Andrew Harwood works among refugees and asylum seekers in Birmingham and the Black Country. OM writer, Nicky Andrews, asked him about the ministry he is a part of – revealing the joys and challenges he faces each week, and the steadfast calling which keeps him going.

How did God lead you into working among asylum seekers and refugees?

After joining OM in 1995, I served in India and Pakistan for five years, initially in India amongst Afghan refugees. From 2004 I was based back in the UK, working from the office in Halesowen managing programmes equipping workers for outreach. Then in 2017, I began strongly sensing God drawing me back into frontline outreach myself; during a time of prayer and fasting, He spoke clearly to me about serving refugees again. I knew the work would be demanding and draining, but I was confident it was what He wanted me to do.

Describe your role.

One day a week I teach English – mostly to Afghan refugees, so God’s using my earliest OM experience again, to good effect! But the majority of my time is spent managing a drop-in centre purely for asylum seekers and refugees, which I’ve been overseeing for the past five years. The centre opens on Mondays, staffed by local volunteers and other OM workers. We can get up to 70 people visiting, coming to the centre from the urban expanse west of Birmingham.

I spend the rest of the week following up with as many as possible – we provide practical, social and emotional support, not immigration advice, though we’ve learnt a lot about the system along the way. Many visitors suffer from depression and anxiety, exacerbated by their experience of the asylum system.

We’re providing a safe space for deeply hurting people to experience God’s love and care.

Is Birmingham the right place for this form of service?

Absolutely. There are so many migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers on our doorstep, in Birmingham and the four neighbouring Black Country boroughs. We meet dozens of nationalities from across the world, which is hugely enriching.

Many individuals are from people groups where there are fewer Jesus followers and less access to the gospel, and through OM, I have built up stocks of literature in lots of languages which I give out to people. In some of their home countries there would be very little opportunity to hear about Jesus. As these individuals come into the orbit of a Christian-based organisation, they’re able to experience God’s love through us. It’s a huge privilege.

What sort of character is needed for this ministry? 

Mature people with a real heart not just for the marginalised, but refugees and asylum seekers in particular; someone non-judgmental with a very solid faith in Jesus, so as not to be overwhelmed by the stories you hear and the desperate emotions that are poured out. It’s been as demanding and draining as the Lord told me it would be.

Our motivation mustn’t be: ‘let’s make them Christians.’ We need to build up trust and relationships; try to meet some of their felt needs so that they trust us, assured that we care about them. And when people who feel so battered by life come to trust us, they tell their friends to come to us too.

Sometimes it’s easy to doubt that enough impact is being made when the needs feel endless and complex. But it’s in the midst of these doubts that I have to stand on my very clear sense of calling and trust that God is always working.

Is it just big cities where we can serve refugees and asylum seekers?

The government’s dispersal policy is changing so that in the future there are likely to be communities of asylum seekers and refugees even in smaller towns, though they will still tend to be poorer, more deprived areas because of housing costs. But just look a little closer in many suburbs, and with a little effort, you'll discover communities of refugees and asylum seekers. Needs are the same everywhere – a place and people to feel safe with.

Could God be prompting you to reach out to asylum seekers and refugees in your community? Find opportunities to serve through your church, or explore options for cross-cultural ministry with OM in the UK.

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