Latter-day Saint Charities Friendship Centre

By Andrea J James

Latter-day Saint Charities

An exciting new venture for Watford England Stake was launched recently.

Stake President Robert Fu, under the direction of Area Authority Elder Alan Phillips, and working closely with Gilles Francois, Europe Area Welfare Manager, designated the Wembley Ward meeting house as an Latter-day Saint Charities Friendship Centre, the fourth in the world; the first two were in Athens, Greece and Rome, Italy, and recently Peckham, London. 

Several Stake members, including the Stake Relief Society President, and the Director of Public Affairs, worked to decide which chapel was best suited to welcome refugees and asylum seekers.  Following a great deal of research, the Wembley meeting house was selected; it is located in an area of high density for refugees and asylum seekers, and it has good transport links close to the meeting house. 

backrow: Elder Hafen, Elder Ottiker, Elder Phillips frontrow: Sister Hafen, Nabila, Jian, Andrea J James
Back Row: Elder Hafen, Elder Ottiker, Elder Phillips. Front Row: Sister Hafen, Nabila, Jian, Andrea J James

Under President Fu’s direction, the committee considered the opportunities; the first of these was to use the building to provide integration classes and coaching to registered refugees and asylum seekers.

President Fu, the Stake Relief Society President, Linda Sheppard, Stake Director of Public Affairs, and Bishop Fabio Oliveira, plus a committee of members from Wembley ward, planned schedules for use of the meeting house use and lessons.

A full-time senior missionary couple, based in Wembley, was assigned to add impetus to the programme.  Elder and Sister Hafen arrived from St George, Utah at the end of April and quickly met up with as many community leaders as they could find. 

Elder Nelson Hafen was given ten computers.  He quickly cleared out a room in Wembley meeting house, in readiness to teach English, help construct CVs (curriculum vitae) and allow people to engage in Family History research.

The doors were ‘opened’ in late May.  Bishop Oliveira welcomed everyone, and introduced a programme of short talks, poems and singing from the refugees.

Registered GP Dr Ros Wall, a member of Aylesbury Ward, was present.  She met with a very anxious father who did not understand medical letters relating to his 5-year-old daughter.  With the assistance of a translator, Sister Wall was able to take time to read them, explain the medical condition his daughter was suffering, and finally dispel all the father’s fears.  She said it brought her great joy to see his tears of happiness when he realised his daughter could be treated and to watch him practically skip away holding his daughter’s hand. 

Elder Christensen from Peckham Friendship Centre, Sister and Elder Snelgrove, Self-Reliance Senior Missionaries
Elder Christensen from Peckham Friendship Centre, Sister and Elder Snelgrove, Self-Reliance Senior Missionaries

Sister Dr Wall found it upsetting to meet with another man who had waited hours to talk with her.  In his native country, he had been a medical hospital consultant. To be ‘trafficked’ here, he had to destroy all his documents when he reached England.  Now he had no way of proving to the NHS his qualifications and because he had no identification papers, he was unable to return to his native country.  He hoped Sister Wall could find a way for him to work in his profession. 

Since opening, many refugees have enjoyed the chance to meet and discuss job opportunities, work on CVs, and encouraged to educate themselves and their children. The Friendship Centre offers English and conversational-English classes, parenting courses, homework groups, employability sessions, and CV coaching.

Nelson and Laurel Hafen have been able to testify of many ‘tender mercies’ as they talked with community leaders.  One example is when they were finally able to meet with a refugee representative in Brent Borough.  His name had been known to them in conference calls before they left the USA, but they had been unable to meet him for some time since their arrival, due to his very busy calendar.  He told them that the meeting house was exactly what he had hoped it would be.  He went on to tell them that in a meeting early this year with colleagues, he had despaired of finding suitable rooms to provide classes.  A colleague said, “Well I am going to pray about this.”  That night, he prayed for the first time in many years.  The next morning, he received a phone call from the Director of Public Affairs, enquiring if he would like to meet up and view the centre.  He told the Hafens that it was an answer to prayers. 

Addressing stake members, President Fu spoke with great compassion about the need for this Friendship Centre in Wembley, to offer support and help to those who have been displaced, or who are in distress. 

He said, “It is not the intention of those who serve in the centre to proselyte.  Instead, we follow the spirit of the scripture found in Matthew 25:35-36.”

He concluded by saying, “The Presidency hope members enjoy being a part of the Friendship Centre. … As you give of your time and talents in serving those who visit, you will feel the love of God for all of His children.”

Elder Phillips and Elder Christian A P Ottiker (Europe Area Manager Welfare and Self-Reliance Services) recently visited the Friendship Centre and met with leaders from Brent Council’s Vulnerable Person Resettlement programme, and also Brent Action for Refugees. 

These leaders were able to share their delight in being able to use such a beautiful building and their hopes that many more refugees and asylum seekers will benefit from the classes being held to help them integrate into UK life.

client receiving counseling
Client receiving counseling