Shine Winslow shine


‘Let your light shine’ is the new message being shared at Winslow CE School. The Rt Revd Alan Wilson, the Bishop of Buckingham, spoke on that theme at a special service attended by pupils, staff, and parents. The choir of St Laurence Church led by Derry French, their music director, joined in.

A competition saw 350 pupils design art work on that theme. The winners, Maisie from year five and Florence from year four, had their designs turned into bookmarks, produced by the nearby Waddesdon CE School. Special thanks were given to Waddesdon, a nearby secondary school and to the Revd Andrew Lightbown, who set up a chaplaincy from St Laurence Church to fund the bookmarks and support the school.

Cazz Colmer, head teacher said: “We are a school that is rated good by Ofsted and our inclusive Christian ethos welcomes all children aged three to 11. Each child is unique, reflecting some of God’s light every day in what they do and on those they meet. Each one will find excitement, discovery, warmth and friendship here in the glow of that light. These bookmark designs are just one example of our pupils flourishing as individuals and engaging with each other. Such light dispels all kinds of darkness, bringing clarity, hope and purpose to our school and to the local community”

Caption: Back from left, Derry French, Bishop Alan, Andrew Lightbown and Cazz Colmer. From are Alice, Rowan, Florence, Maisie, Darcy and Harry.

Blessing a new building project


On Sunday 16th July Bishop Steven came to The Church of the Holy Spirit, Bedgrove, Aylesbury to bless a new building project.

The Big Thank You in Newport Pagnell


NEWPORT Pagnell celebrated the tireless work of 300 people with a Big Thank You event.

Staff from care homes, sheltered housing and the Brooklands Centre which provides community services for older people, as well as workers from the town’s two NHS medical centres and three dental practices were invited. Police, fire, and ambulance staff and volunteer Community First Responders and volunteers from St John, Red Cross, Eclipse Addiction and the Winter Night Shelter were among those on the guest list.

The event was held at St Peter and St Paul’s Church. The Rector, Nick Evans, said: “We wanted a way to show our appreciation and give thanks to all that these local services do for us in our town. Many of these unsung heroes go about their daily business with little or no thanks and we want to address that to highlight their endeavours for us as individuals and the community as a whole.”

Ministry for the Deaf

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The Door tells the stories of some of those involved with churches that cater specifically for the deaf and hard of hearing in the Thames Valley.
by the Revd Ben Whitaker

Martha’s Vineyard stands out in Deaf History. Through a mutation of a recessive gene brought about by inbreeding, a form of hereditary deafness existed for 250 years in this place in Massachusetts in the United States, following the arrival of the first deaf settlers in the 1690s.

Scarcely a family was unaffected and one in four people were deaf. In response to this, the entire community learnt sign language and there was a free and complete communication between hearing and deaf people. Deaf people were scarcely seen as deaf. The writer Oliver Sachs gave his impressions of Martha’s Vineyard when he visited the island: “My first sight of this indeed was unforgettable. I drove up to the old general store in West Tisbury on a Sunday morning and saw half a dozen people gossiping together on the porch. They could have been any old folks talking together – until suddenly they all dropped into sign. They signed for a minute, laughed, then dropped back into speech.”

In sharp contrast to those people in Martha’s Vineyard, sign language users in this country who are deaf, are largely separate from the hearing world. There is very little of the integration which Sachs describes. British Sign Language is a language which is clear and visual so most appropriate for deaf people. Church members have been using and teaching BSL for many years, believing that everyone is a child of God and should have access to the Gospel and to the ministry of the Church. Many clergy, including myself, learnt sign from deaf people themselves.

I have been a Chaplain with deaf and hard of hearing people for 21 years. Before then I worked in two parishes in different parts of the country. What drew me to deaf chaplaincy was that it was different to other forms of ministry I had experienced. I relished the challenge of learning a new language, and getting to know deaf people, to see their slant on the world. It has been a challenging and deeply rewarding experience. At the moment I work part time for the Oxford Diocesan Council for the Deaf. This is a charity and works with deaf and hard of hearing people to meet their spiritual, social and general needs, and to help give them a voice in the Church and in society.

