#refugeeswelcome -because we’re all refugees

I’ve been talking with lots of people about the refugee crisis, about language, about practicalities and logistics and about all sorts of things. I’ve read some Christian responses, and a friend has also commented that we don’t need to have the Biblical perspective on refugees clarified… its should be obvious to all people.

But sometimes its worth articulating what the Christian faith says about something, even when we know its true. And its also worth encouraging each other about what to do. Because the two are linked- Christians act out of conviction born from love. They don’t just act, and they don’t just have loving thoughts. Or at least, that should be the case. In reality, we often need something to hang our thoughts and ideas on… someone to remind us what we believe and to point out what we can do…

Yesterday our Bible readings in church were around how Jesus treated a Syrian woman and her daughter (for real- check out Mark chapter 7) and from the letter of St James to the Christians challenging them not to show favouritism to the rich and to make sure their actions match up with their words (equally for real- check out James  chapter 2).  I prepared some stuff on those passages, and in response to the news… you can read that at the bottom if you want. But really its about doing something…

So what are we doing in response- a small thing we’re doing here locally is collecting clothes and other items as needed to send to the folks in Calais- its the nearest point of direct contact. We’re setting up a collection point here in our local church during the week, for some vans to go out next month. Why don’t you find out what’s going on locally and do the same? It took me just a couple of minutes to fill a bag with clothes that will help someone stay warm and maybe save their life, and all I’ll be missing is a couple of jumpers and some jeans. Look here for details of what is being collected by the North Devon Calais donation group…

But of course, if we just take food and clothing to a refugee camp and drop it off, we may feel better and some people may have some food, but the problem of why they’re running and the causes of the conflict all still remain- an interesting post here by Alison Playford highlights this and questions our use of language- not just refugee/migrant but looking wider… so we need to engage in dialogue with our governments, we need to see this is part of the bigger picture (which is tied up with climate change- but you knew that too, right?)…

or there’s medecin sans frontieres working in the Mediterranean and on the ground in Syria and Eritrea, or the example of the families who set up the Migrant Offshore Aid Station, or offer to sponsor and host a family yourselves, or support others who can… or, or, or…

But what about the actual title of this post- ‘we’re all refugees’? I don’t mean that in the sense that many people’s families have moved around over the years- my wife is the daughter of a migrant, so was my gran… and many folks in my local community were refugees from London and other cities during WWII… but that’s not what I mean.

Its this- If you believe in the Christian narrative of God, Sin, Jesus and forgiveness, if you believe that works and is true, then you believe in a refugee narrative. Anyone who calls themselves a Christian or goes to church to find some peace or prays to God and hopes for an answer is a refugee. We throw ourselves on the mercy of another, hoping that their compassion will outweigh their logic. And in the Christian narrative, compassion wins every time. We use the word grace to describe it, and we call the gathering of the people the church rather than a refugee camp; but in the kingdom of heaven we’re all refugees who’ve been granted citizenship. Some of us might have been here a while, others are still stood by the gate, but none of us have any right to boast.

I did promise to include the draft of my text from yesterday, so here it is:

Looking at the two passages, wherever I turn there is a challenge for us… in the Gospel we hear about Jesus treatment of a Syrian woman and her child and the healing of a sick man; and in the reading from James’ letter we hear about how favouritism is forbidden and that our actions must match our words if we claim to be followers of Christ…

Anyone who’s seen the news this week, or last week, or this year, cannot help but be affected by the crises that are unfolding. There is a humanitarian crisis in Europe. It is a crisis of the heart. We have stopped loving our neighbour. We are closing our eyes, our minds, and our hearts, and that is why we are able to close our borders.

It shouldn’t need a picture of a dead 3yr old child to provoke a response- we all knew it was happening. And in case you’re wondering, I’m not having a political rant against our current government or working up to a sales pitch for supporting refugees and those less fortunate than ourselves (though at this harvest time, as we give thanks for what we have received, it is appropriate for us to think of and act to help those who are struggling to survive).

