The last 2 months have been full of the news from Afghanistan and the dismantling (again) of what has been familiar daily life for Afghan people there. In the west, Church communities are currently experiencing the joy and challenge of welcoming many refugee families from the fall out of this crisis. We rejoice to hear of discipling opportunities that are being taken up and even the baptising of these refugee new believers from a Muslim heritage. Much of this work feels quite experimental as we respond to need (the refugees’) and the opportunity which God is giving the church to have our horizons extended.
Welcome and Belonging
The state of liminality which asylum seekers and refugees experience is well documented(1). Waiting for their status, their right to work and the opportunity to move on from being in a stateless position to being granted leave to remain puts them in a hold position between the past and the future. They are separated from homeland and loved ones and the way that the state treats them only serves to pile on the sense of physical and emotional weakening that is a further feature of liminality. Thus, what our new friends are looking for is home/family/belonging. This is both an opportunity and a challenge for the local church to respond to.
The word of God, ever relevant, speaks directly into this situation and, in my church, we have found it timely to have printed onto a banner the Message version of Paul’s words in Ephesians 2:19-20 : ” … You’re no longer strangers or outsiders. You belong here, with as much right to the name Christian as anyone. God is building a home. He’s using us all—irrespective of how we got here—in what he is building. ”
What will it mean for Christians in churches across the country to be family to those who are separated by land, sea, politics, conflict or religion from their own physical family? Whist we might recognise that a cup of coffee and a friendly chat after the Sunday church service won’t do it, we may feel ill-equipped, anxious that we might give offence or overwhelmed by the fear of what may be required of us that that is all we stick to. Here are just some of the practical ways in which Christian brothers and sisters have sought to befriend, support and encourage those refugees who are ultimately seeking belonging in Christ’s family:
Invitations to the home for Sunday lunch/an evening meal/ tea and cake are valued; end your time in prayer together, modelling how our Father God is interested in our cares and needs.
Ask them to join you and your family on a walk or a short trip to a local beauty spot
How about fitting them out with a cycle from a charitable Bike project – giving a degree of independence and the chance to call on you again
Go and see the latest James Bond film together
Arrange games nights with other members of the church family invited so that there is opportunity for mixing and fun. Include a short devotional time.
Find out about their interests and skills – is there a way of sharing this with the wider church family – there must be a good cook/ a singer/ a poet or story teller/ a bike fixer/ a dress maker, a carpenter, a tiler or musician …
Celebrate birthdays, achievements, anniversaries together. Spend some of that time praying blessing over the individual(s) being celebrated
Do they need to borrow your car (with added insurance!) and some of your time as they work towards getting a British license?
Be willing to be a guarantor for them when they get to the point of finding a place to rent
Do you have a friend who is a plumber or a teacher? Arrange a meet up with a refugee with a similar background so they can chat through pathways for work in the future.
Introduce them to other refugees and work towards creating a group together where endless tea can be drunk as they chat, ask questions and build trust
Offer a regular, weekly Bible Study(2) time in the week where we nurture growth in our desire and our understanding of what it is to follow Jesus
We’re open to more suggestions readers of this blog spot may have tried…
Why so much emphasis on the practical and the relational?
Building a natural family takes time, commitment to each other, lots of love and not a little effort. Could it be that God is offering us a wonderful opportunity here – not to grow His church numerically but to grow a diverse family of people, secure in their identity in Christ, deeply committed to each other and revelling in relationships of belonging which comes with having brothers and sisters who know the love of their Father God. This community of love, Scripture tells us(3), will be a witness to those around us. We will (all) be known not as church goers or Christians – with all the negative institutional and historical baggage those words might bring with them – but as true followers, disciples of Jesus, the kind and the good, who welcomes any who would “Come and See”(4).
Written by Miriam Williams
1 ‘Living Liminality’: everyday experiences of asylum seekers in the ‘Direct Provision’ system in Ireland. Zoë O’Reilly https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/0966369X.2018.1473345?journalCode=cgpc20
2 We can recommend the Come Follow Me book https://come-follow-me.org/about
3 John 13:35
4 Phrase often used by Jesus in John’s gospel as an invitation to follow.