The work I do is not of course limited to sign language users. There are many more who experience hearing loss who lip read to a greater or lesser extent. Some lip read as an alternative to BSL. These people may be profoundly deaf and manage to integrate into the hearing world. Others experience hearing loss due to their age.

Some people use hearing aids which are a great help. However their usefulness depends on the degree of hearing loss. They do not, for instance, help the user detect the direction of a particular noise. And they not only amplify particular sounds but all sounds around the user so that in large gatherings, as with many church meetings and services, holding conversations and hearing people properly can be difficult. Another barrier to using hearing aids is the perception that they are something to be ashamed about. Some people just like to complain that “people are mumbling” and cope as best they can.

There are an estimated 2,000 people in the Oxford Diocese with a total or severe hearing loss, and up to 70 of these are currently active members of the deaf worshipping communities. One in seven members of the population are reckoned to have a significant hearing loss, and their needs and potential contribution are not generally recognised in the hearing communities.

I work within a team of lay and ordained persons. And I work across the Diocese. In the same way as parochial clergy have oversight over people in a particular geographical area, so I think of myself as having concern for deaf and hard of hearing people who live in the Oxford Diocese. I take services in BSL, and support deaf people through pastoral problems. I take funerals in BSL, as well as being with deaf people at happier occasions like baptisms and weddings.
I would very much like to encourage clergy to get involved in the Deaf Church, to come and work with us, to get involved in this unique form of ministry.

The Revd Ben Whitaker is a part-time Chaplain to the Oxford Deaf Church.

Being part of a church signing team

George Chapman from Milton Keynes describes his journey from college to work and how he enjoys volunteering as part of the BSL team at the Cross & Stable Church.

George signs at a wedding at his church.

I’m 23 and live with with my parents. I have a younger brother and younger sister. I spent 10 years in a mainstream school, learning English, Maths, History and Geography as well as taking special lessons in BSL which I passed at Level 1 and 2. I enjoyed learning new things and I made a lot of deaf friends, and some hearing friends as well. I wasn’t very happy after my move to secondary school but I concentrated on my lessons as I wanted to make progress and get ready for my future.

I was at Milton Keynes College for about four-and-a-half years. In the first two years I did English and Maths and Life Skills (like money and community and how to get a job). Then I moved on to two years doing IT. That was excellent. I really improved. I did several work experience placements while at school and college: Newport Pagnell Library and the Co-op in Newport Pagnell, and an office work placement at the college. They helped me to learn how businesses work and to decide what job I’d like to do.

When I left college I started looking for work. It took me about a year. I did volunteering while I was looking, helping at signing classes and at the Job Centre. I did work experience at Morrisons and learned about health and safety and how a supermarket works. Then the Shaw Trust helped me get a job in Sainsbury’s café. That’s a real-life job and it’s been brilliant for me. I was nominated for a ‘Best Colleague’ award and while I didn’t win the national prize, I enjoyed the experience of the award ceremony in London in February.

I help at Cross & Stable Church, an ecumenical Church in Milton Keynes, as part of the signing team. I sign hymns and readings as well as the Lord’s Prayer and the responses. At Christmas I will be doing carols and I’ll help people feel welcome.
I first came to the church when I was young, but I got involved again about four years ago when Sue Baines (a BSL teacher) told me about the signing team and persuaded me to join. I love it.

In the past I’ve been part of a drama club. I was involved for 10 years. I’ve done sign acting as well as BSL interpreting for the Christmas panto. There were some changes at the club and since starting work I’ve needed to concentrate on that, plus saving money and hopefully getting ready for living independently.
At times I find it hard to join in the deaf community, as some deaf events happen in work time and that takes priority. These days I’m concentrating on work, and enjoying being part of the signing team at Cross & Stable.

No limitations for Elizabeth

Elizabeth Payne is deaf but refuses to be limited by other people’s ideas about what she can acheive.

Elizabet Payne

Elizabeth is a member of the Cross & Stable Church, Downs Barn in Milton Keynes, which she attends with her husband Les. She was born and grew up in Kenya, part of a big family, with three brothers and sisters and lots of half-brothers and half-sisters.

