Columbans join Restore’s 25th anniversary celebrations

Local charity Restore is proudly celebrating its 25 year anniversary. Columban Inter-religious Dialogue Co-ordinator Mauricio Silva and his wife have served Restore in different capacities over the years. He was invited to speak at the event, held at St. Martin in the Bullring, Birmingham on Wednesday 3rd July 2024.

Restore is a project of Birmingham Churches Together, working with refugees and asylum seekers in and around Birmingham. It is a faith-based organisation responding to the call of Jesus, supporting those who have fled persecution in their own countries to find safety in the UK. Through befriending, group social activities and employability training, Restore aims to build relationships and equip people for integration and raise awareness of refugee issues whilst working for change by partnering and campaigning with others to improve systems and services that affect refugees and asylum seekers.

Following many years of community engagement, Columban Missionaries in Britain are actively involved in grassroots initiatives that bring together people from different faith traditions, cultures and religions. They particularly focus on supporting people seeking sanctuary in the city of Birmingham.

The Columbans and Restore are united in their vision for the fair and compassionate treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, and are proud to support one another’s initiatives aimed at ‘welcoming the stranger’ and assisting in their integration into society.

The Columbans were pleased to join Restore for its celebration at St. Martin in the Bullring, Birmingham on the evening of Wednesday 3rd July 2024. Joined by Columban Companions James Trewby, Anna Marshall and his wife, Nathalie Marytsch, Mauricio Silva, who was Chair of the Management Committee until last year, was asked to say a few words.

Restore celebration at St. Martins in the Bullring
Restore's celebration at St. Martins in the Bullring

“We are celebrating 25 years of service that Restore has offered to our city, communities, churches, and many refugee friends. There have been many many moments of laughter, friendship, and companionship that thousands of individuals have enjoyed because of the work of this project for so many years.

But, as in life itself, every celebration encompasses a share of sadness and lamentation. My lamentation is connected to a question my wife and I discussed recently. Why is the work of Restore still, if not more, needed than 25 years ago? Why does our society continue to be so hostile to refugees and migrants today?

Thanks to Restore, I have personally, along with my wife, befriended refugee individuals and families; volunteered for summer and Christmas programmes and men’s activities; helped run a voucher exchange scheme; supported the coordinators’ work by doing first visits; and served as a member, and lately the Chair, of the Management Committee for six years until the end of last year.

My initial motivation to get involved in the work of Restore came from my missionary vocation as part of the Columban Missionaries. Journeying alongside those on the margins of society is the core of our Columban service. While that was my initial motivation, what kept me going was, I must admit, the positive impact and opportunities that Restore offered me as a person of faith.

Below I share one example…

A while ago, and for more than three years, I befriended an asylum seeker who was rapidly losing his sight. Our weekly encounters included a 30-minute walk from his place to Harborne’s Post Office to collect his allowance as well as a shopping trip to buy what he needed for the week.

Almost every week, he would be waiting for me in his best clothes. While walking, he would ask me if I could find a nice spot along the way for him to have a picture taken. I would then take a few photos of him. As we walked along, he would ask me to describe each of those pictures and give him my opinion on whether or not he looked handsome in them. He would ask me to select one and discard the rest. He also asked me to store these weekly pictures on a pen drive. That photo session became a weekly routine.

One day, he explained to me that he hoped to show those photos to his children when they come to the UK. Besides, he said he wanted to show them to potential girlfriends he might meet online!

He was struggling massively with the hostility of the asylum system on top of the challenges of learning to live as a blind person in a foreign land. At times, being the recipient of his frustration was a heavy burden to bear. But when I remember those times, what has stayed with me is that in many of those frustrating moments, we both found a way to diffuse our tensions by singing songs of praise together. As we walked down from Harborne to his house, our singing helped us both feel grateful for journeying together despite his trials.

Looking back, I can see that those weekly photo sessions spoke to me about the profound hope that moves humans to overcome challenges—challenges which, if not experienced, can never be understood. Our singing together taught me to trust that even when we walk through the dark valleys of pain and struggle, we must fear no evil, for surely God is journeying with us.

Thank you to Restore and everyone who supports it. Its work blesses and touches so many lives.”