St Chad's Sanctuary – My Place of Ministry

30th June 2011 - by Gertrudes Samson

Ger, Rose and Jayjay with other volunteers at St Chad's Sanctuary

Gertrudes Samson, a Columban Lay Missionary from The Philippines, shares her experience working alongside asylum seekers at St Chad’s Sanctuary, Birmingham.

St. Chad’s Sanctuary is my place of ministry twice a week, as well as my involvement in other ministries in Birmingham.

When I first entered the Sanctuary, I noticed at once the beautiful tapestry hanging at the right side of its main hall. It depicts the Holy Family on a journey with Mother Mary riding on a donkey while carrying baby Jesus and with St. Joseph walking on foot beside them. I thought it was just a typical Christmas decoration, but it has a caption underneath it: “WE TOO WERE ASYLUM SEEKERS”. It depicts the Holy Family on their flight to Egypt to flee from the persecution of Herod who wants to kill baby Jesus. That tapestry then explained to me in a nut shell what the Sanctuary is about and the value of its work.

An asylum seeker is someone who is fleeing persecution in their homeland, has arrived in another country, made themselves known to the authorities, and exercised the legal right to apply for asylum. St. Chad’s Sanctuary, which is a partnership between the Salvation Army and Catholic Church, ministers to them and to others who are far from home. It offers friendship and hospitality to asylum seekers, refugees, and other migrants. We try to give them listening hearts, non-judgmental and compassionate hearts that respect human dignity irrespective of culture, faith, or background. The sanctuary is operated by just one full time manager, Sr. Margaret Walsh, and the rest are volunteers like me.

You might ask what else we do at the sanctuary aside from listening and talking with people. Actually we have many works. The following are only some of the opportunities I get to help out with in various ways together with other volunteers:

  • sitting down with the asylum seekers in the English classes to help them catch up with the lessons given by the teacher especially during the drills or exercises;
  • preparing and offering warm coffee or tea and biscuits for those who come to the Sanctuary;
  • washing dishes;
  • sorting and organising many piles of donated clothes to ensure they are clean and still useful and not rags;
  • sorting and repacking donated foods and ensuring that they have not yet expired;
  • distributing donated food bags, clothes, and household items to asylum seekers;
  • recording data and statistics about the works of the Sanctuary,
  • cleaning up the Sanctuary work areas and premises.

Honestly speaking, at the end of every day, I feel very tired because there is so much work in the Sanctuary, while volunteers like me are so few. But definitely, I AM HAPPY! –for the many people I have met from more than 80 different nationalities; for the loving friends I gained in the person of Sr. Margaret, other volunteers, and asylum seekers; but most of all, because of the opportunity God has given me to serve Him there… for Jesus said, “I tell you whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me”. Although I was not born at the time when Jesus and His family were still asylum seekers, I know I am serving Him at the Sanctuary in the face of every asylum seekers that I meet. With that in my heart, I know… JESUS IS HAPPY WITH US TOO in St. Chad’s Sanctuary – my place of ministry.