Elizabeth learned to sign at her primary school, which was a boarding school for the deaf started originally by Dutch missionaries and an hour’s journey from home. Kenyan sign language has a number of differences from BSL. The alphabet, for instance, is in a one-handed, American style. Elizabeth is multilingual in all sorts of ways, including signing.

Her secondary education was at a deaf vocational school where Elizabeth did a nursing and caring course connected to a local hospital. There she met Les, who came from England to work as a volunteer teacher at a boys’ polytechnic. One of his friends was a volunteer matron at the hospital, and Les and Elizabeth met at a birthday party.
They began their married life in Kenya, but moved to England where their children, Christopher and Joanne, were born. Chris is in the throes of university applications and hopes to do Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Oxford. Joanne is in Year 9 and is starting her GCSEs. They are both hearing but good signers. “Joanne learned to sign very young,” says Elizabeth. “One of her first signs was ‘ice-cream’.”

Elizabeth is a determined learner. When she told her family in Kenya she wanted to be a copy typist, they said, “You can’t do that”, but she points out, “I went to a hearing teaching college and succeeded in qualifying.”

Here in England she has learned to swim and to cycle, and passed her driving test on her first attempt in 2005. Her biggest driving challenge was to track down a driving instructor willing to take a deaf pupil. Elizabeth’s priority is her home and family, but she likes to be busy and in the mornings and evenings she works as a cleaner. She enjoys opportunities to meet up with deaf friends and has a number of craft skills. She was once part of a deaf sewing group.

It was a woman at Homestart that told Elizabeth about the Cross & Stable Church and the signed services there when Chris was a toddler. Like many mums, Elizabeth has known the isolation of caring for infants at home while her partner is having to be out at work. But she still describes one of her greatest joys as family and seeing the children grow up and thrive.

Being deaf has had its frustrations, like people who tell her she can’t do things which she knows she can, or the lack of understanding by Government departments at times (DVLA included) but, says Elizabeth, there are advantages like being able to switch off sometimes.

And new technologies can be a great help in communicating with friends around the world – by text, Skype or Facebook. They’ve helped Elizabeth to keep in touch with her oldest son Kenneth, who’s doing development studies at university in Nairobi, and catch up with friends in Germany and the USA. For Elizabeth it’s ‘total communication’. She is used to living with hearing people and is a good lip-reader, but she loves the chance to be part of a signing community.

Pat Chandler’s story

I am in my 60s and live in Slough.  I am now retired, but worked for more than 25 years with disabled people, helping them on work placements, teaching them how to use the bus, how to shop, how to find work and other ‘ordinary’ life skills. Now retired, I am doing voluntary work in Slough, and volunteer at Oxfam.  My hobbies are doing cross-words, computer games, and learning about different religions from documentaries. I also like to travel.

I am a member of the Roman Catholic Church and I regularly worship at the monthly Cox Green Deaf Church Service run by ODCD.  My local Catholic Church has a link with the Church of England. The reason I come to the Deaf Church, is because it is easier, because it is in the sign language I understand.  The Catholic Church only gives services in spoken English, with no interpreter, but I have very little hearing, and so I do not know what they are saying, especially in the sermon. I just recite the rosary to avoid daydreaming. I did have a friend who interpreted a little bit, but she died some years ago, and no one else is available.  I have asked but my local church only provide signing during the mass. There is no sign language when the mass is over. That is why I like to come to the Deaf Church. All of the service and the preaching is signed in BSL, and I can get a full picture of what the priest or lay preacher is signing in the sermon.

My Christian faith means a lot.  When I go to church, I feel an inner peace within me.  I understand God better every time that I come to Deaf Church, because I can understand better: it helps me to improve and gives me strength and confidence.  I feel much better when I come to Deaf Church: it is really good.

I would like a chaplain who could sign BSL, and make me feel comfortable without worrying about being a Catholic, but would accept me as I am, so I could come and take communion.

