Over the past 18 months two small but exciting initiatives have come into being at St Michael’s, Fulwell. Their common theme is to love those who are perhaps most at the margins of our world: the unborn and the refugee.
You might be surprised to know that, over the last 10 years in the UK, there has been a 50% increase in the number of terminations of babies with Down’s Syndrome. It’s a desperately sad picture and one that particularly resonates with us here in Teddington: this is where John Langdon Down, who gives his name to the condition, first championed support for those with Down’s Syndrome; it is also now home to the Down’s Syndrome Association.
With a desire to do something, we have recently formed a charity called PASS. This stands for the Prenatal Anomaly Support Service and aims to support parents with a prenatal diagnosis of Down’s Syndrome. We have launched a website (www.prenatalanomalysupportservice.co.uk), phone line (020 3609 6794) and a range of information-based services in partnership with local pregnancy crisis centres.
Lois Bunyan, who oversees PASS, says, ‘When we look at the ever-increasing advancements in screening technology and national abortion statistics, as Christians it can feel overwhelming and sometimes depressing as we try to respond rightly to our culture’s ever-changing medical ethics. But we trust a God who is sovereign over all things, and seek to do his will here on earth, showing love and compassion to the unborn and families in crisis. We have been deeply encouraged by the support we have received over the past year as we have established and set up the work of PASS, and pray that God will use the charity mightily for his purposes in the years to come.’
One of the great human tragedies of the 21st century has been the Syrian war. We know that God cares about the foreigner, but sometimes it can be hard to know how we can help in a situation as complicated as that in Syria. It’s at this point that we heard about a government scheme called Community Sponsorship, which allows community groups to take the lead in resettling a refugee family in the UK. The scheme is specifically for refugees who have been displaced by the Syrian war and who are considered by the UN to be the most vulnerable. It grabbed the hearts and minds of a number in our church family, so we decided to form a team and go for it.
The team has been responsible for preparing everything a family will need to settle in – from housing to school places and English lessons. Once the family arrives, we have committed to support their integration for one year and accommodation for two years.
Understandably the Home Office approval process is quite rigorous and it does take a lot of time and effort to pull everything together. However, the work of preparing the application has itself been a great way to build connections within the community. We’ve found interpreters who are local residents, had support from local businesses, raised money from a local school, and engaged with the local council. We also had a launch event last March where we invited people from across the community to St Michael’s to hear more about LOVE:Refugees and how they could get involved.
Melissa Conway, the leader of the LOVE:Refugees team, comments, ‘When we first started LOVE:Refugees a little over a year ago we weren’t quite sure if it would all come together, but decided to step out in faith and see what happened. Since then it’s been quite a journey, with a mix of encouragements and frustrations. But the main thing we’ve been struck by throughout is seeing God answer our prayers over and over (and over!) again. We’re now at the stage where a family will be arriving soon, and we absolutely cannot wait to meet them. So really it’s just the beginning!’
For more info you can follow us on Twitter or Facebook @refugeeslove.