Facing the Unfamiliar
An Afghan family seeking asylum heard singing as they walked down a street in Liverpool, England. They followed the music to a little church gathering that included people of different ages and from different countries, along with artists, a few homeless, and some addicts.
After the service, Justin and Lindsay Thomas talked with the family, inviting them to a clothes closet to pick out needed items and to English and art classes at Bridge2, where the Thomases work. And somehow, following the music to a room full of strangers became an avenue to new friendships and support.
No two days are the same in Liverpool, where Justin and Lindsay live with their 6-year-old daughter, Gabi. Finding their feet in the historic city has been both difficult and exciting.
They moved across the Atlantic Ocean to help refugees like this young Afghan family, along with people from Iran, Pakistan, Eritrea, Turkey, and Sudan.
In Liverpool, refugees receive a stipend of $6.50 a day for expenses. Since they can’t rent apartments, most live in hostels, tents, and refugee camps. It often takes two years to see a judge. They seek friendship and support as they wait.
Justin and Lindsay hear hard stories, meet needs, create art workshops, and build unique businesses such as a furniture and textile recycling and repair business for refugees and an international garden where people can grow familiar herbs and vegetables. Outreach unfolds one conversation at a time with the person in front of them.
“All our friends have hard stories,” Justin said. “A few ladies at different times just fell into Lindsay's arms and burst into tears. She was able to pray with some of them in the name of Jesus.”
The Thomases put together gift bags with shampoo, toothpaste, and soap, along with activities for the kids, and set up a clothing room where people can get clothes for their families. They also help those who want to learn English enroll in classes.
As Justin and Lindsay get to know refugees in Liverpool, they understand challenges of being far from home and all that is familiar. They, too, miss family, favorite foods, and familiarity of living near family. They share loneliness, uncertainty, and isolation because of COVID with people they meet from around the world.
It’s easy to get discouraged.
“We have to stay connected through all this,” Justin said. “Our time with Jesus every day is more important now than it's ever been. Prayer, worship, and reading the Bible is the only way to endure.”
Little affirmations provide the Thomases big encouragement: a Muslim family begins attending the small church, more people come to the weekly prayer and worship night Justin began, and refugees smile for the first time in a long time as they paint in one of Lindsay’s workshops.
And sometimes Justin and Lindsay are able to pray with people who know little about Jesus.
“All these things are strengthening and remind us that we are here because God wanted us to come here,” Lindsay said. “He gives us so much to be grateful for that you can't help but be happy and encouraged.”