I would like to say to other Christians, “Respect each other, respect that we’re all one church.  Whether we’re Jewish, Hindu, Catholic, Church of England, we are all equal.  The church should welcome anybody.  If they believe in God, that’s fine, we’re all equal.  It doesn’t matter if they don’t believe in God, as they are all welcome to God.”

Ken Dyson’s story:

I retired six years ago, and now volunteer for church visiting, and I am a Licensed Lay Minister with the Oxford Deaf Church. I am also a member of the executive committee of the Reading Deaf Centre, and its secretary.

 My main hobbies are sailing and cycling. I have two adult children with three grandchildren between them.  They live between North Oxfordshire and Essex, so living in Reading, I have to do a lot of driving backwards and forwards, visiting. Within the deaf community, I enjoy all the talking we do in our own sign language: sign language is good for telling stories, and they can be very funny. The difficulties of being deaf are those of communication.  For example, when driving to north Oxfordshire, I stopped off for food, and was asked what I wanted, but because of the background noise, people could not hear me, and I could not speak above the noise.

As a Christian, I believe that my life comes from God. I owe God everything, and I have to give something back: it saved me from depression when I was young, so it is important to me. I would like the hearing church to take more interest in the deaf church. Before, we tried to go to a hearing church, but we stopped, because we could not understand what was being said.

 I would like to see more chaplains to the deaf, especially chaplains who are deaf themselves. We need a chaplain who would welcome young deaf people and bring them in to church.

I also believe that a lot of people don’t understand what Jesus said. They need more education and the to read about him for themselves. I recently heard some deaf people arguing over whether or not Jesus was a Jew. Religious education, both in deaf and hearing schools is declining and this is a problem deaf churches and deaf schools need to address.

What can your church do?

Essential for all churches
• A high quality sound system of microphones and loudspeakers to be provided throughout the worship area; ideally bring in a sound engineer to advise you.
• A hearing loop available throughout the church worship area and meeting rooms. (ODCD and other charities can often provide contributions towards the cost.)
• A clear view of the worship leader and preacher.
• Good lighting, falling on the worship leader and preacher.
• A written service with clear responses, produced either clearly on paper, or visible onscreen.

Good to have
• Intercessions: written or on screen.
• Sermon: written and full text or summary points on screen.
• The provision of monitors in church “blind spots” such as behind pillars or in overflow rooms or chapel areas so that the worship leaders or preacher may be seen.
• A high quality sound system of microphones and loudspeakers to be provided in all meeting rooms.
• Avoid speaking over music.

Ideal, in addition to the above
• To provide a BSL interpreter within sight of the worship leader/preacher during services, and at meetings, especially public meetings.
• When available, provision of speech to text software projected onto a visible screen.

And now…
If your church already provides some or all of these facilities, let ODCD know so they can be added to the list of ‘deaf friendly churches’ on the website. Email:

Fight poverty with soup this Lent

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PEOPLE across the Diocese are being urged to support Christian Aid by eating soup this Lent.

For example, in the Hambleden Valley, there will be a series of Lent Lunches to raise money for Christian Aid’s work.

Organiser Penny Mcleish said, “Over the years we’ve raised thousands of pounds to help people in

Michael with his grandson

need.” The money raised is used to help people like Michael, who lives in South Sudan, where 6.1 million people urgently need humanitarian aid as a result of the conflict that erupted in December 2013. Ongoing fighting has displaced 2.4 million people, and up to 5.3 million people are at risk of severe food shortages.

Michael, who is in his 70s and has gradually lost his sight during the past five years, fled alongside his family when government forces came to his village. Soldiers killed people and stole cattle, forcing Michael to flee to the swamp where he resided with his family for two months. When they returned, most of their belongings were gone, and they were left with next to nothing. With the help of fishing hooks and nets from Christian Aid, Michael is now able to take the younger generation to the swamp to teach them how to fish so they can continue to feed their community.

Phil Evans, of Christian Aid’s Oxford office, said: “We are asking you to reflect each day on the blessings in your life through Count Your Blessings, inspired by daily opportunities to give, act and pray for communities like Michael’s, helping them to find a safe place to call home.”
Christian Aid is working with people displaced within South Sudan, who are living in some of the hardest to reach places, to provide much-needed food, safe water and sanitation facilities and essential household items, including sheeting for temporary shelters, as well as fish hooks and nets so they can start to rebuild their lives and become self-sufficient.

