From the tropical heat of Manila to snow in London… (by Adrian Dixon)

24th March 2015 - by James Trewby

Find out more about our work on:

Adrian Dixon is a teacher based in London. In this article he reflects on his experiences leading up to participating in a learning visit to the Columban works around the USA/Mexico border.

It was a Saturday morning in January when I was walking through unfamiliar streets in North London. It was definitely one of those days when staying in bed would have been a much better option. Then the snow started to fall! I was getting closer to someone with a lot of luggage, including a sleeping bag, who was walking about 50 metres in front of me. I began to wonder if she was going to be part of the group I was about to meet for the first time and the group I would be sleeping outside with that night.

This was the next stage of a journey that I was on, a journey that I see as beginning in the tropical heat of Manila last March, a journey that will involve me going a lot of places and ending (or perhaps just beginning again!) in the deserts of Northern Mexico.

To cut a long story short, a chance meeting with an Irish Columban, Fr John Keenan, in Centro Escolar University last year led me to be involved more in two things: Street Children and the Columbans. The former has got me involved in projects to make people, especially young people here in the U.K., more aware of the plight of Street Kids throughout the world and in a special way linking Filipinos living here with their brothers and sisters living on the streets of Manila.

I never thought that meeting a Columban would make any changes in my life, after all I knew about them and I have been reading the Far East for most of my life. I was, however, very impressed with Fr John and his work for social justice in the Philippines. Most people of his age are retired while he is not only a University Chaplain but also an active advocate for Street Children. Joining him to celebrate Mass with children in a Detention Centre, their only crime being on the streets, has remained the most memorable part of six months travelling – a liturgy where I truly encountered the risen Lord.

On my return to the U.K. I began to do odds and ends in my old school in N.W. London. I made contact with the Columbans about someone visiting our Sixth Form Students. This led to meeting the Columban Justice and Peace Education Worker, James Trewby, who has become not only an excellent contact for the school but also a friend. In November James invited me to be part of a ‘Columban Mission Exposure Visit’ to Texas and Mexico at Easter which will explore issues around migration. I think the word ‘Mexico’ won me over with little hesitation!

In addition to committing to spending twelve days based at the Columban Mission Centre in El Paso, Texas, the programme also involves two preparation weekends and a follow up day here in the U.K. The first of the weekends was in January and the highlight of this was joining a ‘Sleep Out’ to mark Homeless Sunday. Having followed the ‘mystery lady’ through the streets, we arrived together at the door of the Columban House and then we knew that we were indeed part of the same group. I soon discovered that as well as Jess (my ‘mystery lady’) the group consisted of Kyra, James, Matthew, Daniel, Joseph and myself. Over the weekend we got to know each other through a walk, activities and meals in addition to the ‘Sleep Out’. At the end of the weekend all my apprehensions about the group had gone and I knew I was part of a really special band of people.

The second weekend took place in Birmingham at the end of February. We were farmed out and stayed with Columban Lay Missionaries and at a Passionist House for Refugees. Once again we met as a group and prepared for the visit to El Paso. We also had the opportunity of spending some time in the Columban House where we were able to meet many members of the Society of St Columban. They all made us very welcome and treated us very much as ‘Partners in Mission’. On the Saturday we broke up into smaller groups and visited three different venues as our main learning experience of the weekend. One group visited a Mosque where they met members of the community including the Imam before having a wonderful lunch there. Another visited a Hindu Temple before having lunch with a local Muslim family. Daniel and myself with one of the Lay Missionaries went to meet an Asylum Seeker supported by the Hope Charity in Birmingham. She told us her story of how she travelled to the U.K. on a Diplomatic Passport but felt unable to return after a change of administration in her home country. This story was so different from the one we are used to hearing, the one where people pay huge amounts of money to be transported in danger. It was certainly an eye opening experience. We were treated to a wonderful lunch as she explained that she would love to return home but fears for her life if she does.

On the Sunday Fr Tom (the Columban Regional Director) celebrated Mass with us before we said our farewells. He and the Lay Missionaries commissioned us for our task. We now look forward to meeting at Heathrow to continue our adventures!