13 June 2016 | Binfield, England [Victor Hulbert] Waking up at 4:00 a.m. for a long drive and a ferry crossing is a minor inconvenience for Sasha Becejac, one of four leaders at the Newbold Seventh-day Adventist Church in southern England. Every Sunday the team fill a car with volunteers, food, and clothes for the eight-hour round trip to a refugee camp in Dunkirk, France.
Teaming up with members of the small Dunkirk Adventist Church, they provide lunch, love, and a listening ear to some of the thousands of refugees trying to find a way across the English Channel—often illegally—to claim asylum in Britain.
While the Adventist volunteers cook food and provide fresh fruit, their main goal is to provide emotional first aid “by simply telling someone that they are not alone, that we have a whole congregation in England, the land that they are desperately trying to reach, praying for them,” Becejac said.
“Most are Muslim, some are Christian,” Becejac said. “But when you are living for months in a rat-infested swamp, you don’t mind which religion is praying for you, as long as they are there in front of you telling you that they do care and that they are praying.”
Some people have asked why Adventists would get involved with a refugee camp where many inhabitants are openly defying the law by seeking illegal entry into Britain rather than claiming asylum at their point of entry into Europe. Some have argued that the assistance simply supports human smuggling and other illegal activities.
Becejac is sensitive to that view. “Many volunteers come unconvinced, and a few leave unconvinced, feeling that the refugees should organize themselves better, clean their camp better,” he said. “I do not judge anyone’s opinion. All I know is that the longer I spend with these people who live surrounded in squalor yet look more presentable than me on most days… the more I realize that they are just like us. They simply yearn for a better life and a future.”
Mohammed, 15, stood outside his mud-surrounded tent. He told how his parents were killed by Islamic State militants in northern Iraq. Despite his miserable surroundings, he says he has hope for the future. He said the assistance provided by the Adventist volunteers was a lifeline to him.
Another camp inhabitant, Omar, has been in Dunkirk for four months. He is 45 but looks older. A bomb exploded near him in his hometown of Mala Abdullah, Iraq. He said he was looking for something better.
Becejac said this desire of Omar and other refugees has prompted him and the other three Newbold leaders—Tim Den Hertog, Jeff Muckle, and Newbold’s associate pastor, Vili Costescu—to keep organizing the weekly trips to the camp.
“That is why I feel compelled to help these people,” he said. “Because they are just people like us, trying to find a better future.”
What is the experience like for a volunteer? Ask Alastair Agbaje. He recently joined the team for the day, and recorded a few of his impressions.
This article was first published in the special World Refugee Day edition of Adventist World, June 2016.[tedNEWS]
tedNEWS Staff: Victor Hulbert, director; Esti Pujic, editor
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