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At the mercy of the waves in an ill-equipped boat

By interserve
  • Migration |
  • 694 People are praying for this

    Once again at the end of 2021 there was news in Great Britain of another tragedy with the drowning of people crossing the channel from France to Great Britain. There’s a chance we can become numb to these stories. But if we try to think of the people involved and the lengths they go to try and find a place of safety to call home, we can begin to grasp the desperation of the circumstances they are in or from which they are escaping. What’s their story? What’s the reality of the situation? How awful is the situation, that they are willing to put themselves at the mercy of the wind and waves in an ill-equipped boat?

    There’s a chance we can become numb to these stories.

    The challenges for those who are seeking refuge, looking for a place of safety are huge and varied. When considering the whole, we could explore the situation in their home country that is leading them to leave. Or the challenges of the journey itself with trafficking and exploitation en route. Once in the destination country, there are the challenges of the asylum process. And then the process of integration into society. We certainly don’t have the capacity to explore all of these challenges. Each individual has their own story with their own dramas.

    When so much is stripped away, it is clear that it is human nature to try and bring some familiarity and control, in whatever small way, to the situation. And often it is around the theme of community and especially hospitality, to which many turn to try and find a ‘place’ which is familiar and in which they feel comfortable. After all, refugees are searching for a safe place, a place to call home.

    While community and hospitality have different meanings in different cultures, this idea of hospitality, this idea of welcome, is one significant area we can explore to aid us in our understanding of the needs and the challenges of those seeking refuge, and opportunities for us to serve.

    There has been some research carried out recently amongst Syrian refugees in Lebanon exploring this issue of hospitality and the ways in which these Syrian refugees have done certain things. Simple invitational practices were observed, such as inviting a neighbour to drink tea, or sending a morning greeting on WhatsApp. These are clear examples of invitation and welcome, of hospitality. There’s also the element of marking out boundaries, identifying their small space in the bigger tent, or the space around their own tent: their land, their home.

    I remember walking through one of the overflow areas outside the official refugee camp on Lesvos, Greece. Amongst the rows of ramshackle shelters and weatherbeaten flimsy tents, it was clear to see how the residents had marked out and personalised their space: an old pallet to make a fence between their neighbours, or a small, one-metre-square flower bed with some colour and beauty. And on one section of hillside between tents amongst the olive trees, many of the residents had dug holes in the hard earth and made ovens which they used to bake bread.

    These small things, the simple invitations and marking out of boundaries, play a huge part in the creating of conditions for a relationship between the host and the guest. And that position of being the host is of huge significance. It’s a position of status, of honour, of respect. By simply inviting someone to drink tea elevates them above the immediate reality and brings some honour and dignity. It’s part of the journey from being stateless, grieving, undistinguishable in many ways, towards a place where there is increased value that means they have a voice, that means they have dignity, self-worth, belonging, and, crucially, hope – hope that change is possible.

    We’ve seen this principle here in the city where we live. Amongst the Afghans and Iranians with whom we are connected, it’s a huge honour for them to invite us into their home, for them to be able to cook for us and in the case of my wife to teach her how to cook their foods, their delicacies, their treats. And this elevates them from the position of dependence on others to one of status as the host, where they can influence the proceedings and the conversations.

    Another example is a series of events that we were involved with during the quieter summer months a couple of years ago. Recognising the way in which food, hospitality and welcome can help to create a relaxed atmosphere with opportunity for conversation, we invited a small group of ladies together to share recipes, cook and eat together. We decided one occasion would be with Iranian’s cooking, and another would be Afghans. But as word spread of what was being planned, more and more people wanted to be involved. And then the invitations were made to husbands and children and uncles and friends. We had 80 or 90 people together for these meals. These events grew from the initial idea of a few ladies to wonderful celebrations. The opportunity to be the host, to invite others, to welcome others was of huge value to the whole community, but especially to the ladies who were involved from the beginning, the hosts.

    This position of allowing others to be the host, to give them authority, control and power is of significant value to them. And I think this is something that we in the church need to learn more about. It has been said that our understanding of mission as the Western church has led to our approach being one of assuming control in the situation or the relationship. We have gone in as the host saying this is how it is; this is the way that we will do it; these are the important things. I think that is a very dangerous way to approach our work and to approach mission.

    This position of allowing others to be the host, to give them authority, control and power is of significant value to them.

    When considering the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke’s gospel, a traditional reading puts us as the Good Samaritan; us as the one who should go and meet the needs of those on the side of the road; of us bringing healing; of us providing help to those in need. But when we read the story as it would have been understood at the time – knowing that the Samaritans were the despised, the lowly, the rejected, the other – then we could actually be the people on the side of the road. We are the ones who are beaten and bruised and in need of help, in need of rescuing, and Jesus comes to rescue us. The story of the Good Samaritan is partly about our own need, that we are in need of salvation. Jesus told this story to answer the question, ‘Who is my neighbour that I am to love?’ He illustrated that our neighbours include those whom we might not necessarily choose to associate with, because of differences of faith, culture, language, ethnicity, or social status, Jesus is saying that these people are our neighbours and we should love them also. But it’s only once we have swallowed our pride, that we are able to go and do likewise. The story is not about us being the host, being the ones in control, having the power. It’s about us being the guest, allowing others to be the host and giving them the control and the power.

    It is becoming harder to ‘go’ to some nations, but there is increasing opportunity as others ‘come’. Only God can turn the disasters and wars and desperate situations around the world into mission opportunities. Hebrews 13:2 reminds us to show hospitality to strangers. Just as we have been invited and rescued by our loving Father, can we also extend that invitation to those seeking refuge? Can we offer a welcome? Can we offer and, in time, receive hospitality? This opening of doors and of our hearts, of loving first, paves the way for relationship, and in time for Jesus’ invitation to be offered also. There is indeed a safe dwelling place available to every refugee.

    Thank you for commiting to praying

    Your prayers make a difference! Thank you for praying to see transformation in the lives and communities of Asia & the Arab World.

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