Will you shelter me . . . in your heart?

By Mary Joy Rile

Columban lay missionaries of the RP 18 group, Gertrudes “Ger” Samson, Jonah Jane “Jayjay” Enterina-Beddall and Rosalia “Rose” Basada, renewed their commitment with the CLM for another term. They had been assigned to the Region of Britain since 2010 working with asylum seekers and refugees.

I witnessed the renewal of commitment of Ger and Jayjay on June 28, 2017 at the Columban Lay Mission House in Cubao. At Mass, Jayjay expressed gratitude on behalf of RP18 for the support and prayers offered by family and friends, but even more, gratitude to God for the gift of mission and the richness of their experience. Ger on the other hand expressed the challenges they had to face in mission. A power point presentation of their mission experience was so moving it silenced all of us. Ger’s emotional sharing brought many of us to tears as we couldn’t help but feel and share in their sadness and pain.

The refugees and asylum seekers in Britain are of different profiles, coming from different countries for different reasons: war, persecution due to religion, internal conflict in their own country, conflict with authorities, escaping the tradition of their culture like forced marriages, and domestic violence. Ger and Jayjay were there to help them as volunteers from various charitable organizations. Mainly, they helped by conducting seminars (e.g. about new immigration rules) and learning activities for the refugees and asylum seekers (e.g. sewing and crafts-making), listening to their stories of struggles, and offering assistance to the refugees in various capacities as they processed their legal requirements for admission to Britain.

Jayjay teaching asylum seekers and refugees how to play the guitar, 2012

The refugees and asylum seekers would come and go. At times the volunteers got to encounter them, unsure if they would see them the following day. But the goal of the volunteers was to journey with each refugee and each asylum seeker. From a simple encounter through the engaging activities, the volunteers got to establish friendship and build trust. That was when the refugees began to open up and share their struggles with those who wished to help.

The volunteers and the refugees and asylum seekers came from different faith traditions and religions, but they shared prayers for one another. It is somehow a humbling experience to hear someone of another religion to ask you to “Please pray for my case, please pray for me”. And even for a mother to request you to join her and her child in praying. The ministry of listening and the sharing of different faiths enriched the hearts of all.

Ger in a "Recycled Craft" session with asylum seekers and refugees, 2012

Shelter is one of the human person’s most basic needs for survival. And yet, for these people who had lost their homes, they experienced not only the devastating loss, but also discrimination and frustration as well. Their dreams for a more peaceful life were shattered.

The refugees whom Ger and Jayjay encountered in Britain had hoped to find a new home. But, before they could get a new home, they had to undergo months of evaluation. The hearing of their cases runs from 6 months up to 12 years, depending on their situation. They may have found a temporary refuge as they register themselves as asylum seekers but they are in limbo as they await the final judgment of their cases. It is good for them if they receive news that they have been accepted as citizens of the country. But for others, the news is not good. They are refused a place to stay, detained or deported. These people often choose suicide as an option. It is heartbreaking, indeed.

RP18 with Columbans in UK, 2013

But for the refugees and asylum seekers, the most immediate need is shelter. As they are waiting and hoping for acceptance in a host country, there is yet a much greater need and you can almost hear their silent plea, “Will you shelter me… at least… in your heart?” Ger and Jayjay responded to this plea and that response brought them to a more meaningful mission experience. Ger and Jayjay discovered that what they shared with the refugees and asylum seekers allowed them to find a home in the hearts of many.

Being denied a home causes immeasurable pain for those involved. Ger and Jayjay had to deal with this kind of experience with every refugee. However, it never occurred to them that they were to be in the same situation and feel that same kind of pain. When it came time to renew their Visa to stay in Britain and continue their work, they were denied a visa and driven out of the country. The very country that they served for some time had now denied them a home.

Jayjay and Ger holding the flags of Britain and the Philippines at the Launching of Columban Centenary Celebration in Cagayan de Oro City, November 2017

When the two missionaries arrived back in the Philippines, they received further depressing news – there was a war raging in Marawi, the Maranaos were fleeing the city. Once again, they found themselves without a home because this evacuation affected the families they stayed with during their immersion while preparing for mission. Fr. Paul Glynn shared his sympathy with the two as he also felt for Marawi, which had also been his home for a long time. What kind of hope should Ger and Jayjay hold given the realities of the two countries that they dearly love? As for their desire to go back and serve in Britain, we can only pray that it might be God’s Will. We carry on the hope and prayers for the two countries – Britain and the Philippines – and for the whole world.

Ger tells us more of her experience through the lines of a poem written a few years back:

Gertrudes, where have you been?

Gertrudes, Oh Gertrudes,
Where have you been?
I've been in England,
guess what I have seen?

In England, in England?
What have you seen?
Asylum seekers, refugees, migrants
needing help and assistance,
That's what I have seen.

Sanctuary and safety
they are hoping within.
Fleeing persecution and violence
from what they have been.

Making them feel welcome,
at peace now where they are in.
As I tried to journey with them
so they would be stronger within.

Simple, oh simple,
act of faith and love it might have been
My humble contribution,
towards World Peace
we are hoping to be seen.

Crossing boundaries of faith, race, culture,
all discrimination that we have seen.
Following my savior and friend Jesus Christ
doing good and loving anyone he had seen.

In England, in England,
Yes I have been!
Someday, I hope you would also see
What I have seen.
If not with your own eyes,
I hope at least in your hearts within.