Just when the people of Birmingham thought it was safe to relax and enjoy some fine spring weather, they were subject to a second visit from members of the MADD men. Like our first visit in 2015 we were invited by James and Mel who work with Interserve and have been mission partners with Christ Church since they left All Nations in 2007.
James and his family live in a multi-faith area in Birmingham where most of their neighbours are Muslims. They work in collaboration with local churches and other Christian agencies to share God’s love with those of other faiths. This time the four making the trip were Andrew, Roger, Ron and Andrew. We were to help with various jobs around St John’s House, a former convent and orphanage, that is now a centre for prayer, community living and ministry projects in the Alum Rock area of South Birmingham. Compared with our last visit the accommodation was almost luxurious as we took over two flats and slept in proper beds and didn’t have to walk along cold corridors to have a shower.
Our first task was to clear an area of the grounds that bordered the main road. It was full of litter and undergrowth and was a potential fire hazard. The work was tiring and time consuming, but with a skip nearby the area was cleared. In one pile of debris there was what appeared to be a pile of torn litter. Andrew W., on picking up the litter, discovered it was actually a rat’s nest – complete with dead rat! Rat poison had just been placed around the grounds and several dead rats were found (and disposed of) during our stay.
One of our main tasks was to re-erect a trellis fence that had been blown down in some recent storms. This involved buying some new support posts, planting them in the ground, attaching the trellis work to them and then re-creating the arched entrance. Other areas of the garden were also tidied up by being cleared of rubbish, branches and leaves.
Around the outside of the chapel there were many weeds and these were cleared. Ron tidied up the area around the crucifix at the west end of the chapel. The base of a gravestone was discovered among the weeds. It had an inscription to a boy who had died aged about 15 months in 1912. There was a hole in its top for a cross to be placed and Ron decided to build a wooden cross for it. The gravestone was then placed next to the main memorial to the children of the orphanage who had died whilst there. It was nice to do something for those who had lived there in the past, however briefly, as well as for those living today.
There was much work to be done inside the house – draught excluders needed to be fitted, over one hundred chairs in the chapel had to have their screws replaced, drains required new covers and a seven foot wardrobe needed to be manoeuvred through narrow passageways and up even narrower stairs to a flat on the first floor.
Amidst all this hustle and bustle it was good to have some quieter moments, as well as times of sharing with the local community. There were prayers at the start and end of the working day and also a daily communion service at 12:00 in the chapel. On our first evening the community at St John’s house and ourselves were treated to a delicious home-made West Indian meal of jerk chicken while on our second evening we ventured out to sample a curry from a local Pakistani restaurant. We also attended a talk at a local community centre about the issues faced by the Pakistani community in becoming more integrated into British society. It was given by Dr Parveen Akhtar, a lady research fellow from Aston University, and although academic in nature, it felt very informal and led to some good discussions afterwards.
On Friday lunch-time, just before we headed southwards, we visited a local mosque. In 2015 we had been to the Birmingham Central Mosque, but this one was much more intimate. We sat at the rear of the main worship hall where we were totally accepted. Several people greeted us, but no-one questioned why we were there or challenged us. Afterwards we met with the Imam and had a tour of the mosque. The mosque had only been completed last year and we saw areas, such as the ritual ablution rooms, not seen in the central mosque. Afterwards, we were able to talk openly with the Imam’s son over a meal that they had provided. The food was far more than we could manage after our lunch earlier but it was typical of the courtesy shown to us throughout our stay.
We left Birmingham with more happy memories, and much to think about as different communities strive to work together to form a harmonious society.
AndrewTags: MADD, Magazine