Extending Refugees the Hand of Friendship in St Albans Stake

by Amy Mansfield

Rowland Elvidge and a guest playing cards

On Saturday 16th October, the St Albans Stake hosted a family fun day for Syrian and Iranian refugees. Working in partnership with local charity Herts Welcomes Refugees (HWR), members of the Stake ran craft activities for children, outdoor games for teenagers, blanket making and chess and card games for adults. A speaker from Herts Wildlife gave a talk about animals in Syria and a magician entertained members and guests while they enjoyed home-made halal meat pizzas and popcorn. Members and guests also joined together to make baby blankets for Project Linus, a volunteer organisation providing home-made quilts and blankets to sick and traumatised children. Arab music played in the background and members soon learned how to say simple Arabic words: ‘shukran’ (thankyou), and ‘salaam alaikum’ (hello).

Members and guests enjoying a magic show

Volunteer members were overwhelmed by the positive responses from the guests, who spoke of their appreciation for the fun event and the warm welcome they received at the Stake centre. A man from Syria described the day as ‘beautiful’. Many refugees feel isolated from the communities in which they live. HWR volunteer and Stake Relief Society First Counselor Joyce Farnsworth described the event as an opportunity for members to extend the hand of friendship to refugees and to give them an opportunity to practice English, have fun and feel welcome.

Children’s crafts at the family fun day

Our Stake JustServe Lead, Sister Catherine Bruce, shared an uplifting experience from the event: ‘Although we were not proselyting, I was asked about the church’s beliefs by a volunteer from HWR as we sat together helping children with crafts. She was interested in lay clergy and asked what I did in the church. I said I was involved in community outreach, which provoked a very positive response from this woman. She felt that was what “it’s all about”. I agreed wholeheartedly.’

Cherry Theodore and the team made sfiha, Arab pizza

In 2016, Elder Patrick Kearon reminded Church members that the Jesus Christ Himself was once a refugee, fleeing to Egypt as a young child to escape King Herod. Approaching the Christmas season, this event helped members heed the Saviour’s counsel that serving others is the same as serving Him. By blessing and welcoming refugees, the members themselves felt blessed to feel the true spirit of JustServe.