Joseph Givens calls for volunteers to join a team that offers temporary shelter to people displaced by famine and war. Joseph and Rachel Givens are Mennonite Mission Network workers accompanying volunteers with the Maria Skobtsova Housing Association and wider community in Calais, France.
Is your heart touched by the suffering of others? Do you wish you could do something to alleviate the difficulties faced by people on the move?
If so, I know just the place for you — the Maria Skobtsova House in Calais, France, a place of refuge for migrants from Africa and the Middle East as they seek to cross the Channel into the United Kingdom. My wife, Rachel, and our two sons and I have been part of this ministry through Mennonite Mission Network for the past year.
I have never seen someone volunteer here and not be changed in a meaningful way. When someone works in Calais, they fall in love, and they become enraged. They love the people they serve and develop meaningful, deep relationships with them. They become enraged at the systems that make this work necessary, and they want to work to change those systems.
If you work here, you will have many relatively "boring" days. You will make beds, wash laundry, wash dishes, sweep and mop. You will also welcome new guests and spend a lot of time eating delicious food and drinking coffee, while talking with the guests and learning about their stories. There is also plenty of laughter and music. Occasionally, an impromptu dance or a karaoke night will break out. You will grow to love and appreciate these days of relative quiet and camaraderie.
There will also be times when your heart is broken. There will be times when a woman or family you have grown to love suddenly leaves, and you are left wondering whether they are alive or dead. Sometimes, the unknowing is ended when you receive a celebratory message letting you know those who left have reached their destination. Other times, the unknowing is pierced by a message of loss — a loss of freedom, or of life itself. On August 11, a small craft carrying human beings, created and loved by God, sank in the Channel. At least five people drowned and many more are missing.
You will experience secondhand trauma, while hearing from women who were confronted by the local authorities and against whom many human rights abuses were carried out. You will be trusted in helping these same women pick up the pieces of their broken dreams.
You will hear the stories of people who have not only reached their goal but who have accomplished amazing, almost impossible, feats. You will rejoice and join in the celebration of birthdays and religious feasts and festivals from around the world. You will enjoy outstanding cuisines, cooked by people who are simply happy to have a safe space in which to prepare food from their own cultures.
You will join prayer times throughout the day, as Maria Skobtsova House has a mission of being a prayerful presence in Calais. You will lift up the local authorities in prayer, as well as the women and families you are serving. You will entrust them all into the arms of our loving God.
No, it is not easy work. But it is good work. You will be equal parts challenged and uplifted. Volunteering is free, but there is a cost. The cost is that you are willing to be vulnerable among some of the most vulnerable people in the world. But the rewards far exceed the costs. Please, come, and join us.
If you are interested in learning more, please contact us through email or on Facebook. Joseph and Rachel are International Service workers with Mennonite Mission Network. Mennonite Mission Network exists to lead, mobilize and equip the church to participate in holistic witness to Jesus Christ throughout the world. Ready to join in? Apply here. To serve in Calais, you can apply through the SOOP program.