as I do. I hope they stand as a testament that "deterrent" is not the answer to the ever-increasing flow of asylum seekers arriving on Europe's shores. There are already plenty of things which in normal circumstances would act as a fairly convincing deterrent. If separation from family which may well be permanent, a very real fear of dying en route and the arrival in a confusing, alien environment are no deterrent; it is because in the midst of everything there is a hope of life they just can't find back home.

Most of my students love and mourn for their home countries. They speak of corruption, opporession, poverty and war; but also of hidden riches of beauty, culture and community. They only leave because they feel they have no choice. Surely we too have no choice but to make them welcome.

I come from Sudan. I have 2 sisters and 3 brothers. I lived in Darfur. My family are farmers. After my village was destroyed by my government they live in camps. I have been in the UK about six months. I live now in Birmingham.
My country is Sudan. It has got independence in 1956. The leader now is Omar al-Bashir and the capital city is Khartoum. The population is about 31 million. Almost all the people are farmers and they grow different crops. They have more than 560 languages and cultures but the basic language is Arabic. The people are making between Arab people and African people. And the basic religion in Sudan is Islam and the others are little. The people are so lovely in my country but unfortunately now there is war in there and my government killing the people in Darfur, and the Nuba mountains and the East of Sudan and it destroyed all the villages. I am very sorry and sad for that but I am very happy to talking about my country.
I am talking about my journey to UK. I started from Khartoum to Libya by desert and by car. I was travelling for 12 days on the way, sometimes with no food and no water. The weather is very, very, very hot. When we arrived in Libya we found the people is very bad people. They were kicking us. We stayed there about 15 days and we came Italy in the Mediterranean by boat. It was very frightening. I thank of God a lot because he saved us to reach Italy. Unfortunately when we arrived in Paris we stayed on road and slept under the bridge. At last we reached the UK and we found everything is good. There is freedom and the people is very lovely and everything is good and I thank all people in England.

I was born in Congo. Congo is the capital of DRC. My first journey was very difficult from my home town to England. I left Congo about one year ago. Now I live with my whole family and I love it very much. I have five siblings. I am the second of my family. I am not married yet. I live in Birmingham and I am so happy about this.
I come from Congo. At the moment the president of Congo is called Joseph Kabila. He is in power since 2001. The 30th June we celebrate the entry of AFDN its called our national hymn. We’ve got two seasons. A rainy season and a hot season. Its a big country and most people are Christian. My country is great  but the government is not good and many people suffer. There is always a disorder during the elections. I love my country very much because we’ve many cultures and traditions. We also have many different food and different animals.
When I got to England I was confused because i saw many different things, like the buildings, different races, different food, etc. I was so sad because I didn’t speak any English because of this I didn’t feel safe. I didn’t know anything about England and the weather is very much colder in winter. I didn’t have any friends and the home office complicated my case. But now I am so happy because I speak a little English, I’ve some friends. I feel safe. I’m so proud of England because there is free college and school. People have freedom and have some support.

Friday, 26 June 2015

In their own words (part 2)

More of my students' stories:

I come from Sudan. I was born in Sudan in 1983. I lived in Sudan 24 years, and 3 years in Kuwait for work. I come from UK in December 2014. Now I live in Birmingham with my husband. My family live in Sudan I love my family, I have 3 brothers and 3 sisters. My parents is alive. My father is big manager in company.
Sudan is in North Africa. Sudan is beautiful. The biggest city of Sudan is Khartoum. Sudan is very hot in summer.  In Sudan we have some animals like elephants and lion in the national parks. I love my country but the government is not good because it is no justice and does not give me freedom. All the people migrate to another country.
I’m come to the UK I travelled by aeroplane. The plane took off flying 8 hours to UK. The plane arrived to Heathrow airport. My journey was very enjoyable. I am happy in the UK.

I was born in Eritrea and I grow up there. I lived in Eritrea about 24 or 25 years. And I came to England in 2013. I live in England for about 2 years and I like it in Birmingham.
Eritrea is a small country in the north east of Africa.  It is a beautiful country. It has a big sea coast The population of Eritrea is 3 million and it has nine languages. Each language it has its own culture and own tradition. Eritrea has a nice weather and the people are very friendly. I love my country it is like heaven for me.
My beginning in the UK is really good because there is a change in my life. When I came to the UK I found other cultures and languages so I tried to know about them and it was a little bit difficult but I have to know it because I have to make friends and to know people in order to work. Thank you.

