[Photo Courtesy of the British Union Conference]

General Conference

Two Hundred Afghan Families at Stanborough Park

For I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in…" (Matthew 25:35)

United Kingdom | Sharon Platt-Mcdonald, BUC Director for Adventist Community Services, Health & Women’s Ministries

On Sunday, 16 January 2022, One Vision hosted a traditional Afghan dinner event at the Stanborough Park Secondary School, attended by over 200 Afghan refugee families.

Just imagine with me, for a moment, that you are fleeing your country of origin. The place of your birth has become the place of potential untimely death, so escape is the only option. As you leave the shores of the familiar, you exchange the known for the unknown, in a hurried and painful separation from family, friends, and all you held dear, to face the uncertainty ahead. The reality of being a ”stranger” in a strange land hits home as you contemplate a future as a foreigner.

Such was the harsh existence of thousands of desperate Afghans fleeing their homeland.

Following the withdrawal of British and US armed forces from Afghanistan and the swift ascension of the Taliban regime seizing power in the summer of 2021, the world witnessed traumatic and heartbreaking scenes of human suffering in a bid to escape tyranny.

The United Nations estimate that between 1 January and 20 October 2021, 677,000 people were newly and forcibly displaced inside Afghanistan.1

As I contemplated how the world would react to this humanitarian crisis, It was heartening to read that the UK government had responded to the plight of refugees fleeing Afghanistan with a package of care to address their transition and diverse needs. An article was published in September 2021 on www.gov.uk, captioned “Operation Warm Welcome underway to support Afghan arrivals in the UK”.

Even as the UK government set out their plans to facilitate the transition journey of the Afghan refugees, the One Vision charity was also busy planning a warm welcome to “take in” these precious individuals with the compassionate care portrayed in Matthew 25:35–40.

One Vision has embraced the arrival of the Afghans since their entrance to the UK in November 2021. Speaking with Enoch Kanagaraj, One Vision founder and CEO (and member of the Stanborough Park Church), I was pleased to hear his plans to minister to the needs of this people group. Kanagaraj shared how he facilitated the collection of essentials such as food, clothes, and personal hygiene items to ensure their daily needs were met. They then delivered the items to their temporary residence in various hotels whilst permanent housing was arranged.

Discussing further with Kanagaraj, he states, "Our goal is to integrate the new arrivals to the UK, helping them to adjust to the diverse aspects of society. The arrangement includes introducing them to all faith groups, although they come from an Islamic country and not exposed to other religions."

Working in partnership with Hertfordshire County Council and the BUC Adventist Community Services department, One Vision is helping to strengthen the hope, confidence, and resilience of the new arrivals as they adjust to British society.

Special guest presenters at the Stanborough School event were Pastor (Dr.) Kirk Thomas, BUC Evangelism Director, Pastor Geert Tap, Stanborough Park Church, and Dr. Zobaida Sakandary, director and lecturer at the Faculty of Law and Political Science at Kabul University, Afghanistan.

Pastor Thomas addressed attendees sharing his experience as an immigrant and spoke about his faith in God, his culture, and the importance both played in his adjustment to living in the UK. Pastor Tap also shared his experience of arrival to the UK and how he has integrated into the British way of life, with his faith being the strong foundation. Dr. Zobaida spoke about hope and courage in the face of change and how survival and success are possible.

A vital aspect of the event was hearing the accounts of the Afghan attendees as they shared their stories of fear, anxieties, and the challenges they faced living in the hotels on arrival to the UK. However, as they savoured the inviting atmosphere and delicious traditional food they had missed for over four months, many shared favourable comments regarding their enjoyment of the event.

Amongst the responses of gratitude were:

"Thank you so much! We really enjoyed the event; it was a great evening!"

"Thank you so much; it was a great party for all our families; we enjoyed and really appreciate everything all your team has done for us."

In reviewing the event, Enoch states, "We thank God for the success of the evening. These people are children of God, and we should be showing care and compassion to every wounded individual and their family. One Vision team will work very closely with them to give support with their practical needs as well as their mental health."

These are the critical aspects of the government's “Operation Warm Welcome” initiative.

Further comments from government ministers revealed the following plans:

Afghan Resettlement Minister Victoria Atkins said, “Operation Warm Welcome is a huge effort across [the] government to make sure that those fleeing Afghanistan can make a success of a new life in the UK.”

Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid states, “This support package will help Afghan evacuees start a new life in the UK, and I'm proud we are providing £3 million to ensure they receive the health care they need. This includes access to prescriptions, wound care and dressings, maternity care, mental health support, and screening for infectious diseases.”

As we contemplate the positive impact of One Vision and government agencies in assisting Afghan refugees to transition to life in the UK, may God smile as He says, "You took Me in."

1 Afghan refugees in the UK - Migration Observatory - The Migration Observatory (ox.ac.uk)

{Left to Right?} Pastor Geert Tap, Roya (Afghan refugee), Harjit Singh (Interfaith leader?), Pastor Thomas, Zobaida Sakandary, Maria Kempinska (comedy therapist), Enoch and Nishtha Kanagaraj.

{Left to Right?} Pastor Geert Tap, Roya (Afghan refugee), Harjit Singh (Interfaith leader?), Pastor Thomas, Zobaida Sakandary, Maria Kempinska (comedy therapist), Enoch and Nishtha Kanagaraj.