Pentecost: a universal language of hope

Nathalie Marytsch is the Co-ordinator of Columban Lay Missionaries in Britain. She writes about how the celebration of Pentecost can share a powerful message of unity and selflessness in the face of adversity.

The narrative of Pentecost in the Acts of the Apostles reminds us of the beginnings of the Church. The story unfolds with the disciples gathered together when, all of a sudden, a wind blows in, and tongues of fire appear, resting on each of the disciples’ heads. Miraculously, they began to speak in different languages, a clear sign of being filled with the Holy Spirit. Empowered and inspired, the disciples go about preaching the good news of Jesus Christ to all who would listen (Acts 2, 1-12).

This remarkable story offers many points for reflection on what God’s mission is, both then and today. Here, we learn about a profound sense of togetherness, with the disciples being in one place, while simultaneously, we see the uniqueness of each disciple and the distinct gifts they receive from God.

Inevitably, the fact that the disciples began to speak in different languages made me reflect on our world today, particularly, in the place where I have been ministering for the past two decades: Birmingham. A super-diverse city where according to the latest census of 2021, the population’s majority belong to ethnic minorities.

This diversity is found in many contexts, encompassing migrants with varied immigration statuses: spouses of British nationals, students, overseas workers, refugees, and even religious ministers!

Lay Missionaries at the CLM international meeting earlier this year
Lay Missionaries at the CLM international meeting earlier this year

In my work with refugees and local communities, I feel privileged and blessed  to encounter  this  diversity  on a daily  basis.  I have often found  that I receive far more than I give from those fleeing persecution and seeking sanctuary here. Despite the language barriers, many refugees selflessly go the extra mile to support one another, particularly those whom they see as being in greater need.

Last week, I was outside the Home Office reporting centre in Solihull, distributing information to asylum seekers which could be helpful in case they were detained. For the past few weeks, the government has started to detain asylum seekers with the aim of removing them to Rwanda. Specifically, those whose cases, according to the recent legislation, are deemed inadmissible and those whose cases have been refused. This legislation is scaring many asylum seekers, but despite all it has not destroyed acts of kindness from the local community.

That day, after standing outside the reporting centre for over an hour, a male asylum seeker with little English approached each of the volunteers to offer us a drink. We all politely declined but felt deeply appreciated, considering asylum seekers live on very little. Shortly after, the man returned with a pack of bottled water and handed it to me. All the volunteers present felt overwhelmed by such act of kindness and generosity, even amidst what seems a hostile place, a reporting centre that reminds them of exclusion and rejection.

The celebration of Pentecost in the current context, can share a powerful message of unity and selflessness in the face of adversity. At Pentecost, the disciples, filled with the Holy Spirit, spoke in different languages, symbolising the breaking down of barriers and the spreading of good news. Similarly, the asylum seeker’s generosity, despite his own hardships, exemplifies to me a spirit of gratitude for the solidarity he felt. Both stories remind us that in challenging times, the spirit of togetherness and acts of kindness can transcend barriers, offering hope and support to us all.

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