Laura Keen: at work with the Bless Network

Laura Keen

At yesterday’s service, Laura Keen reported on her time as an  Intern with  the Bless Network, September – December 2018.  Thanks so much for sharing this, Laura.

Bless is a missional movement which moved its base to Normandy in 2009, starting up Bethany, a training centre for worship, prayer and mission, directed and run by Chrissie and Gerard Kelly. They are currently church planting in three different spots across France but equipping people from across the globe, running retreats, training programmes and regular events (Livarot, Caen, Villedomer). Their primary goal focuses on individuals “deepening faith, growing or even discovering new gifting, and impacting communities they are in.” Transformational Church – Transforming Individuals and communities, developing and discovering our unique passions and God-given gifts in order to bless the wider community.

One of the principle projects with which I was involved during my short time with Bless was SOS Chai, the refugee ministry. This was of course not Bless’s original focus when created, but has since become an essential part of the church in Caen, in response to the direct and obvious need seen in the city. SOS CHAI began in the Calais jungle, in a converted ambulance named “Mr T.” At that time, the van served around 400 young guys every day. Since the destruction of the jungle, the van came back to Caen in 2017, now serving between 40-80 guys (but very dependent on the night).

As an Intern with Bless last year, I had the privilege of serving alongside the incredible SOS Chai team, where both French locals and members of the church distribute hot meals, drinks, clothes and basic essentials to a group of around 60 boys, most of whom come from South Sudan, using a converted ambulance (Mr T) in the presqu’île district of Caen. The team goes out twice weekly, serving the boys (most of whom are in their 20s) on a Wednesday and Sunday evening whilst playing card games, trying to listen, for those who were willing and able to share, to parts of their stories. It is such a blessing to serve and fundraise for these guys, who in turn, as Chrissie and Gerard affirm so often, bless us enormously. It continues to be an enormous encouragement to see both French locals and international students in Caen getting involved and giving so selflessly to this work. Over the last few months, we have however noticed an evident increase in the diversity of nationalities coming to the van, with boys from Iran, Afghanistan and the Congo. As a result, the demand for food and basic essentials, sleeping bags and shoes, especially during the winter months has been particularly high, which evidently brings with it some financial strain.

We often don’t know the “why.” We often don’t know the “how” or the “how long.” And we most definitely don’t know what is to come for these boys. Communication itself could be difficult with many boys speaking Arabic and not having neither French nor English. Whether it be when considering their long-term prospects or simply watching them wait for us to leave the parking lot so that they can prepare a place to sleep on the tarmac, it is both easy and natural to feel overwhelmed and somewhat helpless. Yet, what we do know is that these young guys are here, now. Collectively they are a group of refugees, yes, but better known as Rasheed, Abdul, Abdullah, Mohammad… A is a born leader. R takes extra coffee to make for the boys in the squat. In the absence of their own family, of their own people, they need to know that they are still loved and still valued as individuals, whose stories are worth listening to. WE cannot empathise or understand their journeys but we can try and listen. As Bless so often emphasises, they, as humans are seen and are heard. In the now, for a few hours a week, SOS Chai seeks to show some of our Father’s great love and concern for these boys, to whom, we can entrust their lives; the “what has been” and the “what is to come.” And who has never left them.

It was about half-way through my internship that I asked some of the boys to teach me a few numbers and colours in Arabic. For those brief moments, the “us” and “them” were reversed, and these individuals became teachers and encouragers, as both linguistic and cultural experts, writing figures on the steamed up windows of the van or letting us practice simple colours during a game of UNO. We know that in spite of their seemingly hopeless situations, these young men have hopes, dreams and gifts, alongside a courage and determination which never fails to astonish us. And there is incredible beauty in that. And smiles which tell us that their current situation is far better than the one they left.

If you are interested in finding out more, or in contributing in some way towards the work of SOS CHAI, please just let me know – I would love to chat more about it!

Thank you so much.

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