“I am standing at the door, knocking.”

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“Christian love teaches us to give our brother and sister not only material gifts but also spiritual gifts”  (Maria Skobtsova)


The Prayer Bus project evolved in response to the need for a mobile space which can be driven to where refugees are sleeping, to provide a small but safe place where they can tell their stories, receive support and, if needed, pray. For many refugees and migrants, religious faith is a very important source of strength and resilience.
ICONS for the Prayer Bus have been written by Maria Skobtsova House volunteer ARTA SKUJA who comes from the small village of Užava in Latvia.
Arta icons

“Look, I am standing at the door, knocking. If one of you hears me calling and opens the door,  I will come in to share their meal, side by side with them.” Rev. 3:20

This icon, together with Theotokos, the God bearer, and Archangel Michael, form a triptych that tells a story of Tenderness, Hope and Safety. The creation of these icons, inspired by the experiences, stories, reflections and life lived alongside the refugees in Calais, is an offering of hope. Words from the book of Revelation come alive – at any time of the day the doorbell can ring at the Calais house. The door is opened, and one encounters sometimes a lone figure, at other times a small group of refugees. By using simple words, they describe their needs: phone charge, shower, wifi, sleep. A stranger is welcomed, offered a place to rest, to pray, to wash clothes, to take a shower. Each evening the table is prepared, the meal is cooked, blessed and shared, side-by-side, among those who have come together.
Arta Skuja

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Revd. Canon KIRRILEE REID, Pas de Calais Anglican chaplain and refugee projects officer, photographed alongside the bus which is now in the UK for a refit. Kirrilee has taken on responsibility for the prayer bus (which will also be used by the Calais Catholic Church as part of their service to the homeless).
Revd. GILL NEWMAN, deacon at St John of Jerusalem, Hackney and Maria Skobtsova House volunteer, ran the very successful fundraising campaign for The Prayer Bus.Waiting in Calais (2)

As with all the refugee communities in Calais, the Eritreans have been progressively fenced out of the areas where they sleep, pray and pass their days.

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The former place of worship in the ‘Green Hotel’
Current place of worship.

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Matthew 11, v 28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” Drawing, in Tigrinya, by Daniel, Maria Skobtsova house guest.





Farewell Br. Johannes


Johannes and Patricia
Br. Johannes with Patricia Wendzinski, Secretary of Maria Skobtsova Association


Leaving Calais.
Dear friends,
after serving more than three and a half years for Maria Skobtsova House and amongst the refugees in Calais (and the UK) the time has come for me to take a long break and leave.
The times with all of you has been such a blessing and together with many volunteers we were able to help so many people. The house will continue doing so with current and future volunteers. Please keep supporting and praying for the house!
yours faithfully,

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Haile and the Black Hair Dye

Kera black hair dyeKera black hair dyeKera black hair dye

-Rahel, do you need juice and yoghurt tomorrow for Yusef?

She smiles and says thank you. Two year old Yusef, in nappies and t-shirt, is playing with a toy car on the gravel footpath beside which twenty or so tents are pitched. This is the Eritrean “camp” in Calais.

Dumoo, dumoo, squeals Yusef. The biddable black cat emerges from the long grass. Yusef scoops it up and it hangs limply from his arms.

-Baba Alex, will you get me tinta.

It’s tall, beaming Haile.

-Haile, what’s tinta?

Black tinta for hair.

-Haile..why do you want black tinta?

– My hair going brown. Too much sun.

Sure enough, the tips of his tall spirals of hair are distinctively brown.

-Ok Haile, I’ll bring you hair dye tomorrow.

 Hair dye, that’s a first. Curious to learn more about this browning, I google. The “Locs Therapist” in Georgia, Alabama, informs viewers of his facebook video that discolouration can result from too much sun, poor diet and stress. Haile ticks all the boxes.

Teinture pour les cheveux noirs. I try first at a pharmacy. The assistant offers me an “all-natural” product for twelve euros. In my poor French, I politely decline. Carrefour in the same shopping mall has Kera teinture bleu noir for four. I’m confused by the bleu bit, but take my chances and buy it. I cycle to the Eritrean “camp” with juice and yoghurt for Rahel and the four euro tinta for Haile. It’s mid-morning and already into the low thirties. It’s due to top forty later in the day. The tents are still in the shaded lee of the wall. There’s no sign of Haile so I give the tinta to Osman and ask him to pass it on.

