The God-child had to flee persecution and sought sanctuary in a foreign land:
Get up. Take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt. Stay until further notice. Herod is on the hunt for this child, and wants to kill him. Joseph obeyed. He got up, took the child and his mother under cover of darkness. They were out of town and well on their way by daylight. They lived in Egypt until Herod’s death. (From Matthew’s Gospel, Chapter 2 – The Message)
Several years ago, I was involved on a very practical level befriending and assisting individuals and families who were refugees, asylum seekers or failed asylum seekers. Working for a small community project in inner-city Birmingham, I met many people from Africa, Europe and Asia who had fled torture, war and persecution and had sought sanctuary in Birmingham. In my relationships with these people, I gained more than I gave. I learnt about generosity, community, faith and perseverance. It was a privilege to serve these amazing people in often quite small ways and I was humbled by the gifts and hospitality I received from them.
The most important lesson I learnt during those years was the power of ‘just sitting’. I didn’t have words of comfort for the homeless and destitute woman sitting next to me. I couldn’t offer a solution to her plight in the UK or to her family’s problems in her home country. But I learnt that by sitting next to her in silence, I could show care and compassion.
For global situations such as the current refugee crisis, it can be hard to know what to do and how to make a difference.
The problem is so vast and the scale of suffering unbelievable. The numbers are incomprehensible and the individual accounts harrowing. I feel overwhelmed by the issues, the political arguments and the horrors of what humans can do to each other. But yet, I believe we should act and that our actions make a difference.
Here are some ideas of actions we can take:
- Get involved with your local charity helping refugees: In the Watford area, there is the Watford and Three Rivers Refugee Partnership which needs volunteer befrienders, financial support and donations of food. Current needs are: rice (in small packets), washing gel for clothes, tinned meat, tinned sponge puddings, milk and fruit juices. In Birmingham, I can recommend supporting Restore and in Manchester, the Boaz Trust. Other cities and large towns will have their own projects (have a look at the Naccom network).
- Give to an NGO working directly with refugees: The Pilgrim family like to support Tearfund.
- Speak up: Many times I have not had the courage or the up-to-date information to counter arguments with someone who is being negative about refugees. I’ve found this helpful short leaflet produced by Refugee Action and am going to familiarise myself with its content so that I can confidently refute any myths. I’ve also now signed Amnesty International’s online pledge to stand up for rights for refugees.
- Become better informed: This briefing from Christians in Parliament about migration is a short informative read. Again, I’m going to get to grips with its content and look at the suggested follow-up reading.
- Campaign: For example, the Set Her Free campaign from Women for Refugee Women aims to end the detention of women seeking asylum in the UK and Stop Funding Hate is a social media campaign lobbying companies to cease advertising in newspapers which use ‘fear and division to sell more papers’.
- Buy these beautiful cards: The money provides phone credit for refugees across Europe and the pictures will be a visual reminder to pray, which leads me to the most important point…
- Pray: What if we thought prayer was the best action we could ever take on behalf of an other? Too often, I think of prayer as the weak option for when I have no other resources. But surely prayer is the ultimate action I can take? This article from a Tearfund worker in the Middle East inspires me to take prayer more seriously. I’m going to pray from now until 6th January (Epiphany) for refugees bearing in mind how Mary, Joseph and Jesus sought sanctuary in Egypt. I’m going to pray for:
- A just asylum service in the UK
- Healing from emotional trauma and physical wounds
- An end to the conflict in Syria
- Wisdom for politicians in creating solutions to the global refugee crisis
- An end to hateful and inaccurate stories and headlines about refugees
For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe. He administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing. Therefore love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:17-19 from the New King James Version)