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A temporary home (3): “Uncertainty, prayers and unexpected friendships”

In Sunderland (England), Cathie welcomed at home Alona, her two children and their grandma. They certainly miss Odesa, but have met other refugees and been active at church.

AUTOR 7/Joel_Forster SUNDERLAND 05 DE ABRIL DE 2023 13:28 h
Alona and her family have been living with a family in Sunderland (England) for almost one year.

For Cathie Burke, this is not the first time a refugee family is living at her home in Sunderland, northeast of England.

In the last years, she and her husband Dave have hosted asylum seekers from Iran and Eritrea because as a family they have a heart for welcoming refugees.

For almost a year now, a family of four from Odesa (Ukraine) lives with them. “They are mum Alona, grandma, and two children aged 10 and 6”, explains Cathie. The mother is a medical doctor.

As with other families being welcomed across Europe, language was the “initial struggle”. “Joining in with sports and children's activities at church helped them to adjust and learn English in a supportive environment”. For the adults, the motivation to learn was very high, even before fleeing their home country.


“Being apart from family, a daily struggle”

For their guests, “being apart from family is a daily struggle and they are torn with the wish to return but balance that with the need to keep their family safe”, explains Cathie. “Grandma likes to keep busy and misses work”.

Interviewed by the Sunderland City Council, Alona shared her personal impressions after one year of the Russian invasion. “Last year was a year of fear and despair for me, a year of loss and separation from my family, a year of tears and uncertainty, it was a year of trials and hardening”. 

“But, thank God, despite this, this year gave me many friends from different countries, which is the greatest of all treasures”, she added. It was also a time “of prayers, support and strong hugs, perseverance and faith in victory! We have changed our priorities in life”, she said. 

[photo_footer] Celebrating a birthday in their time as refugees in the UK. [/photo_footer] 

Support and service at church

Alyona found some of these new friends and fellow Christians at Bethany City Church, the Christian congregation in which the Burke's are very much involved.

For almost two decades, the church has run a weekly Globe Café to welcome international students. Since the refugee crisis of 2015, this evening with food, activities and warm coffee has been attended by asylum seekers. 

The two Ukrainian women staying at Burke’s home, have joined the church initiative, “helping each week to prepare a meal at our asylum seekers café”.

The mother has been “warmly welcomed” in a women’s bible study, and they also join in the church home group at times.


A deeper understanding of the effects of war

For Cathie, having the Ukrainian family at home has helped her see the war in Ukraine from a different perspective. “The war is not just fought by the troops. There are other battles war causes - putting strain on relationships, values, culture”, she says.

But out of evil also comes solidarity. “There is a real connection with other refugees in the city to support those back at home”, the English host observes.


A key Bible verse

Asked about what drives them to welcome refugees at home, Cathie points to a verse in the Gospel of Luke: “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Luke 6:38).


This article is part of a series on families in Europe hosting Ukrainian refugees. Read the other testimonies from France and Italy.




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