I return in the afternoon. A dozen young guys squeeze into the circle of shade cast by the single young ash tree. There’s an intense game of cards underway; others are sleeping. Haile is sitting crossed legged on the burnt out grass, eyes closed, smiling broadly as his gloved accomplice Mewael vigorously  works black dye into his hair with a tooth brush. The tooth brush is then discarded and Mawael now rubs the dye into Haile’s thick mop with his gloved hand. A second accomplice, Semare, dips the corner of an old t-shirt into a cup of water and wipes away smudges of dye on Haile’s neck. Work on the crop of hair completed, Mewael now turns his attention to Haile’s pencil thin sideboards that taper to a point just below the line of his ear lobes. The task is delicately achieved using a dry stem of grass.

-don’t touch, says Haile – He’s seen my intense interest. –tinta stays many days on your skin. He shows me the tip of his stained black thumb. 

I have to leave, but later return. It’s night time. Haile’s jet black hair glows in the glare of the streetlights.

Alex Holmes  July 2019.
(Haile is now an asylum seeker in UK)








Calais wall art 2019
Calais Wall Art 2019

9.25am, La Pass, the medical drop in centre, is still closed. Nebiyou’s ripped hand, heavily bandaged, rests limply in a sling. He spent two weeks in a specialist surgical unit in Lille after his hand was badly cut on razor wire whilst trying to run from the CRS, the French riot Police. One finger was sliced in two lengthwise.

We wait patiently at the locked door.

Awate arrives. He presses his scarf to his lips. There’s blood on his white hoodie and on the sleeves of his denim coat. Livid raw skin to the side of his left eye. “It was the CRS” he said, “they hit me with an electric baton on my face and on my head and on my back.”

Osman, another Eritrean, joins us outside the door, pink fresh skin on his dark face. “I’m ok now”, he reassures me.

Two Eritreans. I ask them if they’ve seen Nahom, and describe the boy with the broken teeth. They haven’t.

9.30, the sullen security guard, proffering a single wink, unlocks the door. Nebiyou checks in at the desk. Awate comes into the waiting room and slumps into a chair, leaning forward, head held in his hands. Osman has disappeared. We wait in the plastic and chrome silence.

 Beside the football stadium, a group of young Eritreans. Amongst them, Mebrahtu, his hand no longer bandaged. The scar on the ball of his thumb, a distant bird in flight, is punctuated by twelve neat stitch marks. A CRS officer stamped on his hand which was split open by a buried spike.

“It’s the same here as in Eritrea”, he says. “I’d as well be back home”. His smile belies a deep suffering.

There’s music, the surprising sound of Nashville in Calais: “One day at a time, sweet Jesus, that’s all I’m asking from You, just give me the strength to do everyday what I have to do”.

“My friend in Holland told me about this song,” Yoel explains. “One day, one day I will get to UK”

The ever smiling Yoel, it’s two years since I first met him in Calais. He’s had a haircut and looks much younger.

They’ve not seen Nahom. Time to move on.

A solitary hooded figure slowly paces the back road in the shadow of the industrial zone. At last, Nahom. He’s lost in the music he’s listening to on his phone, mezmurs, Orthodox Christian chants. Seeing me, he pulls out his earphones and grins broadly, baring his broken teeth. Discharged from hospital after falling from a lorry and losing his front teeth, he came to stay in Maria Skobtsova House for a few days, before suddenly vanishing. During one quiet moment, he spoke of Eritrea, of how his family house had been destroyed in the war with Ethiopia, of the years of harsh military conscription. After three years in the army, he ran away to see his family, then escaped to Ethiopia. He showed me the burn marks on his feet from when he was held to ransom and tortured in Libya. Finally he reached the UK only to have his asylum application refused. Under the Dublin Regulation, because he had been fingerprinted in Italy, he was deported there. Tired and hungry on the streets of Naples he had accepted the offer of bread and water only to pass out and awaken to find his jacket and boots stolen.

After a big embrace and checking he is ok, we talk football, and about friends in common, now in the UK. I tell him he is welcome in the house anytime.

“I will come, yes.” He is silent for a moment, perhaps registering my concern. “I am ok”, he reassures me, “I am ok because I have God.” We part with another embrace.

Earphoned once more, he continues his lone path.

Alex Holmes May 2019.
(Nahom is now an asylum seeker in UK)