3 ways Latter-day Saints in England are serving refugees

Refugee crises of the past few years continue to affect people from nations where it is unsafe or unstable to remain at home. Many refugees have been sent to England or have made their way there to try to make a better life for themselves.

Below are three examples of many ways Latter-day Saints in the United Kingdom serve their new neighbors, by making connections and working with charity partners and reaching out in love. These stories are part of ongoing projects and recurring events in those areas.

A sports day with young adult refugees

Young adults in the Staines England Stake play volleyball with refugees on Sept. 11, 2021. The stake wanted to find a way to serve the refugees living in hotels around Heathrow International Airport, which is in the stake boundaries.
Young adults in the Staines England Stake play volleyball with refugees on Sept. 11, 2021. The stake wanted to find a way to serve the refugees living in hotels around Heathrow International Airport, which is in the stake boundaries. Credit: Pamela Maytham

Kicking a ball around on a sunny day has a way of lifting spirits, creating friendships and building memories. In September 2021, Church members and refugees came together for a day of sports. 

“We had a few refs but mostly they just got on with it and it was absolutely wonderful,” said Pamela Maytham, Staines England Stake Relief Society president. “It was honestly one of the best ways to spend an afternoon.” 

The day came about after some of the stake’s young single adults were talking about what they could do on the Day of Service for Sept. 11. They wanted to serve the refugees living in the hotels around Heathrow International Airport, which is in the stake boundaries. The group decided on volleyball and soccer, or what they call football.

One of the Church members had been volunteering with Care4Calais, a British charity that serves refugees. Maytham said the stake partnered with Care4Calais to plan the sports event, and Sam Gilstrap, a high councilor and a member of the JustServe committee, put the event on JustServe.org.

Care4Calais invited the refugees they were working with, Gilstrap organized the football games, and Maytham helped provide some food. Stake President Russell Ball works for Burnley Football Club and brought 160 football kits, or jerseys, of various sizes.

Maytham said the kits were well received by the young adults. “We are all Burnley fans now,” she laughed.

A look at the donated kits, or jerseys, from Burnley Football Club in England. The Staines England Stake president brought the kits to the stake sports day on Sept. 11, 2021, where Church members played soccer and volleyball with refugee young adults living in their stake boundaries.
A look at the donated kits, or jerseys, from Burnley Football Club in England. The Staines England Stake president brought the kits to the stake sports day on Sept. 11, 2021, where Church members played soccer and volleyball with refugee young adults living in their stake boundaries. Credit: Pamela Maytham

More so than a fun day of sports and good food, Maytham said, the event was crucial for connecting on a human level. She found out that one of the young refugee men had a friend who died by suicide a month or two earlier. Some of the men had been stuck in hotel rooms for up to two years. 

“Boredom is a huge problem. They have food and shelter, but there’s nothing to do. And this showed us what can be done,” said Maytham. “They were so happy to talk about themselves, and to be welcomed as normal human beings. It didn’t matter where they were from, they were just playing football.”

The sun came out that day, and they played football and volleyball for a long time together. Maytham said all left with extra love in their hearts for people they didn’t know before. And they want to do it again.

“People need to get involved in service just to realize that they are all children of God,” she said. “It doesn’t matter what we look like, we are all brothers and sisters.”

Family Fun Day with refugee families

Members of the St Albans England Stake play games with their new refugee neighbors on Oct. 16, 2021, in Stevanage, St Albans, England. Some of the men didn’t understand each other’s language but they still said they had fun playing together.
Members of the St Albans England Stake play games with their new refugee neighbors on Oct. 16, 2021, in Stevanage, St Albans, England. Some of the men didn’t understand each other’s language but they still said they had fun playing together. Credit: Alle Bruce

On a day in October 2021, a chapel in Stevanage, St Albans, England, came alive with music, food, games, crafts and even a magic show. The St Albans England Stake hosted a party for refugee families — and one of the organizers, Joyce Farnsworth, says it could not have gone better. 

She said well over 100 people came, all refugees, mostly Syrians and a few Iranians. Most were families from different cities within the county. And Farnsworth received many messages of thanks from them during and after the activity. 

Samer, a Syrian refugee, told the organizers: “Thank you for this beautiful party. It was a beautiful day, and we had a lot of fun. The kids loved the magic games, and the food was great. I hope to meet again soon. Thank you to all the volunteers who made an effort to prepare this party.” 

Farnsworth was grateful it was so well received. “We were really lucky we got to pull it off,” she told the Church News, referencing the different periods of COVID-19 lockdowns in England.  

Farnsworth, who is first counselor in the St Albans Stake Relief Society presidency, speaks Arabic and volunteers with Herts Welcomes Refugees, a local charity in the county of Hertfordshire, where St Albans is located. She is also on her stake JustServe committee. The committee members and Herts Welcomes Refugees members spent weeks organizing the party with the help of JustServe.org. They made flyers in Arabic and English to advertise the Family Fun Day. Volunteers also made party bags for the children to take home.

Youth and primary leaders led the teens and children in games and crafts outside and inside the building. Other Church members brought board games and card games for tables set up in the cultural hall. The Relief Society partnered with Project Linus, which provides blankets for children in need. Farnsworth said the English women and the refugee women enjoyed working on the blankets together and chatting. And the men got to know each other as they spent time playing games together. 

