In March some of us who are associated with St James by the Park met to discuss how we can play a positive part in receiving Ukrainian refugees. We have set up a hosting group called UK2UK. This is for those who are able to host Ukrainian refugees. We called it UK2UK as we recognise that Ukrainians can be a blessing to people in the UK and people in the UK can be a blessing to Ukrainians. There is always giving and receiving between both groups.
There are a number of people in the church who have volunteered to be hosts for refugees from Ukraine. Hosting requires people receiving training to understand many aspects of receiving Ukrainian refugees, understanding various government procedures, ensuring safeguarding matters, house inspection and helping Ukrainians navigate schooling, health and benefits systems. Hosting also involved matching themselves as hosts with Ukrainians who are exploring whether to come to the UK. These conversations often require an interpreter or are conducted in limited English. Refugees initially have to discern which country would best fit their family requirements. Hosts within the church have followed up various contacts via charities, friends and social media websites but most so far have not led to people coming to UK. Our UK immigration system has not been very helpful but it is improving now. It is likely that there will be more refugees coming over the following months to the UK. In Southampton a local Ukrainian told me there are now about 70 families that have come recently to the UK. It is estimated that in the Test Valley there are about a 1000 Ukrainian refugees. Southampton Council have been very positive and helpful.
Hosts Lindsey and Kevin have now received members of a Ukrainian family. They wrote on May 11th:
“Yesterday, with a mix of anxiety and anticipation, we met our guests at Southampton Parkway railway station (it's a great choice of station as you can go right onto the platform to help them with their luggage). Even though we have only 'met' once via video chat we felt like we were meeting friends. We are hosting a lovely mum and her two children. We are fortunate that our guests already have a ready made Ukrainian community in our neighbourhood and we have already had one lovely family visit our house. They have also been made very welcome at the local school. Please pray for us all as we go through a period of adjustment and for patience as we navigate all the bureaucracy and applications. Above all we pray that these lovely ladies and their children may be reunited with their husbands and fathers who have had to stay behind in Ukraine. They clearly love their country, and whilst they are appreciative of what we are doing, they long to go home.”
Some people at St James have also said they would like to support families that come to the UK but for whatever reason cannot host them. Helen and I have started a list of those who want to be host supporters. Such people will link with specific hosts and offer friendship, time, meals and a welcome to particular families. If you think you can do this then do contact Helen or Paul Thaxter via the parish office at firstname.lastname@example.org
Wider church welcome
Others in the church are willing to be offer more general support such as prayer, resources, and skills. Many of us may be able to be part of welcome events and activities. There is no expectation though that Ukrainian people will attend St James by the Park. We will not be mentioning Ukrainian peoples’ names in updates.
It is in these three concentric circles of host, host supporter and wider church welcome that we hope to make people feel at home in Southampton.
Tara has been encouraging people at the Sunday services to pray for Ukraine so do pray with this group if you can on Sundays. Also there are prayer resources available on multiple websites.
The news itself is a great stimulus to pray. Do also remember those who no longer appear on our headline screens but need our prayers and attention. There are about 50 major conflicts in the world and we seek peace and support for all those in violent conflict regions.
Here are a few prayer points
A prayer for Ukraine
Give comfort to those who suffer because of the violence. Give comfort to those who mourn their dead, and strength to neighbouring countries to welcome the refugees. Convert the hearts of those who resort to arms and protect those who work to promote peace.
God of hope, inspire leaders to choose peace instead of violence and to seek reconciliation with enemies. Inspire compassion in the universal Church for the Ukrainian people and give us hope for a future of peace based on justice for all.
We ask this through Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace and Light of the world. Amen.