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9th September 2015
This blog post originally appeared on the Jubilee+ website on Tuesday and is used with permission.
On Thursday I was wandering around my local supermarket trying not to cry. I was in the toothpaste aisle buying tubes to send to Calais, when I spotted the milk teeth toothpaste. It made me immediately think of the image of Aylan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian boy whose body washed up on the beach a few days ago.
I'm often moved by the news, but not usually to tears. On Thursday I couldn't stop myself from crying several times, which is really unlike me. Mostly it was the harrowing image of the little boy – I started imagining his family fleeing from their home, considering it safer in a small rubber dingy in the sea than on the land.
But it was also feeling incapacitated by compassion – I felt compelled to act yet had no idea what I could do. And I felt simultaneously baffled and outraged at some of the attitudes I was reading on social media.
"We have to look after our own first" was one comment that left me indignant. Our own what? Fellow human beings?! Are people seriously suggesting that we turn our faces away from desperate people risking their lives and the lives of their children to find hope for a future?
"But we can't let everyone in!" No, perhaps not, but is that really what comes out of our mouths in response to 3,400 refugees who have died trying to cross water to reach safety?
A central tenet of the Christian faith is that every life matters – every single person has inherent value, no matter who they are, where they're from, or what they've done, because their worth is based on the One in whose image they are made: God.
What's more, God has always required His people to extend the mercy He has shown them to others who need their help. Take Deuteronomy 10:17-19, for example: "For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt."
Or look again at the story of the Good Samaritan, where Jesus makes it crystal clear that His followers can longer define their neighbour as just the person living in their city.
For the Christian, the Bible really leaves us no choice but to show mercy, kindness and compassion to our fellow humans, whether they live next door to us or oceans away. But crying about it isn't enough – catching God's heart is fundamentally important, but so is demonstrating it to people made in His image who He loves.
The one thing that was a joy to watch on Thursday was the rising number of people signing a petition to get the Government to accept more asylum seekers and increase support for refugee migrants in the UK. When I signed it in the early hours of Thursday morning, it was at 49,000 signatures. By Saturday morning well over 400,000 people had signed it – the highest number of signatures on any Parliamentary petition of its kind.
As well as signing the petition, which forced a Government debate on the subject, there are other things we can do – we don't have to be incapacitated by our compassion.
Firstly, we can pray.
Secondly, we can give – there are a number of charities working in war-torn countries in the Middle East (for example, Tearfund and Christian Aid) and a simple search on Facebook of the word 'Calais' brings up numerous pages about local groups taking clothing, toiletries, etc., over to the refugees in Calais.
Thirdly, and more radically, could you provide a home for a refugee? The Government has now committed to taking in 20,000 Syrian refugees by the General Election in 2020, but there are 60 million displaced people in the world today according to the UN. It's estimated that if every council in the UK took in 10 refugee families, there would be nearly 10,000 more refugees cared for. If that's what councils could do, what could churches do? There are many more churches than councils in the UK. Could we be a significant part of the solution to the refugee crisis? If you think that your family or church could, get in touch with Citizens UK or Home for Good for advice on how to go about it.
Fourthly, if your church wants to help, wants to connect with those who are helping, or is already taking action, please get in touch with Jubilee+. We want to help you to network and coordinate practical support.
Finally, and crucially, keep asking God to align your heart with His, so that you reflect His heart to those around you, whether that's through direct contact with refugees or in conversations with your friends and family. Don't walk by on the other side, even in your heart and thoughts.
Jubilee+ has produced a briefing paper for churches on the refugee crisis. You can download it here.
Jubilee+'s fifth annual Churches that Change Communities conference takes place in East Grinstead in October – the early bird rate closes on Friday 18 September, so book here if you'd like to go!
Posted by Natalie Williams