A house of hope in Calais

For the last three years in an unassuming suburban street in Calais a house has offered hope to countless refugees. On a daily basis a couple of dozen live and sleep there, several dozen more have their laundry done and find a few hours respite from the tedium of being on the street. Lots of people eat good food in convivial surroundings every evening and every other week those that want to engage in art therapy with a team from the UK.

It’s known as ‘the safe house’ by the various groups that work on the streets of Calais offering support to the several hundred exiles on the city’s streets. To us it is the Maria Skobtsova House, a community run roughly on the lines of the Catholic Worker model. It began three years as the brainchild of a Belgian Benedictine monk who came to the jungle in Calais wanting to establish a prayerful presence among the displaced people living in the makeshift camp.

He and I met in the caravan of one of the camp’s community leaders in December 2015. By February he had acquired the house from Secours Catholique and recruited me to be one of his management group. Along with a formidably energetic catholic laywoman, we three set about establishing a light touch association that could oversee the affairs of the house.

The house is a community of mainly Eritrean refugees aged between 14 and 25 or so with a group of European volunteers to handle the day to day running of things - ensuring there’s food to cook, that the washers and dryers are in good working order, overseeing the discipline of prayer and quiet, chores and games that make up the daily life of the house.

A former resident now in London, says of the house, 'Your home is not where you come from but where you feel safe; I feel safe here.’ A volunteer tells the story of the day a resident wrote Matt 11:28 in Tigrinya, applying those words to the house. ‘I think this was very important for him,’ she says, ‘because he wrote it out again and put it back up when we had a periodic clean up of the walls!’ It is amazing to think of the house as the outworking of this saying of Jesus, suggestive of how scripture is fulfilled through the people who hear it, and act on it, often when they are not consciously trying! To see the house as the embodiment of Jesus suggests something deeply profound has been created in this ordinary Calais semi.

The list of things this project needs is probably endless. Top of it is a group of people across Europe who will commit to pray for its work. Then we need food, clothing of various types for our boys to wear - especially underwear and socks, and shoes that will endure the life of endless walking in a European winter.

We really appreciate the help you have already given us on a couple of occasions and hope that the partnership might continue as long as the house is needed.

Simon Jones

Pastor, Bromley Baptist Church

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