Thirty women and children living in Leeds who are refugees or asylum seekers have been able to spend a weekend in the beautiful Yorkshire Dales at the invitation of two local churches.
The group which includes both Christian and Muslim refugees in Leeds were hosted by local families from Airton Quakers and St Michael’s Church, Kirby Malham, with some also staying at the Malham Tarn Field Centre . which provided free accommodation and helped provide activities.
Vicar of Kirby Malham, the Revd Michael Jackson, said, “It was an incredibly moving weekend which exceeding my most optimistic expectations, and the concluding service was one of the most moving I've ever had the privilege to lead. I had to work hard to keep my emotions in check!”
The visit came about as part of the City of Sanctuary initiative and locally was facilitated by the People and the Dales project run by the Yorkshire Dales Millenium Trust.
The weekend included a farm visit, games and activities on the Saturday, and in the evening local residents and visitors came together for a shared meal with food, music and entertainment reflecting the different countries of those there. On the Sunday everyone gathered at St, Michael’s for the morning service with the visitors actively participating in the service.
“By my calculations there were at least ten nationalities present”, said Michael. “- a first I am sure in the Church’s many centuries of existence!”
Three women sang an African Gospel hymn and all were invited to go to communion or to receive a blessing.
Michael added, “ I was so touched when the Muslim women amongst the group chose to come up for a blessing. If only we could get more grass roots interaction like this, perhaps we could get more harmony in the world. One can dream, and actually the City of Sanctuary weekend in Malhamdale offered a mini template for this.”
Comments of those who took part showed that the weekend had been a significant event for many…. “For me the trip takes away my loneliness and I felt I was in a sort of family”; “Being in a church for the first time made me feel like regardless of our differences we are all together to worship God and love each other”; “I had a fantastic time. It feels like I had a nice pause in my unpredictable life.”
A Muslim mother said, “It was incredible experience to be in a church for the first time in my life. To be in the countryside was my dream. Thank you for giving this opportunity to me.”
Comments from the host families included, “They say that to give is to receive. I don't feel we gave anything significant - some time, our hospitality - but our lives were enriched immeasurably”; “I think my lasting memory will be one of people being happy. The visitors all seemed to be determined to enjoy themselves in a new environment for a short time, and we were all happy to have them with us in the Dale. It is hard to imagine what they have all been through and how different their lives must be from ours. It certainly made me think.”