Such is the speed of events that by the time you read this, no doubt the situation will have moved on considerably, but as I write this Europe is in the throes of its biggest refugee crisis since World War II as tens of thousands of people are on the move from a heady cocktail of war, extremism, oppression and poverty; and as our Bishop, Nick Baines has said, our government is right in seeking to respond to the crisis with both head and heart – the head because a fair, just and compassionate long-term solution has to be found; the heart because many of these refugees have endured unimaginable hardship and out of our common humanity we need to seek to respond to their immediate needs. As the bishop also says, ‘There is little point discussing politics if the people the policies are aimed at helping die before the deliberations are complete.’
So what are we to do – well, it seems to me that as Christians we should be praying that our leaders will have the courage find long-lasting solutions, compromising along the way if they have to, while at the same time adding our support in any way possible to the efforts to alleviate the suffering. As the Archbishop of Canterbury has written, ‘As Christians we believe we are called to break down barriers, to welcome the stranger and love them as ourselves (Leviticus 19:34), and to seek the peace and justice of our God, in our world, today… We need a holistic response to this crisis that meets immediate humanitarian need while tackling its underlying drivers.’
And one practical way that we can respond with compassion is by supporting moves to press Harrogate Borough Council to offer to house a number of refugee families – there is an online petition to this effect called “Refugees Welcome in Harrogate” which can be found at http://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/refugees-welcome-in-harrogate. Of course there will be long-term implications for any community accepting refugees in their midst, but I for one would rather be counted among those who responded with heart as well as head, and I hope you will join me in this.
Changing tack a little, it seems to me that we see refugee crises across the world when people have lost hope, when they are so desperate about their current situation that they are prepared to risk all in the hope of finding a better future. Hope is vital to the human spirit, and it brings about change. As Christians, we are, to coin a phrase, ‘dealers in hope’ – hope given to us by the death and resurrection of Jesus – thus St Peter tells us ‘Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.’ The bottom line is that whatever difficult or challenging situation people find themselves in, the gospel of Jesus Christ and the loving ministry of the church can make a difference – so perhaps we need to be saying to God, ‘please use me to make a difference, to bring renewed hope, and please show me how and where I can bring that hope to bear.’
Incidentally our Mission Action Planning process is about hope – it is about our hope that God has a great future for us where we are a blessing to Him, to each other and to our community – so please keep praying for this process, that we gain vision and direction and by so doing, hope.