First Impressions of Calais and Maria Skobtsova House September 2020.

Calais, a city in the North of France. Calais, a city where people are looking for the sun. The train towards the city is a train through long landscapes. The closer to Calais, the scarcer the population and the more signs of the end of France. Trucks with signs “No, we don’t go to the UK,” to migrants on the station asking me for a train ticket, to great numbers of security in the surrounding infrastructure. Its harbour to England attracts many sad looking industries, as well as hopeful migrants. 

Maria Skobtsova House welcomed me with a deep sense of rest. It breathes a certain togetherness, a value that seems radical in this town. The raw reality touches us daily. Our friends, the guests, have arrived in the house on a journey. Sometimes this means that they’re ‘leaving’, sometimes with and sometimes without goodbyes. We don’t ask how and when, we only try to love them. This makes the people, including us, vulnerable, but the rhythm of a little community breathes this primary rest. As volunteers, we pray three times a day, which is open for the guests to join. Besides, we walk with each other, love and welcome. The dinners together are a mix of herbs and languages. 

Once in a while the doorbell rings unexpectedly. During my first days, a family returned after several days away. Together with their brothers, they stood on the doorstep, soaked and sleep deprived. They asked if we would welcome them again. The house awakened and warm showers, tea with too much sugar, shoes and a domino game came up. I tried to follow the rules of the domino, but it must have been their local version. As I tried to get the hang of it, my opponent announced that I had won. How could it be? I didn’t even know the rules. My friend, a woman from the South, walked by and said laughing that I was Europe.  

As a volunteer the house teaches me a lot about my position as European, as human and as a follower of the Prince of Peace. While Calais breathes deprivation and injustice, Maria Skobtsova House contributes to a dissent. This does not mean it is easy, rather the situation raises a lot of questions. However, it is a privilege to build on the promise of Psalm 91:1: “He who dwells in the Shelter of the Most High, will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.”

Channa, 20. The Netherlands. Volunteer in Maria Skobtsova House

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