Community Hero: Soroush On Sunday June 12th 2016, The Mall in St James’s Park will be transformed for its largest ever street party to celebrate The Queen’s patronage of over 600 charities and organisations on the occasion of her 90th birthday. As The Queen is the patron of CUF, we’re excited to take this opportunity to celebrate with her! We’ve invited a group of community heroes that have been nominated by our Joint Ventures to come with us to The Mall on 12th June so we can celebrate the amazing work that’s taking place in our network. Church Urban Fund is supporting churches throughout the country as they work within their communities to transform lives. Soroush is one of these community heroes that is working with Church Urban Fund and we want you to hear his story. Hi Soroush, how are you feeling about going to the Patron’s Lunch? Just wow. Both my wife and I are really honoured to be going. We’re so excited. Tell us a little bit about how you found yourself living in Teesside. I was born in Iran as a Muslim, but at the age of about 14-15 I came to Christ. This led to a lot of problems both from family members and the government. It got to a point after I got married that it was too dangerous to be there. My wife and I had to flee the country for our safety and so we came to the UK and found ourselves placed in Teesside. A lot of Asylum Seekers don’t stay in Teesside once they’ve been granted Asylum, but you did. Why was that? We left Iran with the belief that God is sovereign and that He guides our path. When we arrived in Teesside we saw that as part of God’s plan for us; we saw it as the place He wanted us to serve. Even though it wasn’t easy for us to start there, we felt so welcomed by the church we are now part of in Teesside. We had fled for our lives and when we arrived in the UK we found God had provided somewhere so welcoming. We wanted to give back to the church and the place that had welcomed us. We wanted to give back to the church and the place that had welcomed us. There’s a passage in Jeremiah that says, ‘seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it,’ (Jeremiah 29vs7) and so that’s what we did. What kind of work have you been doing since you got to Teesside? I’ve been working with a Christian charity called Open Door North East; they work to provide food, housing, support and material help to Asylum Seekers suffering destitution and hardship. It’s hard when you arrive in The UK as an Asylum Seeker; you are used to being in work and suddenly you are unable to work until your asylum claim has been fully looked at (which can take months or years). You have to remember that these are people who have had to run away from their governments, who have left their families behind; you need time for healing after that happens to you. You can lose your sense of agency and so we worked hard at Open Door to try and get people back on their feet, giving them shelter, and once they became refugees we helped them with getting back to work and give them a sense of empowerment. I would meet Asylum Seekers who had been well qualified professionals in their home country but who couldn’t get a job in The UK. I met refugees who had been working their whole lives but couldn’t find any work in The UK. I would meet them and show them that God could take a refugee such as myself and make him feel like a part of His plan. I told them to not lose hope because they are a part of God’s plan. We have worked hard to find housing and food for Asylum Seekers. We have worked with thousands of people in Teesside and I’d meet people who hadn’t read the Bible and who don’t know Jesus as Lord and Saviour and they’d unwittingly repeat Jesus’ words to me. They’d say ‘I was hungry and you fed me, I was a stranger but you gave me somewhere to live.’ That was a very humbling and amazing experience. Have you seen lives transformed through this work? I have. There’s one man that comes to mind immediately who arrived here as an Asylum Seeker from Iran just like myself. He’d had to leave his wife and children behind and he was heartbroken about it. His request for Asylum was denied and he became homeless and wasn’t allowed to get a job. He came to Open Door and we gave him somewhere to stay. We found out that he loves cooking and is desperate to help others. We said to him, ‘if we give you access to our kitchen and some ingredients, could you cook for other destitute Asylum Seekers like yourself?’ He did just that and it opened a gateway for Asylum Seekers and Open Door staff to sit and eat together and share stories and build real relationships. He began to ask us about why we do the work we do; why we bother with it. We told him that our work is inspired by our faith and so he started to come along to church with us. He applied for Asylum a second time and it was granted. He was reunited in the UK with his family and now he’s taking English classes, coming along to church with his family, and he’s still serving Asylum Seekers through Open Door. Tell us a bit about the work you’re doing now. Well, I felt that God wasn’t just calling me to help Asylum Seekers, He was calling me to help local people, as well. Not long after that an opportunity came along at Middlesbrough Foodbank so I took the job. Heather Black who is the CUF’s Development Worker in Middlesbrough is my line manager at the Food Bank and that’s a real privilege for me. I had known Heather through my job at Open Door; she has a gift for bringing people together and is doing fantastic work across Teeside to help people to better understand refugees and Asylum Seekers. I love this job because, although churches might disagree on theology and doctrine sometimes, you’ll always see them come together to serve those in need in their community and that’s exactly what happens through this Food Bank. What have you learnt from this journey? What is really in my heart is that we are all humans created by God and so what we need to have is compassion. Let’s look at people with hearts full of compassion. Let’s look at people with hearts full of compassion. And this is not just about refugees but also the local people down the street who are struggling to get by. I’d encourage people to keep being generous, to learn from those around you, and to keep serving your local community. God has done something brilliant in this country by bringing all different cultures together. This is history and we should be a part of it. Ultimately, it’s all about compassion and a non-judgemental view. We are all humans and we can never know what another person has been through; we simply need to recognise that they are human and have compassion. Let’s be in this community together and not withdraw from it.