Last year, the village community of Penally, Pembrokeshire, suddenly found out that over 100 men from the Middle East and north-east Africa had been moved into a local disused army barracks, repurposed as a camp for asylum seekers.

The locals continue to navigate this situation into this year. It has caused much controversy, with local media covering the story and protests from far-right groups being organised. But despite what must be an incredibly lonely and sometimes hostile environment for the men in the camp, there have been some in the community who have consistently shown them love and grace.

Evangelical Alliance Wales’ executive chair, Rob James, felt that God was prompting him to help these men. With an academic background in Middle Eastern studies and a sense to act on the verses in Matthew 25:35 – 36 (For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat), Rob saw this as an opportunity to show the love of Jesus to a group of men who were cut-off and isolated.

Christian and Muslim men from Iran, Iraq and Eritrea live in the camp, so a chaplaincy network was set up to offer pastoral care. Chaplains from nearby churches and an imam from the local mosque have been visiting the camp, providing much-needed comfort and support for the men, and strengthening interfaith relations. It’s been encouraging to see the incredible level of collaboration across Christian denominations, organisations such as Cytȗn (Churches Together in Wales), the Evangelical Alliance and the local Muslim community.

Because of the willingness of Rob James, Rev Aled Edwards, chief executive of Cytȗn, and others, the men in the camp have been welcoming towards the visiting chaplains. In fact, the men have received Bibles in either English or Farsi, as well as CDs of music in Farsi from the local churches and the chaplaincy network. The vision to pastorally support these men has also been shared by those in the local community and further afield, with support being offered from as far as Fishguard and Cardiff.

As friendships developed between the chaplains and the residents, it became known that one man had previously worked as a tailor. Within 24 hours of this coming to light, a sewing machine along with necessary materials was provided so that he could continue his passion inside the camp. During December, Rob and his wife Mo bought and wrapped three presents for each of the men, to ensure they knew they were remembered at Christmas. Rob was also given £2,000 to use in ways that would show them love and care.

With the level four lockdown still in place in Wales, some might assume that it would be impossible to maintain communication. However, there are plans to purchase and distribute tablet devices to the men in the camp so that they can stay in contact with both the chaplains and their loved ones at home.

These acts of kindness at the Penally camp are brilliant examples of people responding to the biblical mandate to love your neighbour, whoever that neighbour might be. Even today, God uses His people to be salt and light in the world. We can be both inspired and challenged by these incredible acts of love and thank God that He continues to care for the most isolated and vulnerable in our communities.

To develop your understanding of how to engage with people of other faiths, check out The World on our Doorstep, which was published by the Evangelical Alliance. We’d encourage those who want to support refugees and asylum seekers in their community to reach out to Evangelical Alliance member organisation Welcome Churches.