United through the Gift of Art

Gertrudes C. Samson
January 17, 2013

Recently I had an opportunity to share about craft making with a group of asylum seekers at my ministry in St. Chad’s Sanctuary. When our manager, Sr. Margaret Walsh, asked me if I would like to lead a craft session, I responded with a resounding “yes,” since I enjoy craft work. But another message was clear to me – we were on a tight budget. So I decided to do a “Recycled Craft” session. As a Columban lay missionary, it was also an opportunity for me to advocate for the integrity of creation dimension of our justice and peace mission.

At the recent annual Justice and Peace Network Conference in Swanwick, I found two cloth bags at the Fair Trade Exhibit with prints that captured the simple messages I wanted to use as introduction to my “Recycled Craft” session, so I bought them. One of the cloth bags carried the message, “Recycling is Fun,” with a picture conveying the importance United through the Gift of Art Integrating Advocacy By Gertrudes C. Samson of segregating our waste into different categories so it would still be useful. The message of the other bag was a complaint. It carried the picture of one of the fish in the ocean saying “PLASTIC BAGS – Plastic bags on the shore, plastic bags on my door, plastic bags in the sea, plastic bags – THEY HURT ME!” Though the English language skills of my participants are limited, with the help of the two cloth bags, and a little additional explanation, I think I got the message across as I saw them nodding their heads. I believe that craft making is fun, it is a great hobby, and it can also keep the mind rested and from thinking about problems. As I experienced in our session, it is also a good bonding activity and an opportunity for people to talk while doing it. People smile as they are making things and when they realize that they have artistic talent.

The session also touched my heart, as I heard one of my participants saying, “Thank you God for my new knowledge.” I felt blessed to hear that. In addition, homemade crafts could give people the opportunity for extra income if they sell items, and it could also save them money as they wouldn’t need to buy gifts. It could also put smiles on the faces of people who would receive the items as gifts, knowing that they are personally made with love. As one of my participants said, “I will bring it home to my wife; she wanted to attend too, but she got sick.” Then he asked me to help him cut letters N and R to stick to the two crafts he made. He said it was the initials of their first names. I am sure his wife was happy to receive what he had made. Sometimes people resist trying craft making, thinking that it might cost a lot to buy the materials. But then if we use recycled materials, the cost would be very minimal, and at the same time we are helping in the preservation of the integrity of creation through the reduction of waste being dumped in the environment. In the craft session I led, attended by six people, I spent less than $3.00. And there are still around 75 percent of those materials left for a possible repeat session in the future. What did I buy? Only a pack of 20 pipe cleaners and a small roll of double sided tape. All the rest were recycled materials such as plastic cover caps (from liquid laundry soap, shampoo, spray cans, vitamins containers, etc.), empty cleaned plastic milk containers, used cleaned plastic bags, used Christmas crackers, used ribbons from cakes and former gifts, cardboard from boxes of cereals, plus some other materials and simple tools that are usually found in our homes.

Most of my ministry in Birmingham involves work with asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants. As I journey with these people, who are people in need in this first world country, I realize that most of them are victims of war, violence, and injustice from various countries in different parts of the world. Being given asylum is a human right, according to the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. For me, it is part of giving them justice so that they enjoy that human right to seek asylum after all the traumatic experiences they have been through. What we are trying to do here also is to make them feel at peace in this new found country which is now their home.

I believe that everything that we do here in England as lay missionaries, no matter how simple or small it might be – like leading a “Recycled Craft” session – is a contribution towards world peace and justice. Hopefully, groups of asylum seekers and refugees will experience a glimpse of justice and peace here. And when the time comes that they will be able to return to their own country, they can share and spread that experience of peace and justice too, even in the midst of diversity. These are like small ripples in the ocean that will hopefully create a big tide someday.

This article appeared in the December 2012 edition of Columban Mission magazine.