Make more room at the table

Delivering a baby in a hotel lobby was the last thing two volunteers expected when they answered a call to welcome a handful of Afghan refugees recently evacuated to the UK.

The volunteers were part of a national movement of Christians, churches and charities of all faiths working together across the Welcome afghan coalition to support the 11,000 refugees who are stranded in temporary accommodation in hotels and motels across the UK.

Both mother and baby were eventually hospitalized and are doing well. Their story is one of many: Lives across the country are affected by volunteers who come to chat, answer questions about life in the UK and offer practical help.

Another baby born in emergency accommodation far from home in the midst of a political crisis, Jesus was a refugee during his early and most vulnerable years. The story of Christmas also shines a spotlight on those who went out of their way to welcome it, from local farmers to wealthy international travelers.

This theme of welcome and hospitality, refuge, immigration and asylum is not a footnote, but crosses the canon of the Scriptures. When Jesus is born, he is the refugee child; then, as a man, he becomes the homeless host, the great welcome for strangers. Even when Christ dies, he welcomes a criminal to heaven.

Going up after his resurrection, he will prepare a room in his Father’s house for those who will trust in him. We see a glimpse of this heavenly hospitality in Revelation, where God is pictured hosting a banquet for all nations.

The Church has had 2000 years of struggling with hospitality, both theologically and practically, not always showing hospitality to strangers as we are called to do, or opening our homes and communities to whom Jesus is. dead to save.

Historical failures, however, do not nullify our God-given mandate to play a role in welcoming foreigners, migrants and refugees. This mandate, as well as the intellectual and social capital of the churches, is needed more than ever.

Currently, one in 95 people on our planet is internally displaced, having fled their country as a result of conflict or persecution. This represents more than 26 million refugees worldwide, half of whom are under the age of 18. Millions more have been denied nationality and lack access to education, health care, employment and freedom of religion.

FOR much of the fall of 2021, immigration dominated the national press. While many are calling on the government to create a safer route for people fleeing to the UK (News, December 3), there is arguably in some of our media a growing narrative that is dehumanizing asylum seekers.

Immigration appears to be on the way to becoming another polarizing issue in our society. The government’s Nationality and Borders Bill, which gives legislative expression to government policies outlined in the ‘New Immigration Plan’, attempts to make it a criminal offense to knowingly arrive in the UK without permission, and speed up the removal of immigrants (News, September 17).

Critics of the bill believe it oversteps the bounds of ethical accountability and ignores human rights law and potential economic benefits to the country of immigration. They also fear that those who seek to help migrants will also be criminalized and that the plan to return failed asylum seekers to any safe country they have passed through may be unenforceable.

Nonetheless, the government maintains that the bill will provide a fairer and more deterrent system for traffickers, and render the Channel crossing route unsustainable.

So far, despite the government’s stance, the number of refugees desperate enough to attempt to cross the Channel has increased dramatically. From 300 in 2019 to 8,000 in 2020, in November of this year, more than 25,000 people tried the route.

Despite the increase in small craft crossings this year, there have been fewer asylum seekers attempting to enter the country through other routes. Thus, the total number of people seeking asylum in the UK in the year ending June was 31 115. This is four percent less than the previous year.

There are Christians on both sides of the debate on how to manage our borders. Some condemn the government’s measures as inhumane; others agree that tighter controls would prevent human trafficking and deaths. I believe we can bring the two sides together with a Christian understanding of hospitality.

Sixteen years ago my wife and I became foster families. I was first concerned about the risks and costs: the practical and emotional ways in which a child from a difficult background would affect my three biological children, the need to adapt the house, the expense that would entail, the huge potential for heartache.

But understanding the needs of children in care and, most importantly, meeting many of them made me change my mind. We were able to expand our capacity beyond what we ever thought possible.

At one point we had to accept that we could no longer welcome children without losing the structural and relational integrity of our home, and without taking away the safety that the children we were caring for. Likewise, I think, some border controls can actually help us to deliver hospitality effectively. I also believe, however, that our nation has many more possibilities than it imagines to offer hospitality to people fleeing war, famine and terror.

People who say our country is too poor or too full to take in more refugees should reconsider our nation’s demographics, the resources we have been blessed with, and the life stories of asylum seekers.

Wherever we are on the political spectrum, all Christians are called to practice hospitality with those in need in our neighborhoods, our nation and the world. The Church in the UK has an important opportunity to show this hospitality and welcome refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants.

To help increase our understanding, capacity and reputation for hospitality, a new initiative, “The Hospitality Pledge”, will begin in 2022. It challenges Christians to take steps towards greater personal hospitality, to talk with, rather than about, those who fled to the UK to seek asylum.

As we begin to experience the power of welcoming and helping those most in need of hospitality in our communities, we can perform a powerful counter-narrative. I believe that together we, the Church, can expand our national imagination when it comes to asylum seekers and our commitment to welcome more refugees.

Earlier this year, I received a call from an Interior Ministry official, who asked me what kind of geographic coverage I could provide for the reception of refugees. I was able to assure them that there were churches in every town, town and village in the UK.

I was convinced that wherever refugee families were settled, I could find Christian believers who wanted to live out their call to love God and to love their neighbor.

I was able to tell him that the Church has expertise because it has cared for people in need for 2000 years. In addition, the Church has buildings across the country that could be made available for hospitality, assessment, and training courses.

It has been 50 years since Windrush, and Church and Nation are still reaping the negative consequences of our failure to welcome those who migrate to the UK from the Caribbean. The Church now has the opportunity to do things very differently.

It was especially exciting to see the Church take a different stance over the past year, as more than 750 individual churches mobilized to provide many migrants arriving from Hong Kong and Afghanistan with practical, spiritual support. and emotional.

I have spoken to many Christians who have established relationships with refugees this year. Some of them had taken Afghan families to local tourist sites, accompanied them to football games, and simply spent time talking and listening to them.

A church pastor helped two children find medical help for untreated gunshot wounds in the legs. I know several host families who have opened their homes to unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.

I met a woman who had come from Hong Kong and received such a warm welcome from the Church that she first volunteered to help an Afghan family as they moved away. settled in the UK. I know an eight year old girl who has raised funds to buy winter clothes for children her age facing their first winter in the UK.

I have spoken to people who have started coming to church regularly because they have seen that faith is real and relevant, and they have experienced the love of God. Months of relational investment and sacrificial service are paying off.

Grace can always be exploited, compassion abused, and generosity wasted. Sometimes our hospitality will be returned to us. Sadly, there will always be a few who commit terrible atrocities on our soil. None of this should cause us to withdraw our hospitality.

When God the Father sent his Son into the world that first Christmas, it couldn’t have been more expensive. God knew very well that his grace would be rejected and that Jesus would die on a cross by human hands. But he went ahead anyway, because he desperately wants the whole world to be invited to sit with him at his banquet table.

Perhaps you could rethink who is invited to sit around your table this Christmas. Would you consider inviting one more, maybe the one who has never spent Christmas in the UK?


Dr Krish Kandiah is commissioner of the Archbishops’ Commission for Children and Families. He is the director of Afghan Welcome (afghanwelcome.org) and UKHK.org. He tweets @krishk


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