Just £15 could provide fishing gear for a family like Michael’s; £8.50 could provide two cooking pots so they can eat a hot meal; and £3 could pay for two plastic jerry cans so they can store safe drinking water.

Hambleden Valley Churches are holding three Lent Lunches on Saturdays 18, 25 March and 1 April in the Hambleden Parish Hall and at St John the Evangelist Frieth on Saturday 8 April noon to 2pm. For details contact Penny on 01491 571288 or

Priest retires after more than 60 years


A PRIEST who is retiring after more than 60 years of ordained ministry has cited Ephesians 1 as he reflected on his career.

The Revd Ted Bale with his wife Sylvia on Remebrance Day in 2015.

The Revd Ted Bale, 94, from Milton Keynes, who has finally retired, says he has been amazed and moved at the number of ‘God-incidences’ that proved to be turning points in his life.

“There were the quite extraordinary events through the Great War which led to my Mum and Dad meeting,” says Ted, who trained as a builder at Willesden Polytechnic in the 1930s before following his dream to join the RAF.

Ted served in the Night Fighter Squadron in North Africa, before being posted to the frontline at Cassino in Italy in 1944. This led Ted to much questioning about the meaning of life and eventually, after he married his wife, he felt Jesus “nagging him out of the RAF” and into the priesthood. “I went into the ministry via King’s College, London and my first job involved the building of a new church in Corby which needed my polytechnic knowledge. And there has been much more. During the renewal in the 1970s to my retirement in 1988 and all of the freelancing I have done, I can see how God has been at work. I can wholeheartedly refer readers of the Door to Ephesians 1, which talks of God’s plan for their lives and mine.”

Travelling Home


The Bishop of Buckingham, the Rt Revd Alan Wilson, with Queenie, enjoying the meal after the Travelling Home for Christmas service.

The Revd Joseph Fernandes, a Curate in the Horton and Wraysbury Benefice in Buckinghamshire, reflects on the relationship between Horton’s traveller community and the church. 

At the heart of every traveller is the yearning to travel home. The question travellers ask themselves is where is home? For most, the pursuit of this quest will take a lifetime, and is fraught with many challenges. This comes with being part of one of the most misunderstood ethnic minorities in the UK. The nomadic lifestyle, still practised by many, associated with prejudice, general assumptions, media stories and caricatured television programs, are part of a misplaced public perception towards travellers. This has severely hindered their integration in society at large. As a result, it comes with no surprise the traveller community is close-knit and naturally distrustful of outsiders. In many places throughout the UK, there are long established traveller communities, often where their members are treated as second class citizens. As for the Church, it has not always intervened in a way that reflects the hospitality that should be at the heart of Christianity, and in many cases contributed to a social exclusion that persists to this day.

The village of Horton in Berkshire, is part of an area which has a long established traveller community, which is a reflection of the wider context that can be found in the Thames Valley. Although the relationship between travellers and the wider community has witnessed a steady improvement over recent years, there is much work to be done in terms of building lasting bridges. At the heart of the village sits St Michael’s church, a much-loved building for over a millennia. It is a place that has witnessed the journey of life for many travellers, from the joy of celebrating a new life, through the affirming of relationships, to the harsh reality of death, in many cases prematurely. Although the church plays a central role in local traveller society and culture, it is not representative in terms of attendance. It was in this context that the concept of a service aimed at travellers was born. This was only possible through the involvement of Kathy Atkinson, a much loved and respected member of the local traveller community, who is an accomplished writer, and a new member of the church community, also from a traveller background, who is now training to become a Local Licensed Minister.

The name chosen for the new service was Travelling Home, which encapsulates the yearning mentioned previously. The first service took place in July 2015, with an attendance that exceeded all expectations. Due to its success, it was decided to hold another one in July this year, and add a blessing of the churchyard, as looking after the graves of the deceased is intrinsically part of traveller culture. Due to the popularity of the service, the idea of a Christmas service was put forward. The service, entitled Travelling Home for Christmas took place on Sunday  11 December, and it was presided by the Bishop of Buckingham, The Rt Revd Alan Wilson. It was followed by a light meal served at the village hall.

