A group of men forced to flee persecution in Iran, leaving their families behind, have found a warm welcome in Agherton Parish in Portstewart. [We are using their initials only to protect their families in their homeland].
The parish hall is open to them on two afternoons a week, allowing the refugees from Iran and from many other countries, including Syria, Sudan and Eritrea, to leave the confines of their nearby hotel and meet socially for sport and recreation.
As we reported recently, a number of the refugees and asylum seekers have been coming to services in the church, and at Christmas participated in the retelling of the nativity, reading from their Persian Bibles while their words in English were displayed on the big screen.
They are also being taught English by volunteers from the parish and have been helping with chores around the church and church hall as, because of their status as asylum seekers, they are not permitted to undertake paid work.
We paid a visit to Agherton on Thursday afternoon January 12, to meet some of those who have joined the Agherton church family. Some of their stories are harrowing. B has photographs of bullet wounds he sustained when protesting for rights for women. He had to go into hiding before fleeing his country. The scars, both physical and mental, are still raw.
A is just 22. He does not know when he will see his parents and younger sister again. He received a warning from the police for his part in joining the protest in support of young women. “I had to leave, I was in danger. Still the police go every day to my family and ask, ‘Where is A?’” he says.
M looks younger than his 37 years. He has had to leave his wife, two sons and three-year-old daughter behind. He is a skilled pastry chef, as photographs of his work show, and also a welder and kitchen cabinet designer. He fled his homeland because being a Christian in Iran put his life in danger. During our visit, he and the rector of Agherton, the Rev Malcom Ferry, chatted to M’s little girl via What’s App.
You can read more about the refugees and asylum seekers, and the support they are receiving from Agherton Parish Church, in the spring issue of our diocesan magazine, Connor Connections.