Welcoming the Stranger: Opening our doors to those fleeing their homelands
Read Canon Neal's blog about the Sepas community and how we can help those arriving in the UK from Afghanistan
It was my first Sunday at Liverpool Cathedral, way back in July 2019 – in those halcyon pre-Covid days. I headed down to the Lady Chapel just before 1.00pm. I could hear the sound of joyful music, and the bubbling chatter of many voices. The language I did not recognise, but it turned out to be Farsi. The occasion was our Sunday ‘Sepas’ service and the welcome over hot drinks and biscuits was amazing! Our friends from Iran and Afghanistan really understand how to do hospitality. And after the hour of lively worship, there were more refreshments, and lots more chatter. I have to say that ‘Sepas’ is one of the facets of Cathedral life that has impacted me most in my time here.
What have also been incredibly moving are the quieter conversations with members of Sepas since then, learning of their stories. All of them have had to flee their beloved homeland of Iran or Afghanistan, many using really challenging routes to get here, running the gauntlet of organised criminals who prey on such vulnerable people. They had all left behind family and friends, and often good jobs. Some Sepas folk have refugee status, after a long and protracted process with the Home Office, but many have been in the system for years; part of the backlog of some 70000 people who are in a similar position of limbo. I can mourn the fact that it has been a year since my wife and I had our two daughters under the same roof, even if only for a day or two, due to Covid. But almost every member of Sepas has not seen their loved ones for years. Perhaps it is this common sense of loss and bereavement that brings them even closer together?
As the crisis in Afghanistan has unfolded over the last few weeks, I have noted in the prayers at Sepas a real depth of emotion. The rapidly-developing situation in that land is deeply impacting our Persian friends. It is not difficult to see why; take a look back in history and one can see that Iran and Afghanistan were once one nation, and had been for millennia. They still share a common language – albeit with a different dialect – and many common points of culture and tradition. Our Sepas folk will know only too well what kinds of fear and frustrations many people in Afghanistan are facing now. And they want to reach out and help, as do we in the wider life of the Cathedral.
As Liverpool is one of the places where significant numbers of Afghan people will arrive, we want to do our bit to ‘welcome the stranger’. An early point of contact is often at the foodbanks, some of which are run by Micah Liverpool, and in which Liverpool Cathedral is a partner. Please take a look at Micah’s ‘Plan for Afghanistan’.
Liverpool Cathedral has registered with the Welcome Churches Network, as an indication of our determination of the Cathedral to be a ‘safe and generous place in joy and sorrow’. The Network also has a specific appeal for Afghanistan which can be accessed via their website here.
It goes without saying that the members of our ‘Sepas’ community will look forward to welcoming those coming here from Afghanistan who may wish to seek us out. More details about Sepas and our activities can be found here.
We should surely welcome the strangers, wherever they come from, as if we were welcoming Jesus. If the boot was on the other foot, and we had to flee the UK for sanctuary in a distant land, it would mean so much to us to receive a wholehearted welcome, and genuine concern for our welfare. As Christians, we owe it to those of faith and no faith who come to our shores to ‘love our neighbour’ as we embrace them as fellow human beings. In doing so, may they encounter the God who knows and loves them.
Finally, please use the prayer below for Afghanistan, which is in Farsi and English. It has been written by Canon Saro Esmaeili. Saro is the Local Missional Leader for Sepas, and is also a member of the Chapter of Liverpool Cathedral.
With good wishes
خداوند قادر مطلق، ما برای برادران و خواهرانمان در افغانستان دعا میکنیم. برای آنان که در رنج و اضطراب و نگرانی بسر میبرند. در این برهه حساس که عدم امنیت و ترس از دست دادن جان و عزیزان بسیاری را تهدید میکند دعا میکنیم که دستهای توانمند تو بر آنان قرار بگیرد و آنها را از دل دریاهای طوفانی به ساحل امنیت برساند. باشد که آرامش تو قلبهای مضطرب را سرشار نماید و صلح و صفای تو آنان را در بر گیرد. باشد که روحالقدس تو در افغانستان کار کند و قلبهای قدرتمندان و حاکمان را بگشاید تا نه با غضب و حس انتقام بلکه با رحمت و بخشش با دشمنانشان برخورد کنند. باشد تا همه کودکان و زنان و همه بیماران و همه ستمدیدگان و همه آنانی که در معرض آسیباند، به یاری تو، به سلامت از این مرحله دردناک تاریخ عبور کنند . در نام مقدس پسر یگانهات، نجات دهنده ما عیسی مسیح، دعای ما را بشنو. آمین.
Almighty God, we pray for our brothers and sisters in Afghanistan. For those who are living in agony, stress, and anxiety. In this very turbulent time that many are in fear for their lives and their beloved ones, we pray that your mighty hands lay upon them and guide them to the safe shores from the stormy seas. May your comfort fill the anxious hearts, and your peace covers them. May your Holy Spirit work in Afghanistan and open the hearts of rulers to encounter their enemies, not by wrath and retaliation but forgiveness. May all the children, women, ill, oppressed, and vulnerable people survive this painful time with your help. In the name of your only son, our saviour Jesus Christ, hear our prayers. Amen.