Bristol Hospitality Network:
Call to the Church for Prayerful Action
To our dear brothers and sisters in Christ
God of the Refugee
Jesus was a refugee and the people of Israel were strangers in a foreign land as they were slaves in Eqypt. In Matthew 25 (the sheep and the goats) Jesus tells us: 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me' and 'I was a stranger and you invited me in'. Perhaps we should take him at his word?
The people of Israel knew that the Great I Am was the one who 'defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing'. And so they also were to be those who 'love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt' (Deuteronomy 10:18-19). Exodus, Exile, Ruth, Job, the Good Samaritan, the Bible is full of stories and imagery of displaced people and the call of God to his people to show the same compassion for refugees that he has. The Jewish people had a feast every year (the feast of booths) where they would imagine being refugees in Eqypt again and remember the faithfulness of God to the stranger.
I believe that God is calling His church to be His body in care for those seeking sanctuary in our nation. He calls us to this in word (speaking truth to power) and action (hosting and fundraising). I hope you will continue to join BHN in this way, constantly praying that God would reveal how you can be a friend to the stranger in our brothers and sisters seeking sanctuary here.
With Love in Christ,
Rachael Bee and all at BHN
What does BHN do?
BHN is a small registered charity that accommodates destitute asylum seekers for anything from 3 months to 5 years (an average of 18 months). We have hosted over 100 people since 2009. All of them would otherwise have been homeless and destitute. Most of them are men, some are women. We host people in our men's house (11 rooms) and our host network (local people offering a spare room to a destitute asylum seeker (including many Christian households in Bristol) which has 17 spaces). We need another 15 families to offer space to be able to adequately meet the current need and allow for rest breaks in between hosting. Will you consider hosting a destitute asylum seeker in your home? Could you partner with a friend to do this?
We have a welcome centre that meets in Easton Christian Family Centre (in the heart of the church space) on Mondays from 12-3pm, you are welcome to visit anytime. At this centre we provide advocacy to support people to press on with a fresh claim (this is the way for them to move on from destitution), hot lunch for 100 people, English classes in 2 levels, tea and coffee and snacks and sometimes fruit if we can afford it, art table, games and a barbershop. Over half of our members are volunteers in this welcome centre and give something back!
We have a solidarity fund which is £10 to the most vulnerable (who have no other money at all), we can't afford to give it to everyone so we have to try and work out who needs it most.
We cook meals with our moveable feast social enterprise to raise funds (we've held fundraising meals at various local churches, could your church host one?) and other fundraising ideas (sponsored walk on the Camino etc).
How does the asylum system work in the UK?
In the UK, if you manage to get here (which is hard) once you arrive you claim asylum because of 'a reasonable fear of persecution or ill treatment in your origin country'. People don't just claim from war zones, they also claim because of religious conversion or threats from Islamic extremists or political opinion or many other reasons. Many with good claims are refused. They are usually not sent back. Most don't have travel documents or their country won't have them back. They are made destitute by the UK government with no right to work, claim benefits of any kind, rent a house, drive a car, have anything other than emergency hospital treatment or GP advice. It is not a life. Living under constant threat of arbitrary detention for unlimited time, under threat of return to a place that would want them dead. Many of our members become very depressed and have suicidal thoughts throughout this asylum system. It is degrading, inhumane and immoral and it is so very far from the actions or words of Jesus. If we are the body of Christ, it cannot enjoy the support of His people.
This is our asylum system.
When you hear politicians talking about being tough on immigration, this is what they mean: Sending people with real asylum claims back to the places from which they've fled. About half of asylum claims are granted either after interview or after first appeal. Many more are granted after a fresh claim (all of those would have been called 'bogus' at some point by the government/media).
How can we help?
Pray for us. We are small and entirely dependent on our key volunteers and a small part-time staff team to continue. We need strength from the Lord to continue this work. Our members face such huge challenges to get their story heard, pray for fair believing hearts in the Home Office and for better initial decision making.
Pray for peace in our nation between people of difference and that we can be a body that truly demonstrates the way of Jesus to the world, welcoming the stranger and the outcast, seeking justice for the poor and oppressed.
Regular standing orders from committed partners will keep us being able to provide a roof over the heads of destitute asylum seekers. Can you give something regularly? You can do this at www.bhn.org.uk/donate
Fundraising of other kinds is also amazing (sponsored events, one off donations, baking cakes to sell etc)
Come to our welcome centre, meet asylum seekers and from that write to your MP raising issues of concern to our members. Use your voice to raise theirs.
How can hosting destitute asylum seekers help?
I met one of our former members the other day as I came home from our weekly Welcome Centre. I hadn't seen him for around 2 years. He told me he had graduated university in biomedical science! When he first came to BHN, he was homeless and destitute and just 19 years old. He took full advantage of living with an English family and improved his language and writing skills and went to every free English class he could. He came originally from Eritrea, a little known country but one that many asylum seekers come from. He ran away because he was a Pentecostal, punishable by death in Eritrea where only the Ethiopian orthodox church is accepted by the government. He was destitute for 3 years, got his papers, took an access course and then went to university. Being hosted in BHN changed his life. It gave him the stability, belief and sense of belonging that had been stolen from him by becoming a refugee and enabled him to believe in a brighter future.
Talk to those you know who are already hosting or more involved in BHN and find out more or pop in to our drop in so you can meet people for yourself. All are welcome (but give Rachael a ring to check at least the day before; number below).
Rachael (07734 347817)
, Asylum Seekers
, Bristol Hospitality Network
, Destitute Asylum Seekers