This was only possible through a close collaboration with Thames Valley Police. Les Bradfield, A PCSO who used to be a chef, now runs a food station as a way to engage with communities. We are now looking to strengthen this partnership and increase the outreach to the traveller community, particularly through the “Travelling Home” format and concept. The journey has just begun and the future is looking exciting.


An illuminating show in Great Missenden


A son et lumière (a sound and light show) was held at St Peter and St Paul’s Church in Great Missenden last month. dsc_0104 dsc_0309 dsc_0401

The evening was one of the events to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the church’s Binns Organ. The church was full, with over 200 people attending to see and hear the story of the village and church and to hear the organ, played by Michael Bacon, an organist at The Church of King Charles the Martyr, Tunbridge Wells. The Bishop of Buckingham, the Rt Revd Alan Wilson, along with Mary Saywood and Brenda Harris, narrated the story which was illustrated by a series of pictures and videos that took the audience through the establishment of Missenden Abbey, and the history of the church and the village. Many students from the Misbourne School were actively involved in the preparation and delivery of the event, helping with poster design, lighting, sound and photography, and being part of the performance.

The photos, by Douglas, 17, from Misbourne School, show the event in full swing. 

Hear the BBC Three Counties Radio interview with Bishop Steven on one of his earliest Deanery Visits

Mike Naylor talks to the new Bishop of Oxford, Steven Croft, during his visit to the Soul Life Café in Olney. Revd Claire Wood describes the work of the Café. Clip shared with permission of BBC Three Counties. Click here to listen.

A child who changed the world


A BETHLEHEM stable was recreated in Hulcott in Buckinghamshire for the village’s third Real Nativity on Saturday December 3. The picture on the front page shows some of the actors just before this year’s event. Jesse, the baby in the picture, is the great grandson of a former church warden of All Saint’s.

Hayley Bolton, Mary; Jesse Bolton, Baby Jesus; Russell Webb, Joseph, and donkeys Chesil - and Tettenhall. Photo: James Rudd. The Hulcott Nativity 2016 - by James Rudd at All Saints Hulcott, Hulcott, Buckinghamshire, England, on 03 December 2016. Copyright 2016 owned by James Rudd

Hayley Bolton, Mary; Jesse Bolton, Baby Jesus; Russell Webb, Joseph, and donkeys Chesil – and Tettenhall. Photo: James Rudd.

The Revd Mark Ackford, the Vicar, said: “It is a twist on the nativity story because as many of the actors as possible are ‘real’. The shepherds really do keep sheep, the innkeeper really is the landlady of The Barn in Hulcott, baby Jesus is a real baby and Mary is his real mother.

“We also have the Archangel Gabriel, Three Wise Men, King Herod and a choir of angels. The other things that are real are the animals, donkeys, sheep and horses.  Above all it is an opportunity to accompany Mary and Joseph as they travel towards Bethlehem, listening as the Christmas story unfolds before us. We walk in the ‘hoof-steps’ of the donkey, listen to the news of the angels, share the bewildered excitement of the shepherds and take our place in the crowd with the Three Wise Men, as we gather at a Bethlehem stable to remember the birth of a child who changed the world.”
The event takes place each year on the first Saturday of December. This year around 400 people attended and almost £1,000 was raised for church funds.

A welcome re-ordering at All Saints’


A £135,000 re-ordering project has helped enhance welcome, hospitality and access at All Saints’ Church, High Wycombe.

Photo: All Saints, High Wycombe

Photo: All Saints, High Wycombe


New inner and outer doors with weather protection, to enable the West doors to be kept open, along with the relocation of the font and the historic “Keen Doors” has created a more open area for hospitality and flexible community use. The Revd Hugh Ellis, the Rector, said: “The church’s vision to be a place for the whole community to encounter God has influenced the way we view and use the building.

