A group of men read the Bible in Arabic together. Photo by James Blake.

On the cutting edge

The Asian Centre offers help and information for isolated older Asians. Some visitors have discovered the source of the centre's peace-filled atmosphere is Jesus.

There’s a warm buzz of conversation and an endless flow of tea and cake at the Asian Centre (AC). Indian carpets and wall hangings add to the centre’s snug and homely feel, which was once a furniture shop. For the older Asian men and women who come here once a week for help navigating modern British life, there’s a real atmosphere of peace. A few of them have discovered the source of this peace, Jesus, for themselves.

Henry* from OM explains that the AC occupies a particular niche. As well as providing advocacy, the centre helps vulnerable and isolated people, who lack sufficient English and computer skills, to cope with key areas like benefits, utilities, health services and tenancy rights.

Living out God’s care

Two decades of open-hearted service and expertise have won the AC great respect in this mainly Muslim area. This is largely due to Henry’s volunteer colleague, Javed*, who is from Pakistan and was once a Muslim himself.

“He’s got an evangelist’s heart, has lived here and served local people all these years, knows everyone and everything, and speaks their languages. Quite simply, he’s embedded,” says Henry, who’s been here with OM for two years, providing the project with management and administrative support.

Henry has spent most of his working life in the ‘global South’ absorbing different cultural customs and values. Even so, crossing cultures and language barriers can often be exhausting. But he loves the deep involvement he has in people’s lives. There’s passion in his voice as he continues: “Jesus became embedded in the lives of individuals so we just seek to follow Him. That’s why I love to call this ‘incarnate ministry.’”

A fractured family background

Henry’s keen to talk about his friend Abdul*, who drops in for lunch and the Bible study afterwards. “The highlight of my week,” says Henry, who leads it.

Abdul is typical of many of the people coming to AC. He is a man in his sixties. His marriage has broken down, with the adult kids siding with his wife. The ‘close-knit Asian family’ stereotype just didn’t work any more for him. He was lonely and alone in a rented flat, battling chronic health conditions.

One day a utilities letter arrived saying he must pay arrears for fuel he hadn’t used, or risk a fine. Abdul’s English is limited, and he can’t do much on his smartphone — so he complained to his friend Hasan*, who is also divorced and alone.

Recommended by the Mosque

Hasan shared with Abdul about his own problems five years earlier, when he had faced eviction. His Imam had told him to go to the AC where the Christian guys there had given him the advice he needed. Hasan encouraged Abdul that he could just turn up at the centre without an appointment.

When he arrived at the AC, Javed listened for two hours while Abdul poured out his life story. He then translated the utilities letter into Urdu, so Abdul could decide what to do for himself. Two years on, Abdul has been back almost every week. Life is still tough but now he has met Jesus.

Henry remembers the day when Abdul came to share a very difficult situation, and Henry and Javed asked his permission to pray for him. They invited Abdul himself to pray. “It was like he just walked into the Kingdom of God and he’s been following Jesus ever since,” says Henry.

Real spiritual food

Abdul arrives just to hang out around lunchtime. There’s a lull in the conversation while volunteer Bilal* prays grace in Urdu, and a dozen Pakistani lamb kebab-and-salad wraps are demolished by hungry volunteers and visitors.

After lunch, the buzz of conversation resumes. Across the room, another volunteer called John* is trying (again) to iron out Sudpita’s* council tax situation. In the small kitchen, Javed listens as recently-widowed Ahmad* shares his heartache. Seated round Henry’s desk, Abdul, Abbas* and Ibrahim* watch as Henry opens his Bible to explore Jesus’ encounter with the disciples on the Emmaus road. Bilal interprets into Urdu, the group’s mutual language, then everyone prays in his heart language: Urdu, Gujarati, Bengali, English.

After more tea, cake and conversation with Kevin* — one of the other volunteers — Abdul shuffles away. But he’ll return on Sunday afternoon to join a dozen others for worship, fellowship and food at the monthly Urdu-language gathering.

Future plans

“I’ve seen God provide for AC: practically, financially and spiritually,” shares Henry. “And He’s used my legal and admin experience to get us registered as a charity! Now we can get on a better financial footing, and we’re praying for more volunteers from local churches, so we can relaunch English classes and maybe start a homework club. I understand some folks are cautious about ‘South Asian ministry’,” he concludes, “but if they would just come and make friends with people like Abdul, they’d see it’s about loving them into the Kingdom.”

Join us in prayer for the provision of funds and volunteers needed to keep the centre running. Pray for strong relationships with local churches and for the continuing powerful presence of Jesus.

*name changed

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