On behalf of the management committee and BCT trustees, I also welcome you to this evening’s celebration. Once again, the Restore family has gathered to mark and celebrate a year of service to both, the refugee, and the hosting community. We do this on behalf of an ever-expanding group of churches and Christian communities congregated in faith and hope in Birmingham Churches Together. I hope you will enjoy reading our Annual Report about the fantastic contribution made by the members of Restore and BCT staff, as well as my fellow members of the management committee. Also, I want to acknowledge the invaluable contribution of supporters, befrienders and benefactors. If you want my summary of our annual report this is: in faithfulness to our vision, the Restore family has welcomed refugees, made them feel valued and offered them ways to integrate.
As a member of the Columban family, my wife Nathalie and I have supported the work of RESTORE for more than 20 years. I must acknowledge tonight the various Columban missionaries ordained and lay, who have supported this work from its beginnings in 1999 and in different ways Fr Jim Fleming and a long list of Columban lay missionaries and faith-in-action volunteers: Jane Trainor, Jay Jay Enterina, Bernardita Donoso, Teresa Chuah, Catherine Bridgwood, Orla Breslin, Juliette Bone and others. This is my sixth and final year of service to the management committee as their chairperson and every time for the past six years at this gathering I have expressed my firm belief that the work of Restore benefits both, the refugee and the hosting community.
The concept of befriending, which continues to be at the heart of Restore’s endeavours, makes us unique in our approach to refugee and migrant issues. Our work goes beyond just ‘helping’ refugees, assisting asylum seekers or providing for evident needs these brothers and sisters may have when they arrive in Birmingham, Solihull and Sandwell. By offering a service anchored in building relationships, we are transforming from within an uncaring, hostile system; we are reversing streams of social and economic hostility towards refugees, and we are countering narratives of fear, suspicion and separation which do so much damage to our society.
This is why I believe that the service offered by Restore to the City is also helping the hosting community. In this aspect-and, in Christian terms,- Restore’s work is a work of reconciliation and healing. A work which is sealed by the compassion which brings together two communities (refugees and hosts) who are both affected -even wounded I could say- in dissimilar ways but by the same virus of fear, separation, isolation and suspicion of each other.
Although the benefit to the host community may go unnoticed, the work of Restore helps us all, it helps our communities to become better, more cohesive and eventually more prosperous. We hear again and again that befrienders benefit so much by meeting refugees: these encounters somehow widen our volunteers’ horizons, help them understand better global issues and make them feel more at ease amid diversity. Tonight, we thank God for this mutual enrichment.
Finally, I want to acknowledge the challenges that people seeking sanctuary face at a global and local level. Year by year the hostile environment expands in the UK. This year we are witnessing the final stages of the Parliamentary discussion of the Illegal Migration Bill which o breaches international and domestic laws and human rights: this truth has been acknowledged by leaders of churches and other moral voices in society. This bill must be stopped.
Our leaders do not want to listen to so many sound voices who are trying to sustain a tradition of compassion and hospitality which is so key to the prosperity of this nation. People like the PM and the Home Secretary would benefit from attending the fantastic training course offered by Restore or attending one of our friendly social and family activities delivered by the staff and volunteers.
As a Christian, I believe in the goodwill of all people, and in the transformative power that each of all our big or small actions can have. A better world is built upon those actions. A few days ago, Restore (together with Asylum Matters and RMC) organised a march of compassion in Birmingham’s city centre to celebrate Refugee Week. A hundred people walked together to show resistance to hostility. Our voice of resistance to hostility must be heard today. Please continue to journey with Restore in this wonderful journey of transformation.
And again, thank you for being part of the Restore family. Thank you, refugee friends, for journeying with us in confidence and trust; thanks to our staff and supporters for embarking on this transformative journey with compassion and sensitivity. The work of RESTORE is good news amid so many bad news we hear every day. Let us enjoy this celebration!