“It is energised and flows with life ensuing from the rhythm of daily prayer and Eucharists, activities for parents and pre-school children; weekly community meals for those who have recently been homeless; the broad social mix of those meeting at the Mustard Seed Café; and the Women’s Cultural Area, gathering women from various ethnic backgrounds who feel isolated, to mix with others whilst doing various art and craft activities.”

All Saints has lunchtime concerts, Confirmation and Pilgrim courses, bell ringing, gatherings for events in support of Syrian refugees, Christmas fairs, school services, civic services, frequent evening concerts and arts and spirituality events such as Flower and Christmas Tree Festivals and stained glass panel workshops.

Hugh added: “The impact of this work is significant and has drawn countless warm reactions including more people coming into the building throughout the week and on Sundays, for which we thank God.”


Serbian Marija Vransevic shares the plight of refugees in a visit to the Diocese of Oxford

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by Jo Duckles

IN Aleppo their neighbourhood has been destroyed and the family have been forced to leave the ruins of their home for a refugee camp in Serbia.

Dad has managed to leave for Germany, but mum and children are left behind in the camp, desperate to follow. But with the borders closed the chances of the family being reunited is slim.

That is one of the scenarios that Marija Vransevic, from the humanitarian charity, Philanthropy, comes across during the course of her work. Philanthropy is run by the Serbian Orthodox Church and is Christian Aid’s partner in Serbia. Marija is a programme manager who oversees projects in refugee camps. She meets people who have faced war, beatings, blackmail and more and works to help them live with some dignity.

“I spend at least 30 per cent of my time in the field to understand what the needs really are. I then write reports to present those needs in a manner that is understandable to Philanthropy’s partners,” says Marija. She communicates with the Serbian Government, the media and other agencies as she tries to raise awareness of ways that they can provide help to refugees.

Marija spoke to me over a slice of home-made cake at Oxford’s new Christian Aid offices. She was visiting England to raise awareness of Philanthropy’s work as part of Christian Aid’s 2016 Christmas appeal:  Light the Way. The personal experiences of the refugees she has met were among the stories she shared with churches and student groups during a two-week tour of the South East. Since then 16,000 more residents have Aleppo have been displaced, according to national news reports, and the crisis is constantly escalating.

“It is a joy for us to be on the spot and to understand the challenges people are facing. It’s about not feeling sorry or sad for these people but to feel strength, to feel positive and not to get into the dark areas of misery and hopelessness. When you listen to the personal experiences of these people it can make you question the whole structure of the world and how people made decisions that led to so much misery.

“It’s a huge challenge to remain ourselves, to find faith and hope inside ourselves because they definitely don’t need our tears. It’s about supporting and strengthening them and helping them know there is a future and a good place, even if they have a lot of steps ahead of them.”

Marija described the importance of trying to help refugees maintain their dignity, and to react properly to their needs.

“They are safe in the camps in Serbia. They have proper healthcare protection, social welfare protection and proper food. We try and bring them an element of dignity as they can choose for themselves what they need. Certain colours are offensive in some cultures and we wouldn’t know that so when women for example ask for scarves to cover their heads we want them to choose their own.

“The vast majority of people in Serbia are coming from families that have been separated. Some are in central, western or Northern Europe. Some are still back home, so they are very upset and scared. They are slowly becoming aware that their expectations will not be fulfilled.

“It’s difficult to work with children. Most have been out of school for years. I feel even more upset for the teenagers. It’s easy to smiles on the faces of smaller ones, but once they are aged 13 to 15 they understand what it happening and how the parents feel. They can understand the media as well and they are the most vulnerable ones.”

The refugees in the camps are given activities. “We try and engage them not as beneficiaries but as implementers. There are young men and women in their early 20s involved with the food distribution. “

“I think we can help Christians to understand the real needs of refugees. The number is growing constantly so the scope of the crisis is hard to understand.

“Christian Aid has a strong policy of protecting human dignity, being present in the field, working with people and we are able to help people understand the needs directly.  It’s crucial for Christians from England and to understand what the life of refugees is like.”

Marija Vransevic who is visiting the Diocese to talk about the plight of refugees.

Marija Vransevic who is visiting the Diocese to talk about the plight of refugees.

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