There Was No Place for Them: The Ministry for Refugees in our Partner Dioceses
The Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, The Bishop of Western Tanganyika, the Rt Revd Sadock Makaya and the Bishop of El Camino Real, the Rt Revd Mary Gray-Reeves
When we are settled in both our civic and religious life, we can take for granted our citizenship, both in our belonging to a country and to the Kingdom of God. They are though precious and to be lived with reverence and responsibility. Both are a privilege and an honor.
The number of refugees in the world has swelled to over 50 million. There has not been a higher number since immediately after WWII. We call this a crisis, as though it will end, but will it? The current pattern of migration, refugees, those who are stateless, those seeking asylum, and those who are internally displaced reflects the world's inability to be at peace and to manage its resources in just and equitable ways. People flee because of political instability, others because of food or water insecurity. About half of refugees are children. Some move to another country for better employment opportunities. These are technically not refugees but both groups live with the same insecurities and threats. Exploitative human trafficking abounds in such chaotic situations of human desperation.
In this Christmas season, we turn our attention to the holy family and how salvation came into the world through their faithfulness. They gave birth to salvation while on the move in turbulent times. For a brief period, Mary, Joseph and Jesus would have qualified as refugees. In Matthew chapter 2, an angel warns them of Herod's edict to kill all firstborn boys and urges them to flee into Egypt. Herod's tyranny was prompted by fear of the salvation foretold in this baby Jesus, one who would be called the Prince of Peace. No doubt it also sparks the memory of salvation from slavery out of Egypt of the Hebrew people when Pharaoh demanded the same infanticide.
Throughout his life Jesus lives in occupied territory. The salvation story is told amidst political unrest, fear, economic and social injustice and the movement of people living under constant threat. The same cry for peace on earth found in scripture is our global cry today. It is our context for following Jesus now. How shall we proclaim it? How shall we live it?
Our diocesan partnership shares in many things. We are one in the body of Christ. We are blessed to share love, fellowship, and a commitment to deep conversation about what it means to be Christian in our respective contexts. There remains an abiding commitment to live peaceably with significant difference among us. We also share this global crisis, our concern for refugees, for peace on earth and for salvation in Jesus Christ to be shared. In this time we model the power of our faith to create a context for peace to be born in our turbulent world. Here are a few words from each of our dioceses about our experience of this global reality. May we be inspired to serve God's will in our time.
Bishop Rachel said: “In the Diocese of Gloucester we are engaged with GARAS (Gloucestershire Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers) and Chapter 1 (a charity with a Christian foundation that works in our region to enable more properties to become available to families that might be deemed high risk for a private landlord). The hope is that as Syrian refugees arrive in our area over the next few years we will be able to offer real and practical support and enable adults and children to integrate well with local communities.”
Bishop Sadock said: “The Diocese of Western Tanganyika we have been engaged in the ministry of serving the refugees from Burundi and from the Republic of Congo who now live in my Diocese. We have two types of ministries: spiritual and physical. As Bishop I always visit these poor needy people to encourage and comfort them, but also for confirmation services.
“Secondly under the Department of Development, the Diocese has been providing blankets, towels, mattresses and food. In the last months the UNHCR Project field officer from Kasulu, wrote me an acknowledgement letter for what DWT is doing among the refugees. We feel that since the refugees are located in our Diocese we have no excuse not to be engaged in this service.”
Bishop Mary said: “We have many undocumented workers in our Diocese, and much support is offered to this population. Most recently some of our congregations have participated in an interfaith community organising effort that resulted in the provision of maintenance health care for undocumented persons. We are also discerning how we might help those affected by the refugee crisis resulting from gang-related violence in some Central American Countries, especially in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. The violence has led to extreme rates of homicide and forced displacement.Foundation Cristosal, an Anglican/Episcopal human rights organisation, is leading the national effort to provide direct assistance to victims displaced and persecuted by violence, or forced into sexual slavery."
As we enjoy the celebrations of Christmas in our homes with our families and friends, let us pray for refugees and all those who have no place to call home. May we open our hearts to them, support them as we are able, and live in hope alongside them for peace on earth. As Christians who know our spiritual home to be in Christ, may we share the gracious hospitality of God with all our neighbours.
O God of the wanderer, we give thanks that no matter where we are you have called us to make our home in Jesus. We thank you that in him we find the fullness of life. We pray today for all who flee their native land because of fear, hunger, violence, oppression, and terror. Give them comfort and deep peace as they travel; provide for them open arms and hearts as they arrive in a foreign place. May they find in us, their brothers and sisters, shelter, food, clothing, and a place to call home. May we embrace the stranger as we would your glorious presence. It is in this holy time of celebrating your Incarnation and by the power of the Spirit that we pray.