Norwich ministers urged to coordinate refugee action
Julian Bryant from Christian Aid spoke to church leaders from across Norwich yesterday dispelling myths about the refugee situation and encouraging churches to get behind agencies already working to welcome Syrian refugees to the city.
Leaders of churches from across Norwich gathered at Alive Church in Cowgate on Wednesday, February 1 to hear Julian Bryant speak about ‘Refugees from Syria to Norwich’.
Norfolk’s Regional Coordinator for Christian Aid was speaking as part of the monthly Minister’s Together Lunch organised by Transforming Norwich.
He used the opportunity to put the Syrian refugee situation into a global context as well as encouraging churches to pray for Christians working in Syria and to get behind local agencies that are already supporting refugees in Norwich.
Julian began by providing some background to the situation in Syria explaining how five million people including an estimated one million Christians have become refugees through the complicated conflict. He then drew attention to those Christians working on the ground.
He said: “At Christian Aid we have been working through our partners on the ground in Aleppo providing essentials for survival. Some of our partners have literally put their life on the line. They could have left but they chose to stay to share what they have and to serve others. Their light is shining in the darkness.
"I would encourage you to pray for these people who are seeking to make a difference, sharing what they have, facing violence. Some in other parts of the country facing Isis too," said Julian.
He dispelled myths about the numbers of refugees in the UK that have arisen from alarming tabloid headlines. He pointed out that 86% of Syrian refugees are leaving to go to poorer countries such as Lebanon and Iraq, saying: “Turkey hosts 2.7 million Syrian refugees. Compare this to the 20,000 Syrian refugees that the UK has accepted. The population of Lebanon is about 4.5million, yet they have accepted well over 1 million refugees. So when we see the headlines remember this.”
Norfolk has committed to accept 50 refugees from Syria and the first group are due to arrive in Norwich within the next month. They have been granted leave to remain for five years and will have the ability to work from the offset.
Julian said: “I tell you what is wonderful. And that is to see the response of much of the church to the plight of refugees.”
He commended Mothers’ Union Norwich who as well as collecting furniture, has raised money to buy new bedding and are preparing beds for the arriving refugees. Julian said: “That is a wonderful thing to do. Like washing people’s feet - making beds for people who have come through this situation - to make them feel welcome.”
He encouraged the ministers present to join ‘Sanctuary Norfolk’s’ Facebook page, citing it as a useful source of information about collections and Norfolk County Council appeals. He also encouraged giving through the Bishop of Norwich’s Refugee Crisis Appeal which has raised over £40,000 to help refugees resettle in the Diocese, and volunteering through established agencies such as Carrie Sant’s City Saints and Holy Trinity’s English+ project.
Other contacts Julian recommended ministers speak to were New Routes and The People From Abroad team at Norfolk County Council, in particular Simon Shreeve at The Forum.
He cautioned: “What I would say is, do not just do something off your own back, but actually make sure that what you are doing fits into the strategy of what is going on. Because so often churches have a good idea, and decide just to do it, and other people are doing it already. It would be far better to do it together.”
Julian finished by reading Matthew 25:35-36: 'I was hungry and you fed me. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me.' He said: “By welcoming refugees, I think we are welcoming Jesus in essence.”
Chair of Transforming Norwich Danny Doran-Smith (pictured with Julian) closed the meeting in prayer. Addressing the ministers, he said: “We want to be a city that welcomes all, don’t we? And we are the answer; this is why we are here. This isn’t just a conversation or a meeting; it is action. Father, we want to be action. We want to be your Gospel in action.”
Future monthly meetings of the Minister’s Together Lunch will include talks from Steve Uppal from All Nations Christian Centre in Wolverhampton, John Betts of Celebrate Norfolk, James Aladiran from Prayer Storm and Rev Ian Dyble from St Thomas Norwich.