By Joan and Nigel, working with CMS in Bradford after several years in Pakistan
“On this occasion of the concourse of so many strangers, and needy and suffering people, let your hospitality and your good works abound.” – St Augustine
How is it that words from the fifth century should still apply today? How can it be that, despite our modern sensibilities and advanced technical knowledge, we still don’t know how to live together in peace? In his 2016 New Year message, Pope Francis spoke of the “monstrous evil which selfishness has spawned in our midst” and ended with a reminder of the power of God’s love and grace to transform us: “The grace of God can convert hearts, and offer mankind a way out of humanly insoluble situations.”
In Bradford, we are very aware that there are needy strangers and suffering people all around us, and our response of love is vital. This is especially necessary in the present climate since the Brexit vote was taken. During the campaign we were saddened by the poor level of debate, and then appalled at the result. The people at our church have been working hard to build relationships with the Slovak Roma people who live here alongside Pakistani people who form the majority community. One young Slovak, who works incredibly hard at a local children’s centre, admitted that many members of his community were feeling unsafe and scared of being sent back. We are happy that the Roma children who live near the church continue to come on Sunday mornings, and that they know our church is a welcoming and safe place to be.
When we were house hunting, one of our essentials was that our home be within walking distance of the church – after our time in Pakistan we appreciate the privilege of simply walking around the streets in safety and we have found that the walk to and from the church is one of the most effective ways of building relationships with the community. Especially in summer, we are usually able to get into conversation with somebody, encouraging them that the church is open and available to them.
Every month one of our friends from another church organises a prayer walk, usually in a part of the city with a large Muslim community. Again, although the emphasis is on prayer, we often get into conversations, and sometimes people allow us to pray for them there and then.
Many Asian women attend the English language classes we offer. We also host a knitting class, where some of the ladies regularly ask for prayer. A recent tragic incident in which an 11-year-old Pakistani boy committed suicide led to some meaningful discussion between us all, especially about how best we could pray for the boy’s family and for the wider Muslim community as they supported them. On the other hand, the trial and sentencing of Tanveer Ahmed earlier last year, who travelled from Bradford to Glasgow to kill Asad Shad, the Ahmadi shopkeeper, has been met with silence. There are still some subjects which can be discussed, and others which are too sensitive.
At a recent barn dance at church we had an unexpected visitor – a mother with her two young children. Seeing the lights on in the church and hearing the laughter and the music, her five-year-old son urged her to come in and see what was happening. She and her husband are Hindus from Afghanistan, where they suffered unspeakable attacks because of their religion. By a long route involving many hardships they have arrived, traumatised, in our parish, where they are now seeking asylum. Their third child is due to be born very soon, and through our friends in a local Christian health charity, we have been able to give them a basket full of baby supplies. During a recent Pray for Bradford meeting, Bishop Toby Howarth spoke of the many refugees arriving in Bradford, who tell how they have been helped again and again by Christians along the way. It is so important for us to give them a loving welcome when they finally reach what they hope is the end of their journey.
We feel privileged to be helping this young Afghan couple and pray that they will learn more about God’s love for them through our friendship. Pray for us and our congregation as we build relationships with people from different cultural and religious backgrounds. Pray for our country: that all of us who are followers of Jesus may be salt and light in our communities at this time of change and uncertainty.
A prayer: “Lord, thank you that in your love you crossed the greatest barrier – the barrier of my sin – and brought me back to yourself. Give me courage, by the power of your Spirit, to cross every barrier I know to bring your love to others.” (from 365 Days of Yes, published by CMS)