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  • We recently visited a village where many asylum seekers live on the edge of the township in a government-run refugee camp. The purpose of our visit was to experience the Kingdom work being done among asylum seekers in the Peace House.

    On our first day there, we went for a walk to the nearby park and found a gorgeous little blue Cafe Caravan parked in the open space. Tables were setup around the caravan and people were enjoying the sun and the free coffee being offered.

    We met two men who told us the story of how the Cafe Caravan came to be. A few years ago, when asylum seekers first moved into the camp, the local people were quite disturbed by the influx of foreigners wandering around their village during the day.

    The newcomers didn’t speak their language and were culturally very different. They behaved in strange ways that seemed to disrespect local customs and values. Some townspeople tried to befriend the asylum seekers, but many were suspicious and resentful of the foreign intrusion.

    One man, who understood the difficulties that asylum seekers experience and who worked for a local charity, decided to do something about the cultural rift that was developing. So, with the assistance of volunteers from the refugee camp, and funding from the local council, he built the Cafe Caravan.

    At the same time, he printed positive and welcoming messages onto banners and posters and displayed them throughout the village. Then he invited the townspeople and the asylum seekers to enjoy free coffee and cake together at the Cafe Caravan in the park two days per week.

    The idea behind the Cafe Caravan is to bring the two communities together. Everyone is welcome. People are encouraged to sit together and attempt to overcome their cultural and linguistic differences. Large sheets of paper are attached to the sides of the Caravan, colouring pencils and crayons are provided, and children from the camp and the township draw pictures and decorate the Caravan. Children also play games on the grassed areas around the Cafe. Funding is provided by the local council so the Caravan can continue to operate.

    When asylum seekers need assistance with filling out forms, extra clothing, or other needs, there is a team of community workers available to assist. A welcome centre and office is located not far from the park, on the main street of the town.

    The Cafe Caravan has been open during the warmer months for the past two years. It is already helping to change community attitudes. The air of antagonism and mistrust has lifted. A potentially ugly confrontation between townspeople and asylum seekers has been averted.

    There are still many challenges to overcome, but the door is open for the two communities to co-exist.

    Into this environment comes the Peace House. Set up by Christians for the purpose of befriending asylum seekers, the Peace House offers a safe space outside the camp where asylum seekers can explore spiritual questions, enjoy hospitality and relax. It builds upon the foundation that the Cafe Caravan has laid, and brings the transformational power of the Gospel into the mix.

    We pray that the Peace House will positively impact the asylum seekers and the local community, and will work together with the Cafe Caravan to bring further transformation to this village.

    This article was written by two Interserve Partners currently serving across Europe.

    If you are feeling called to work with refugees and asylum seekers, we encourage you to pray about it and get in touch to see how this might look for you.

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