The Calais Jungle is gone. The pre-Brexit threat of France opening the border which would move the camp right across the Channel to Dover has fizzled away. The Dubs Amendment which required the UK to take more unaccompanied minors already in Europe has been discontinued. Are the British people, even Christians, breathing the smallest sigh of relief – the flood never quite came our way?
I hope not but I do fear so. Thankfully, there are many organisations, both Christian and otherwise, in Britain and across Europe who are pitching in to give help and welcome to the thousands of refugees who are on the move, looking for a place to settle and call home.
I was recently at a conference in Budapest run by the Refugee Highway Partnership, where I met many such people working with refugees. The keynote speaker, Patrick Johnstone (Operation World author) predicted that this recent flood will be followed by more and more floods over the years to come, and we need to learn, as the church, how to respond. The focus of the whole conference was: if we as Christians don’t welcome and love the refugees, who will? And if we don’t, we have simply forgotten how the God of the Bible loved and shepherded displaced peoples, from the third chapter of Genesis to the end of the New Testament.
One hundred and fifty Christians from all over Europe shared stories of the work they are doing in all sorts of ways with refugees. Some are visiting camps, giving out clothes and phones, some are working with resettlement agencies, giving practical help, or language lessons, some are going into camps equipped with Bible stories in middle eastern languages, sharing the gospel with everybody they meet.
One of many excellent seminars, led by Rachel Uthmann of International Action For Refugees (IAFR) focussed on the ethics of evangelising refugees. Whilst everyone there would agree that we want to share the gospel with refugees – and indeed it has been said over and over that here is actually an opportunity for thousands fleeing from closed countries to hear the gospel – Uthmann raised the question of the power relationship between the refugee and the Christian helper – who offers food, shelter, community at the same time as, and maybe even conditional upon, preaching a gospel message. This could bring us all the way back to the holistic mission discussion. Mission practitioners today have well understood the need to follow Jesus’ example in showing God’s love for the whole person, offering healing, help and acceptance as well as showing the way to salvation. But Uthmann’s point was that we must avoid the trap of unintentionally manipulating people into hearing the gospel – we must find ways that enable the power balance between helper and receiver to be corrected, and then offer the gospel from a more even platform.
People at the conference held differing views on what we should be doing and the ways we should be doing it, leading to interesting conversations over lunches about the rights and wrongs of different approaches. But the message I came away with was: we should all be doing something!
“Do to others as you would have them do to you,” Jesus told his listeners in Luke 6:31. If I were a refugee, wouldn’t I wish that someone would offer me help, hope and a future?
Redcliffe is running training days for people working with refugees, focussing mainly on the Member Care aspect of building resilience in refugee workers.
Several current Redcliffe students are directly involved in refugee work, and some are writing dissertations in this area. Redcliffe also has a research project on the go, about how churches can be more involved with helping Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASC).
What do you think about this complex issue? Where does evangelism fit in, and how do we point the way to Jesus in a caring manner, without taking advantage of the vulnerable and displaced? What lessons have you learned throughout this ‘Refugee Crisis,’ and what role would you like to see Christians play in meeting these great needs?
If you want to wrestle with the complex themes of migration, refugee issues, ethics and evangelism, sign up for our MA in Contemporary Missiology. You can even specialise your degree to recognise your skills and passions in Justice, Advocacy and Reconciliation.