A child works on crafts during a party in Stevenage, St Albans, England. on Oct. 16, 2021. The St Albans England Stake planned a big party for refugee families and Church members to get to know each other.
A child works on crafts during a party in Stevenage, St Albans, England. on Oct. 16, 2021. The St Albans England Stake planned a big party for refugee families and Church members to get to know each other. Credit: Alle Bruce

“It was really funny, there was an English man and then an older Syrian man who didn’t speak hardly a word of English, and they were trying to teach each other a game,” Farnsworth said. “I went over and they each said to me: ‘Can you please talk to him? I don’t understand what he’s trying to teach me.’” She got it sorted out through translation. 

Volunteers helped serve pizzas in the kitchen — but these weren’t typical pizzas. Farnsworth’s committee acquired halal meat and dough from a local restaurant, and they flattened the dough and patted the spiced meat on top to make sfeeha or sfiha. Arabic music also played in the room. And a magician from Magic for Smiles who speaks Arabic put on a show for the families. 

A Magic for Smiles magician puts on a show for refugee families and members of the St Albans England Stake on Oct. 16, 2021. The stake organized a family fun day and around 100 people came.
A Magic for Smiles magician puts on a show for refugee families and members of the St Albans England Stake on Oct. 16, 2021. The stake organized a family fun day and around 100 people came. Credit: Alle Bruce

“That was important to me, to have their own music and their own food, and things like that. It opened up the culture for our Church members as well. They got to see a little bit into the culture and who these people were,” said Farnsworth.  

Farnsworth said the charity Herts Welcomes Refugees was also grateful for the event. She felt that it brought good recognition for the Church and created connections in the community. 

“They just were like, wow, what an ambitious party,” said Farnsworth. “They said over and over again, this was so lovely, what an amazing thing for your church to do.” 

Farnsworth said the stake will host another family day in the future.

Sorting through donations for refugees

Volunteers and missionaries in the Watford England Stake helping Goods for Good staff sort hundreds of pieces of donated clothing into boxes by size and type. The stake has used JustServe to sign up for shifts from September 2021 through early 2022.
Volunteers and missionaries in the Watford England Stake helping Goods for Good staff sort hundreds of pieces of donated clothing into boxes by size and type. The stake has used JustServe to sign up for shifts from September 2021 through early 2022. Credit: Andrea James

When Andrea James was prayerfully searching for places to serve around her area of Watford, England, she found Goods for Good, a British charity with a base in Watford that takes donated goods from stores and industries and distributes them to those in need in the U.K.

James is the Watford England Stake director of communications and represents JustServe in her area. In August 2021, she left a message through the Goods for Good website saying Church members were interested in helping in any way. Soon the CEO was reaching out to her saying the charity really could use some help.

Its small facility was overwhelmed with over 200 bins of donated clothing. A local synagogue had collected the clothing to give to Goods for Good for refugees arriving in England last fall. But the charity’s staff couldn’t handle it all. 

James soon organized Church members from her stake to volunteer. They opened bags, sorted clothing, folded it and put it into the appropriate cartons so it would be easy to find throughout fall 2021.

“We’ve had different members there, the full-time missionaries and senior missionaries, and young adults who have all been able to pitch up and help,” said James.

And as Church members and the Goods for Good team worked alongside each other, they learned a lot about each other. James said a lot of the charity’s staff belong to the same synagogue.  

Members of the Watford England Stake and Goods for Good staff stand with more bags of donated clothing in fall 2021. The Church members signed up for shifts to help the charity organization sort clothes for refugees.
Members of the Watford England Stake and Goods for Good staff stand with more bags of donated clothing in fall 2021. The Church members signed up for shifts to help the charity organization sort clothes for refugees. Credit: Andrea James

“Quite a few of the Church members have said what really interesting conversations they’ve had as they are working alongside each other. Finding similarities, and finding so many things they can admire in each other,” said James.

“From the staff’s point of view, they absolutely love it if we get any of our full-time missionaries there, especially if it is a big crowd of young American boys,” she went on. “They love their spirit, they love their humor, they love their willingness to plow on and keep going.”

Even after going through all of that clothing, the relationship didn’t end. Church members continue to volunteer at Goods for Good whenever the organization needs more help. Sometimes a project is listed on JustServe.org; sometimes it’s a phone call between the new friends.

Goods for Good has also helped the Watford Stake in return with its other service projects. The CEO donated children’s summer clothing to send to Haiti after that nation’s earthquake. And she gave the Watford Stake hundreds of drawstring sports bags to fill with Christmas gifts for refugee children. 

James said as the Church grows stronger in England and serves others and makes these connections in the community, the Church becomes more recognizable.

Now people understand that the Church is not just a Sunday thing, she said: “It’s these regular acts of service that add up to an amazing interweaving of us into the culture of where we are.”

A member of the Watford England Stake sorts donated clothing for refugees at Goods for Good charity in September, 2021.
A member of the Watford England Stake sorts donated clothing for refugees at Goods for Good charity in September, 2021. Credit: Andrea James

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