What these passages show us is that we, as Christians, should act. We bring healing through prayer and support for medical workers, and we offer it to anyone in need. We welcome all who need our help and seek us out without any discrimination. God chose us when we were poor and lifted us up. He has put a robe around our shoulders and called us his children. And we are to do likewise.

We’re not called to wait for our governments to show us how to live, we’re called to show our governments how they should live- in Iceland the government is obliged to take 50 refugees per year as their quota, and yet 11,000 residents have offered to provide a home and pay for a refugee’s flight to Iceland in return for the government issuing them with paperwork for work and residency…  that’s people taking the lead. In the UK we’ve got the camps in Calais right on our doorstep- Like so many of us Calais is the beginning of holidays for me, and I was shocked to hear that there have been refugee camps there for some years (and yes, I use the term refugee rather than migrant- my mother-in-law was a migrant who flew across the Atlantic to get married and work in the UK by choice… she had no economic, political or religious pressure to leave Canada). I don’t think David Cameron is a bad man, but he has difficult decisions to make and he needs to know what his country would have him do- and until this week the message he seems to have been hearing is that we’re scared of people arriving in our country, we fear for our job security etc… and so he’s taken a hard line and stuck to it. We need to let him know that although those things are true, we are more motivated by a responsibility as humans to stop the loss of life and the dehumanising process which turns people into problems…

Its easy for us to look at the things we get right and think we’re doing ok- haven’t murdered anyone or coveted an ass recently… but how often have I failed to love my neighbour? How often have I failed to love God with all that I am? Because of God’s grace I am not condemned for my failures, but I am responsible for my choices and my actions…

Those who are rich are blessed, and have a responsibility to help those who are poor- we all look to others and say they are richer than me, but in reality if we can afford to go on holiday anywhere, have any kind of a pension, are able to keep a pet or a car or own a home… then we are rich. I say this to shame myself.

What can we do? We can pray, we can let our councillors and MP’s know our views… we can take action by supporting donations such as the clothing collection for Calais… we can give money to organisations working to relieve this crisis… we could at some point consider whether we ourselves might get involved in politics (not necessarily standing, but engaged in the discussion)… we can make sure that in our own thoughts and conversations we’re not overtly or implicitly prejudiced against others…

This passage is a timely reminder of two things- firstly that the problems of deprivation and favouritism (which is an alternative way of saying prejudice or racism) are nothing new… they have existed throughout human history, but with the increasing population and the increasing speed of communication we’re more aware of the scale of the situation. And secondly that there has always been pressure on the church to keep quiet, and we’ve never been given that option. Jesus, in his ministry and teaching did not put a limit on God’s love but rather kept on stretching the boundaries of who might be lovable in God’s eyes, and in this letter from James the church is challenged to persevere and prevail- not to give up in the face of trials, not to copy the world by praising the rich or famous and ignoring the poor or desperate. It’s a passage and a letter full of hard truths, summed up nowhere better than in the final verse- faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. Faith gives meaning and reason to what we do- it is the answer to the question ‘why?’, but without action faith is simply piety- virtue for the sake of itself. Jesus came into the world, and he sent the church into the world…

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7 thoughts on “#refugeeswelcome -because we’re all refugees

  1. I believe that we’re called as the Body of Christ to be a “city of refuge” to those who are in need. You can compare Numbers 35:6, 1 Timothy 2:2, and Revelation 12:6 (note: the Greek in Rev 12:6 says “they will take care of her for 1,260 days”).
    And, just throwing it out there, when I first read the title I thought of Tom Petty singing, “You don’t have to live like a refugee!”
    Grace and peace in Christ.

    1. thanks for your comment, just popped over to your blog and read a few bits. There’s a lot of problems with church, and the Body of Christ is pretty lame in many ways, but that is part of why I ended up getting involved in church leadership- not because I think I have any kind of answer or solution, but because I believe faith and life as a follower of Jesus is too important… we have to work at being God’s people so that the world looks at us and sees God. Anyways, really good to bump into you, if you’re ever in N Devon, UK lets grab a coffee

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