I am 20 years old. I was born in Eritrea. A long time I lived in Ethiopia, Addis Ababa. I lived with my father. My mother she’s not alive. I don’t have sister and brother. I’m married. I don’t have children. Before I live in many countries. This year February I came in the UK. I live in Birmingham. I’m happy to be here.
Eritrea has good food. It is a beautiful country. Lovely and quiet people. We have many languages.
Before when I arrived in the UK I am coming from France. I am coming from France by lorry. Its difficult for me. Lorry like the freezer. When I arrived in the UK the first weeks difficult for me. I am happy but difficult for me. In the hostel they make rice all the time but I don’t like rice! Its difficult for me. After the hostel I am happy because I make myself. And the most important for me, I have freedom.  I'm going school. I learn English language. I’m happy.

I come from Iran. I come in UK 8th June 2014. I live in Birmingham, in shared house, with three friends from different countries. One is from Sri Lanka, another one is Sudan, another one from Syria. My family all is in Iran, I mean my country. I have 2 sisters and three brothers. I didn’t marry,  maybe nobody loves me! Anyway, thank you, you try to help me and I am happy.
My country is Iran. Big country has 75 million people. The capital name is Tehran and big city maybe have 11 million people. It is a rich country because have oil. I love my country. We have good people, kind people. We have many factories. They are very clever, I mean Iranian people. But we have big problem. My government is not good because they don’t care about the people. They are corrupt. They take money they send another country, they send for terrorism, like this. This big problem, my governemt, because they like the Muslims, just Shias, not the Christians, not another religion. My people I mean more they don’t like my government.

I come from Angola. I live in Birmingham. I have three sisters, two live in Angola and one lives here. I live with my mother and my little sister. I study in St Chad’s Sanctuary. I came to the UK in November 2013. I am very happy in this country
My country is Angola. Angolan culture is very good. I miss everything in Angola, dance music and beaches. Angola is a very beautiful country. We have many mining resources diamonds petrol and coal. The Angolan people is humble and happy people. The food is very, very good.
My first in UK I went to France by plane. After two months I tried to get to the boat but it was not better. I was arrested for 7 hours to locate my mother because I came without her knowing. It was even desperate but now everything is fine.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

In their own words

Today is World Refugee Day and, in the UK, the end of Refugee Week. These dates are partly about drawing attention to an issue that, with the world in its current state is not going to go away, and to do so positive and try to challenge some of the pervasive media myths.

Above all though, they are an opportunity to celebrate: to celebrate the contributions refugees and the forcibly displaced make to their host communities; to celebrate the people they are, the gifts they bring, the joy and hope they somehow mange to cling on to.

Those of you who have been following this blog will know that over the last two years, St Chad's Sanctuary has been a place I have grown to love and value; above all because of the amazing students I teach. Students who are so much more than just statistics. Students whose stories deserve to be heard.

I feel hugely privileged that they have been willing to share parts of their stories with me. It feels almost like a duty to make sure others hear them too. Here then (anonymised), are some of their words:

I come from Eritrea. I was born in Eritrea in 1993 and I grow up in Eritrea. My family are still in Eritrea, I have 2 sisters and 5 brothers. In March 2015 I am coming to the UK. At this time I live in Birmingham.
I can speak about Eritrea. Eritrea is found in the East of Africa. Its not very big, It is a small country and also it is a beautiful country, to me. Still now and for ever, I love it because its my country. But in Eritrea the government is not good, it’s a dictatorship and that’s why I’m here.
I started my journey from my village and it took nine months. First I was going to Ethiopia after that I went to Sudan. In Sudan I lived for five months in Khartoum. After that in December 2014 I went to Libya.  In Libya I was kept for 50 days. After that I came by the Mediterranean to Europe.
When I came to the UK my English was little and I couldn't understand what the people say But at this time I can speak a little. That means that when I start to come to the Sanctuary I start to communicate with people. 

