As a church we are so privileged to have begun the work of Open Door North East, as people in Jubilee started to seek to reach out to refugees and asylum seekers in our communities.
Some big news for the charity is that Paul Catterall is leaving his role as its CEO in June to take up a new strategic development role within NACCOM (The No Accommodation Network).
Paul has been involved in the NACCOM network since 2006 and has served on the NACCOM steering committee since 2010 and as Treasurer to the Board of Trustees since the network became a charity in 2015.
I have been working in the refugee and asylum sector since 2006 initially as Integration Officer within Jubilee Church Teesside and since 2009 as manager and then CEO of Open Door North East.
It is good to be reminded that Open Door North East began as a response by Jubilee Church Teesside to destitution and street homeless amongst asylum seekers from all sorts of backgrounds and faiths and indeed of none.
Back in 2001 Jubilee was meeting at the Arc Theatre in Stockton and had 4 visitors from other nations. They had come after one of them, a Christian from West Africa, had been praying that God would lead him to a Spirit-filled bible-believing church. Jubilee was to be the answer to his prayers!
The bible is clear about the Christian responsibility to care for the poor and the stranger who is living amongst us and who needs our help. Jubilee takes its name from the Isaiah 61 principle from which we take our 4 R’s of receiving, reaching, restoring, and releasing through the love of Jesus and that involves everyone, including the many asylum seekers and refugees that have become part of our church family over the years.
Jubilee was being led by Jeremy Simpkins, Jed Lester & Steve Whittington at the time and along with other key individuals like Jill and Andy Ball (who now are serving refugees abroad) felt stirred to do something practical to help those left destitute in Stockton and Middlesbrough. Open Door North East was initially started through a series of games evenings organised by the church in 2001 before becoming a separate charity in July 2003 housing at that time 5 homeless women in a house in Stockton, borrowed from a church member who had just got married.
I have had the privilege of building on these foundations and to see the charity grow from 2 rented houses and a food drop-in in 2007 to what it is today. Open Door North East is now probably one of the largest specialist providers of housing to refugees (currently 93 adults and children) and to destitute asylum seekers (14 single men and women) in the UK and now manages 38 properties through our social letting agency and as a landlord. Open Door now has 9 staff and over 40 volunteers including members of Jubilee church and has developed a range of other complementary services including a hosting project, women's project, asylum support project, refugee move-on and employability projects.
While I will leave Open Door with some sadness, as it says in Ecclesiastes 3 “there is a time for everything under the sun” and now is the right time for me to move on and enter a new season.
We have had many prophetic words over the years about the church being a resource base, and about national reach and influence. Only this week, former Chair of Open Door’s Trustees and Jubilee Church member Andrew Jackson has been appointed CEO of UpBeat Communities another Christian Refugee Charity in Derby. Our own elder, friend and brother Soroush who is a former employee of Open Door and a refugee himself now manages Middlesbrough Food Bank. As I have already mentioned Andy and Jill Ball are now serving refugees in Turkey. God has birthed something special here at Jubilee and continues to do so, raising people up, equipping them and releasing them into His kingdom work. I am now looking forward to a new chapter and a new challenge in my life in his Kingdom call. For me, this will be joining the NACCOM staff team as Network Development Worker. For my new role, I will be based in Middlesbrough but will be sharing much that we have developed here on Teesside in helping existing charities and new projects around the UK develop their ideas and capacity to provide accommodation solutions to tackle asylum destitution.
I would like to express my deep gratitude for all those who have supported me personally in my role over the years, be that the amazing group of trustees currently led by Simon Rogalski and to the staff & volunteers and the members of Jubilee and other churches. I would also like to thank all the grant-making trusts and foundations and those private benefactors who believe in us, indeed trust us with their funds, and to thank every individual who has raises funds or donates food or other items of practical support. As I once heard a church leader say “we really can do more together than we can apart”.
I hope that one day we will have a fairer and more just asylum system in the UK and that much of the work of charities like Open Door North East will not be needed. But until then friends please continue to pray for, support and get behind this wonderful charity and whoever is appointed as the new CEO.
One final thing, I will not be having a leaving do but my last working day will be Thursday 21st June so please pop down to Open Door’s Refugee Week Open Day between 10:30am and 3pm.
Yours In Christ
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