I can tell you that people whose presence I once resented have become good friends. That is what the gospel does!
Sunderland’s Globe Café began as a meeting place for international students but during 2015-16 we began receiving increasing numbers of asylum seekers (people who have applied for refugee status) and refugees (people who have received it).
Offering a free meal, friendship and games, we were a magnet for Iraqis, Kurds, Eritreans and Sudanese who had been shipped into low-rent northern towns by the UK Government.
Initially, I was resentful of their presence. The students left as the number of asylum seekers increased, our visitors were almost all Muslim men and very intimidating to female members of the team, and their English was so poor that making friends was difficult. I remember one evening praying, “Lord, how can we get rid of these people?” He answered my prayer by changing my heart.
Some of our team began sharing the gospel in Arabic using a resource called Al Masera – a video based evangelism tool aimed at Muslims. This led to more conversations about the gospel with serious minded Arabs. About this time, we were receiving fewer Syrians and Iraqis, but larger numbers of Iranians were arriving in Sunderland. This led to a bit of a breakthrough.
Some of the Iranians were already professing Christians, but without much knowledge of the faith. Others were very keen to find out more about Christianity. It is possible that these people were just trying to enhance their asylum claim, if that was the case then why weren’t the other nationalities doing the same? It seemed to me that God was at work in our young Iranian friends who were utterly disillusioned with Islam yet spiritually thirsty and wiling to hear the gospel.
Real friendships began to grow with other nationalities too, especially as we did more social things outside Globe Café. We take a group every week to do our local parkrun, the Eritreans started coming too, and a Kurdish guy. Our east Africans always come in first, and that attracted the interest of local running clubs. Our Eritreans are now training seriously with Sunderland Harriers!
Alongside this, we have trained our Iranian friends to reach their fellow countrymen using Al Masera in Farsi. A group is running every Saturday night at the moment and attracts between sixteen and twenty people.
THE STORY OF S.
S. is a fruit farmer from Iran (I won’t give you his name). He arrived in the UK in 2017 and quickly became part of the Globe community. He had left that country for political reasons (though there is usually an element of economic migration with all our friends). He became a Christian during his stay in Sunderland but was refused asylum on his first application. On appeal, he was refused again and lost all UK state support and accommodation.
We had helped S. with his asylum application, but knew very little about the process. We are helping him to re-apply on new grounds and bringing a lot more experience – as well as an attentive lawyer – to bear on the problem.
Meanwhile, S. lives in our home and is supported financially by some people in the church. He has become our chief interpreter, his English has improved exponentially during his stay in the UK, and he is in effect a spiritual leader of our Iranian community. He runs the Saturday night Al Masera group. His family in Iran have disowned him and he is still living on a knife edge until he re-submits an asylum claim later in August.
The Globe people have had so much love and support from our fellowship. My wife, Cathie has been so helpful to them that they call her ‘Mum’! I don’t know what they call her grumpy husband, but I can tell you that people whose presence I once resented have become good friends. That is what the gospel does!
Dave Burke serves with a church in Sunderland (UK).
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