I am 20 years old. I have been four months in the UK. I’m married. I don’t have any children. And I have 4 sisters and 3 brothers. I really love this country.
I was born in Sudan in Darfur but I lived all my life in Khartoum. We have different cultures in Sudan and many languages. Also I speak 2 languages,  my mother language and Arabic. My mother language is called Ful. I want to talk about the government in my country. The government is very, very bad. If you are not working or you do not have money you cannot get any medicines if you get ill. In my country the land for agriculture is available.
I did not find any difficulty to come in UK. I come from my country by land but I am very, very sad because my husband could not find rest. He was working all the year to bring me here. He stays in Sudan. When I came to the UK I didn’t know anyone and also I did not understand anything when the people are talking. I come in winter. The weather was very cold. I am very sad because I miss my family and my friends.

More to follow...

Saturday, 13 June 2015

In the beginning was the word ...

And then there were the pictures.

The pictures below are not a recent piece of work. So much so that they predate me entering the world of the blog (although I think they may have been on facebook at the time, so if they look familiar, that could be why).

With one (or occasionally two) pictures for each chapter of John's Gospel, the project was the fruit of many hours of reflection, and also marked the beginning of my rediscovery of an enjoyment of art. While I now know (and would have done at the time if I had stopped to think about it) that they'd have wrinkled less if I'd used proper painting paper instead of cheap printer paper, overall I remain quite pleased with how they turned out and some of what they attempt to communicate.

I recently got them out again to display in the poster frames on the staircase at church, and decided it would be appropriate to share them here too. Enjoy.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

As love which flows ...

University feels a very long time ago (maybe because it is). But way back then I lived with a group of people who, even now, when I talk about them in the collective, I refer to as "my housemates" despite the fact that it is more than ten years since we lived together, and that one of them was, strictly speaking, never our housemate in the first place anyway. I am aware that I was very lucky to be thrown together with this group of people who I still count among my best friends.

Lives have moved on of course since university days, and our lives all look very different to they did when were 18 (thank goodness!) and different to each others too. I am really pleased then, that in spite of jobs, marriage, children, physical distance and the general busy-ness of life, we have maintained our friendship.

When, last summer, one of my "housemates" not only asked me if I would read at her wedding but also asked if I had any suggestions of suitable texts, I, somewhat rashly perhaps, offered to write something. Actually, there was nothing rash about it at all. I thought long and hard before making the suggesting the idea. I don't normally write 'to order' but simply when the mood takes me so I knew there was a fairly high chance that I wouldn't be able to come up with anything anyway. More significantly I was also very aware, in making the offer that I wanted her to feel absolutely free to say thanks, but no thanks; both immediately, and more importantly, as a response to whatever I wrote. I didn't want her to be left thinking, 'nah, that's not what we want to say, but I suppose now she's written it we ought to use it'. If I went ahead and made the offer, it was because I decided she knew me well enough to know that when I said I wouldn't be offended if she didn't use it, I really meant it.

Trying to draw together some of the themes they hoped to express at their wedding, and inspired partly by my own experience of, at that point, about ten years of married life (which is probably as close as I'm ever going to get to a romantic comment on this blog), this was the result:

As rain which pours
From endless skies

And in these drops
From heaven sent
Are born
The newness
A source
Welling up
And spilling over

And is this joy?
The bubbly exuberance
Of refreshment
Into rainbows
The confidence of youth

And in this
Tumultuous tumbling
A mass of rocky debris

The jagged edges
Which might yet be
The solid foundations
Of a life not yet lived

As criss-crossed streams
Through friendships formed
And moments shared
In tracks and grooves
Of other lives
Or carving out
A new way

All their own
And is this grace?
The giving way
To the twisting complications
These realities
We call life

Which bump and spill
Through obstacles
and invitations
The eddies of a pace
which speeds and slows
But is never

In streams which meet
And flows that mingle
Becoming one
As a stronger flow
Flows on
And carries
Greater burdens
Greater life

A river which at its joining
Offers no barriers
But opens space
Where others too

Might find a place
And is this faith?
The tumbling
Blindly off a cliff
With the energy
Of trusting
Life flows on
In an unknown
better place
Where the other
Also leaps

To follow
No straight line route
From a to b
The landscape of a lifetime
By this

And is this peace?
To know
The end may not be
The destination

When on this shore
Waves gently lap
Across rounded pebbles
Rubbed smooth
By the trusting of time

With the satisfied sigh
Of a life well-lived

As joy, and grace, and faith, and peace
Find love.