When David Cameron announced the UK’s Syrian Resettlement Programme in late 2015, at Emmanuel Church Oxford we knew we had to step up and help. We knew we had to do everything we could possibly do to help with this new programme; we knew that it was our responsibility as a church to do so.
However, the story at Emmanuel started long before this point. By late 2015 we already had a growing community within the church actively involved with refugees and asylum seekers in Oxford and beyond. Many worked or volunteered with local charities, and in 2014 we launched a weekly football club for refugees and asylum seekers.
When the news came through that Oxford City Council had committed to housing relocated families, Matt Partridge, senior leader at Emmanuel Church, wrote to our local MP to offer our help. And as a result, we were invited in to the City Council working group, helping shape the programme. Since then we have been involved in ‘kitting out’ several homes in preparation for the families, in partnership with a local charity. This has involved shopping for everything you need in a home. Most of the relocated families are coming from refugee camps with very few possessions. So, from kettles and pans, to toothbrushes and shower gel, to TVs and laptops, to cushions and rugs, we’ve helped provide everything that so many of us take for granted.
The church has given very generously to support this initiative, both with time and money. With a growing heart for refugees and asylum seekers in Oxford, in April 2016 the church set up a midweek Connect Group dedicated to building a church community focused on connecting with refugees and asylum seekers.
Links with local charities and services are continuing to grow and this month they’ve helped us launch a Chat Café – an informal environment for refugees and asylum seekers to practice conversational English.
We’re really excited to see where all these links take us, and pray that as we grow relationships with the refugee and asylum seeker community in Oxford, we will somehow help with their integration into society and help prevent isolation. We also pray that God can use us to demonstrate His amazing love.