Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Captive Audience

In July I preached for the first time to a captive audience. I was taking up my new role as a religious visitor at the local Immigration Removal Centre. It houses over 400 men, detained on average for a six week stay. They are not free to leave until their immigration status is sorted but, unlike in prison, they are free to move around inside the centre. I too, as a security cleared religious visitor can freely move around once I am locked inside. A guard from Ghana took me to the chapel and left me with a Nigerian preparing for worship. There are about 50 Christian detainees, 120 Muslims and 30 of other religions. About ten Africans gathered for a two hour service. All but three were Nigerians including Brother B who was very gifted on keyboard . We had a drummer too.. For the first hour we sang, danced and prayed with Brother S leading. It was a joyful worship time.

I was then called to preach. I told the brothers that when I am invited to be a visiting preacher, I ask the church what they would like me to preach about . I could not ask these brothers that question before I visited, so I asked them there and then. Deliverance, hope and salvation they replied. This fitted well with a sermon I had already prepared on depression. It was great to have a congregation who unprompted repeated some of the points I made, especially. ‘This too will pass’ for no condition is permanent.

I lived in Nigeria from 1970 to 1882, working firat as pharmacist at Vom Christian Hospital near Jos , Then after Hausa study in Kano, I was also the Vom Hospital chaplain. None of the Nigerian brothers were Northerners, but they told me there was one Hausa Muslim man in the centre. In the c courtyard they introduced me to T who invited me to visit him during the week

This visit was very different. I came in like any family or friend of a detainee. Unlike Sunday, I was not allowed to take anything inside except my Hausa Bible. The other Hausa books I had brought for T had to be left with security for him to get later.. I had arrived before my booked visiting hour so read my Hausa Bible until my friend arrived ,T asked me if he could have it. I said mine had some writing inside where I had made notes on words I did not know so I would get him a new Bible. He had come to England as a visitor and stayed on illegally after his visa expired. He had worked in a bar as a cleaner, . A lawyer had told him that because he had stayed in England for several years he could help him get permission to stay, T paid him over £1.000. But instead of getting permission to stay T was arrested. He expects to be deported soon. I hope to see him again before he is put on a plane to Abuja.

As I left the centre at the close of visiting time, a little boy in his mothers arms kept crying, ‘I want my daddy’. The mother was from Scotland and the father, an Afghan was detained here in London. It was heartbreaking to hear this boy refusing to be comforted as he cried for his father.

I look forward to more visits to the detainees.

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