Cemetery Road Baptist Church

Breaking down the language barriers in Sheffield

When Cemetery Road Baptist Church decided to help asylum seekers struggling to relocate in the UK, it faced one obvious issue – the language barrier.

The Sheffield church has welcomed hundreds of refugees in recent years, and many of them arrive speaking little English. This makes life difficult for them – whether it’s dealing with daunting official forms and procedures relating to leave to remain in the UK, or everyday matters like visiting a supermarket, or building up relationships with local folk.

It also makes it harder for the church to offer practical assistance. Cemetery Road has helped people from many different countries, but has a particular focus on Farsi speakers from Iran.

‘They arrive after perilous and dangerous journeys, and we see it as our duty to help them,’ said the Rev Dr Peter Shepherd, a retired Baptist minister who helps to lead the Farsi-speaking group.

‘The church has long been a multi-ethnic melting pot – we also have a sizeable Congolese group, worshippers from the Caribbean, Karen people from Myanmar, and others from around the world.

‘It’s wonderful to see, but there are obvious language issues. For the Farsi speakers and the Congolese people, the key thing has probably been the employment of a part-time Farsi worker, Mohsen – himself originally an asylum seeker – and an assistant pastor.

‘They have helped us to help these groups through both the official journey and what we hope is a journey of faith.’

The church received two amounts of £10,000 from the Baptist Grants Programme. ‘The funding allowed us to employ Mohsen and the assistant pastor two days a week to advocate on behalf of the asylum seekers, help them explore faith, and ensure they can access opportunities,’ said Peter. ‘The pastor has since moved on, but Mohsen remains an important part of the church.’

The rest of the money was used to fund a new laptop and online translators to help members of the minority fellowships to join in services.

Mike Green, the volunteer church fundraiser who submitted the grant applications, said, ‘We were absolutely delighted with the response from the Baptist Insurance Grants Committee. Without their help – and the help of others such as the Church Urban Fund and the local Wharfedale Foundation – we would have struggled to carry on with this work.’

BIC has given out over £2 million in grants over the past ten years to Baptist outreach and evangelism. ‘Asylum seekers are among the most needy people in the country, and they desperately need our help,’ said Anne Bishop, Chair of the BIC Grants Committee. ‘We were very pleased to be able to help in this important work.’

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