On a different beach
On holiday recently I was paddling on the beach, looking for jellyfish, in particular the jellyfish that impudently stung my hand earlier. As I stared out across the water I could imagine the refugees clambering into boats just over the horizon and washing up on a different beach, not far away, with the same sounds of water washing over sand. I wondered what I would do if I walked down to the beach one day and found a refugee wading toward me. How would I feel? What would I do?
Back in in Leeds, at least an hour and a half from any beach and a long way from any water likely to be crossed by refugees from another shore - what can I do? What can my response be? As a Christian, what are the basic principles from which to work out what to do and say in what is a really complex and difficult situation?
Archbishop Justin Welby recently drew attention to Leviticus 19:33-34, “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not ill-treat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” This is a theme repeated throughout the Old Testament and then reinforced by Jesus when he told the frightening parable of the sheep and goats, “Depart from me … for I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink…” (Matthew 25:31-46).
The very essence of our salvation story is that God reached out to us as miserable refugees and paid the price to redeem us into a new citizenship through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Yes, it is complicated, yes there are free-loaders and troublemakers amongst the genuinely desperate. By and large I think the government have been doing the right thing with their huge investment in the refugee camps near Syria. But, as Giles Fraser wrote recently, “There is no respectable Christian argument for fortress Europe, surrounded by a new iron curtain of razor wire to keep poor, dark-skinned people out.”
Greg Mulholland (MP for Leeds North West) has urged Leeds City Council to consider accepting more refugees. Fabian Hamilton (MP for Leeds North East) has also taken an accepting line.
We can support the agencies working with the refugees (I commend the Tearfund initiative) and we can pray. Please see the article by John & Debby Wright offering suggestions of how you can give and pray. Some families in the Leeds Vineyard actively open their homes to people seeking sanctuary and needing emergency accommodation. And here's a great little video from Krish Kandiah with some other ideas.
Whilst we may disagree with some of the political actions, and whilst we may not be able to do much in a practical way other than give and pray, as Christians we can continually speak the truth that every single individual is created by and loved by God; that we are to welcome not turn away, remove barriers not put up wire fences, rescue not ignore. Souls are worth more than living standards.
Last Wednesday was a horrible day – we saw pictures of the lifeless body of Aylan Kurdi washed up on a Turkish beach and we learnt the news of Jesiah Mungarro’s death. Please pray for the Ivan & Libby and their families. Anthony & Jane return from Mexico later this week - exhausted and distraught. You may be able to support them by making a meal. Please let Sally Wallace know and she will add you to the rota. If you would like to contribute and help Ivan & Libby with the medical costs incurred in Jesiah’s short tenure on this life please use their give.net account with Stewardship. You can find out more if you follow them on Facebook.
This coming weekend sees the launch of our new Small Groups – please come on Sunday to hear what is happening and to sign up to the group of your choice. We continue the series, “Disciple” – last week I spoke about how our engagement with weekly worship helps us grow as disciples. This week we’ll see how we grow as we engage with small groups and then on 20 September we’ll be hearing how God is calling us to be disciples outside the church – going to our neighbour.
This follows our week of prayer and fasting, “a week without”, which has already started and which you can join in with here.
Being a disciple means investing time with other disciples and you have a chance to do this on 20 September when we go up to Ilkley to do one of our favourite things, which is to baptise some of our people, and then to picnic and play together.
Also this weekend our friends at Headingley Methodist are celebrating 170 years of Christian witness in Headingley (may we have a 170 year history one day!).
Foreigners are different from us – and that can give rise to some excellent humour. As I write about Methodists I am reminded of a translated sign outside a Hong Kong dentist, “Teeth extracted by the latest Methodists”. Or an advert for donkey rides in Thailand, “Would you like to ride on your own ass?” Or my current giggle from the Acapulco hotel, “the manager has personally passed all the water here.”
By the way, I never got to take revenge on the jellyfish. They all look the same and when I found them on the beach I daren’t touch them anyway!