Spring officially begins today, 20th March. To celebrate, Co-ordinator of Columban Lay Missionaries Gertrudes C Samson reflects on a decade of service volunteering at St. Chad’s Sanctuary, a local place of welcome for asylum seekers and refugees in Birmingham that the Columban Lay Missionaries have supported for many years.

St. Chad’s Sanctuary is one of the ministries I supported as a Lay Missionary when I first arrived in Birmingham in 2010. I volunteered at St. Chad’s for a total of 10 years before I stopped in February 2020 to begin my new leadership ministry, first as ‘temporary contact person’ then eventually as ‘Columban Lay Mission Co-ordinator’ which formally started in August 2020.

It only seems like yesterday when St. Chad’s Sanctuary first opened its doors in 2010. We were just few volunteers in the beginning, offering a place of welcome for destitute asylum seekers, refugees, and immigrants. We provided a friendly smile, a cup of tea and a warm waiting place. The project has since evolved and besides this, now offers practical provisions like food, toiletries and clothing to the recently arrived and destitute. In addition to this they also offer welfare advice, an expanding range of English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes and drop-in English sessions.

In the beginning we only occupied the ground floor of the Sanctuary located in Shadwell Street, and a small portion of the upper floor which was used to store donated clothing. Before long we found we occupied the whole building! The Sanctuary had grown so much and its services were needed by so many! It is amazing to witness the miraculous ways in which God works and how such a simple project in the beginning could evolve gradually into something as big as it is now, reaching out to so many people awaiting refugee status in Birmingham and the surrounding areas.

I visited St. Chad’s Sanctuary earlier this year to donate a box of handmade face coverings made by the lay missionaries and to introduce our two new lay missionaries to the current Manager, Abi Martin. It was really unexpected that I would feature a few days later as their weekly talented supporter! It was indeed a pleasant surprise and an honour! Since I am a representative of the Columban Missionaries in Britain I share the honour with the whole Columban family. Everything we do is a fruitful product of our wonderful teamwork and support to one another. I also offered up this news to God for He is my constant source of inspiration as a missionary. To Him be the glory!

I am so proud to be associated with St. Chad’s Sanctuary and grateful to have been a part of its history and development! I am really thankful to God that I had the opportunity to serve Him there and for the countless wonderful memories I have from that time whist putting my faith into action. I learnt and experienced many things during my time volunteering at the Sanctuary and have made some very special friends over the years. Definitely, St. Chad’s will always have a soft spot in my heart! Jesus said in Matthew 25:35 “I was a stranger and you made me welcome”. It is Him whom I served when I volunteered at St. Chads when I tended to the needy and vulnerable.

It gives me great joy to see how the Sanctuary makes such a difference to the lives of asylum seekers and their families who come to Britain seeking refuge.  Just last month I came across a newly opened store not far from my home. I went in to enquire and was thrilled to see a man whom I recognised from my time volunteering at the Sanctuary.

As an asylum seeker he regularly attended the centre, in fact I recall he would often volunteer his own time to help out in the basement, sorting through the donated food and clothing. He enjoyed attending the classes at the Sanctuary too. He informed me that he was in fact the owner of the new store, which sells international foods and products. I felt so proud of him and his achievements, and excited for him and his new venture!  He is an inspiration to those who are awaiting the result of their asylum applications.

At this time of year we often think of new beginnings. I love this season for it gives me joy to see nature beginning to flourish. Springtime is a chance for new starts and offers new hope as we witness life resurrecting before our eyes. Plants begin to sprout from the ground and buds begin to form at the trees that during winter lost their leaves.  It seems a fitting time of the year for my friend to open his shop and to begin his new life venture.  As a missionary, one of the greatest joys is being part of ministries such as St. Chad’s and reaching out to people in need. It is a delight to be able to support them to start anew with a life transformed.

As another asylum seeker in the Sanctuary once said, “It was not just clothes and food you gave me: when I had nothing you gave me back my hope”.

St. Chad’s Sanctuary is a voluntary project supported by many organisations including St. Chad’s Cathedral, The Salvation Army, Infant Jesus Sisters, the Missionary Society of St. Columban in Britain, etc. Together they offer a safe place of welcome and hospitality for asylum seekers, refugees and immigrants. Located in the heart of Birmingham City Centre, during this time of coronavirus pandemic, the Sanctuary is open three days a week Monday, Wednesday, and Friday 10.30-3.30pm.

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