This post was written by Christ Church member, Edward Furaha
Is it not strange how some things unfold in our lives? 2020 started with the usual joyful celebrations and optimism for the new decade. Little did we know that a strange, unwelcome and invisible visitor would be with us and completely turn the world around. Yes, it has been three months with this stranger. A visitor we flee from, a visitor who has led us to stay indoors—the infamous lockdown. Did I just say lock? Yes, locked in! All of us! Did you imagine of a time when everyone would be on a kind of house arrest? But yes, we've all had to change our important plans and stay in the beautiful homes we set up but didn’t spend much time in. After staying indoors for a number of days, in a place we are well familiar with, boredom started kicking in. We became anxious and restless, wondering when things will get back to the normal we are used to. I remember speaking with my Dad recently, who despite his immense wisdom and many years of life experiences, was lost for words.
But wait a minute, this is what the friends we visit every week in the Immigration Detention Centres (IDC) go through every day. Just like us today, their movements are restricted, they cannot see friends and family when they want to, and they do not know what tomorrow holds. Many questions run through our minds (and theirs) today: how much longer do I need to stay in, when will I see my loved ones next, how far ahead in the future can I plan, what will I do tomorrow, will I get sick, will I recover if I get sick? It humbled me to think of how quickly we became frustrated after movement was temporarily restricted, yet every day, families and individuals are robbed of that very freedom while locked in detention centres. Some have been in the detention centres long enough to get used to the environment and call that life ‘normal’. Their hearts remain hopeful even after years of praying and fighting for their freedom.
I remember nearly six years ago when my family and I first came to Thailand, and I learned of the IDC ministry at Christ Church. The IDC ministry involves weekly visits to see and encourage detainees at the Immigration Detention Centre in Silom. Most detainees have fled persecution in their home country and are seeking refuge. I joined the visiting group immediately and every visit ever since has given me a reason to look forward to the next. These visits give me joy and fulfilment as I see the smiles on their faces, when they see me, a total stranger, or when I see families repatriated or relocated to new countries and given opportunities to start their lives anew. As I write this, I know many detainees were looking forward to being resettled in other countries after successful conclusion of their cases; they were counting down days to their travel dates but then the dreadful pandemic happened. Those scheduled to relocate cannot travel until the borders reopen, while those with open cases have had their cases put on hold. I know they all look forward to when the weekly visits will resume, when they will get a few minutes of hearing words of encouragement and prayer. I know they look forward to the delicious homemade meals we deliver on the visits—a reminder of home. I know they are delighted to hear of news from the outside world and the little chat and jokes we share with them.
When I think of the families who have loved ones locked up, it gives me every reason to be thankful for the small things we take for granted. Though the current situation has put our visits on hold at the moment, we have kept in touch with most of the families and the Church has played a big role standing in the gap through the food distribution program. LifeRaft (https://www.liferaftinternational.org/) which funds the IDC food program has also been most helpful in delivering home-made food to the detention centres and the needy. I know many of you have contributed monetarily to the ministry or have made time to visit–may God bless you for your generosity.
As we go through this period of isolation and reflection, may God help us understand what our brothers and sisters face and to realise that just a visit can make a big difference for those locked in. May a new normal to our brethren in IDC be the outpouring of the Spirit that they may find inner peace and hope. May a new normal to us be a thirst for care and compassion through prayer, and may we make time for a visit to encourage and give hope to our brethren locked in. Let us all be encouraged by the words of Jesus in Matthew 25: 31- 40,
‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’