Jen and Paul's story

Jen and Paul share their story and their heart for welcoming teenage refugees into their home.

In 2013, we felt a strong sense that God wanted us to care for more people in our home. We already had two foster children with us and were about to adopt our seventh child, so to say we were surprised was an understatement.

However, we prayed, read the Bible, and asked close Christian friends to pray and advise. We then took a leap of faith to add two bedrooms and a bathroom to our home.

We still weren’t sure who we might be caring for, but then the Syrian crisis unfolded. Both of us have experience in overseas humanitarian work, so Jen went to Lesbos to assist with the welcoming of young mothers and children there. Upon her return, we met with senior representatives of York Council and Home for Good staff. We were approved foster carers, with spare rooms and beds made up. Surely we could offer something?

A plan emerged: our home would become a ‘Welcome Centre’ – the first port of call for all Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking Children allocated to York. They would come to us for up to three months for welcome, orientation and assessment, before moving to longer-term provision.

In the last eighteen months, we have welcomed nine teenage boys in this way. They generally arrive confused and anxious. Because of their traumatic journeys, as well as the persecution that has forced them to leave their homes in the first place, many have trouble sleeping, and we’ve found ourselves sat up in the early hours with them after nightmares.

Several of the boys have physical scars too. We never ask them any questions about themselves but find that gradually, over time, they tell us what they want to. Sadly, we have heard stories of incarceration, beatings, torture, near drowning, banditry and trafficking. Some have witnessed murder.

However, it has been a privilege to see these young men become more relaxed and confident. Our youngest children, aged 9 and 10, have been wonderful: playing games with our guests and helping with homework when their English lessons start.

We are aware of all the broken attachments these young men have, so we make sure we tell them from the start that, eventually, they will be moving on to live in another household. We don’t want to disappoint them later. But as we’ve grown pretty fond of our guests, it’s a joy to be able to keep in touch with many of them after moving.

We always tell the boys that they’re welcome in our home – they’re with us at our request – and that we want to help because if one of our sons was alone overseas, we would want someone to be kind to him.

Another way we gain the boys’ trust is by trying to understand their faith. Most have been Muslim, so we’ve got to know the Halal outlet pretty well, and although we still pray before meals, we are careful about the words we use. We’ve developed a good relationship with the local Mosque and make sure the boys can get there each Friday.

Back in 2013, we had no idea how God wanted to use us and our home, so it has been a real joy to be part of His work of welcoming refugees. They arrive so sad and lost, but they grow in hope and confidence – and we just love being involved.

Read other stories from this feature:

York families respond to God's heart for young refugeesLynn and Simon's storySandra and Harry's storyClare and Mark's story

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