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Refugees, neighbours and helplessness

September 5, 2015

Like most people I’ve been left feeling distressed and helpless by the scenes of desperate refugees on the borders of Syria or risking the often fatal journey to get to Europe. So many harrowing scenes. This is a crisis that has taken Europe by surprise, or at least the scale of it has. The politicians have been caught out and so the policy responses are far from ideal. I pray that all countries stop the posturing and get on with the caring and do it soon; the immediate issue of people in need demands it. I hope and pray too that serious steps are taken to actively seek solutions to the far more difficult issues that have caused this crisis.

With these thoughts in mind I turned to James 2.1-17 and heard loud and clear that I can’t turn the other way. I read, “You do well if you really fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’” (verse 8, NRSV)

I hear the story of the Good Samaritan in my head and remember that my ‘neighbour’ is anyone in need that I can help. I read all of this and I’m trapped. You see part of me wants to hide from all the suffering. To switch off the tv and hope it will all go away. It all seems too much to cope with and I feel utterly helpless. That’s what I’m tempted to do, but I can’t. I can’t abandon my neighbours from Afghanistan, or Syria. James makes it very clear that real faith is shown by action:

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” (James 2.14-17, NRSV)

I can be in no doubt that a living, lively faith is one that feels the pain of others and acts. I still want to get away from the pain that I feel at all of this suffering but now I have something more positive to do than just run away and pretend that it isn’t happening. Now I know my pain to be a result of a living faith, a result of sharing Christ’s pain for the suffering here: The pain is the Spirit connecting me to the heart of God. Now I also know that acting to help is putting faith into practice, as well as showing God’s love for those that he has made.

James has cut through all the confusion in my mind. ‘James the Practical’ tells me loud and clear to stop messing around and do something; to get on and help. So far I have not found anyone locally who will take clothes and other physical aid but I’m still searching! I have though decided on 3 practical things to get on with:

1. I will donate money to support those on the ground helping refugees in Europe and in the refugee camps on the borders of the conflict zones e.g. in Turkey. There are a number of charities that I could support to do this but I have decided to donate via Christian Aid towards the refugee work being undertaken by the ACT Alliance. The ACT alliance includes 400 church groups including Christian Aid. In this way I can help support the work of local groups in Greece, Hungary, and Calais etc. which seems far more efficient than paying for help to be flown in. I am also going to arrange for collections in my 7 churches to support this work.

2. Along with the Mothers’ Union and many other groups I’m going to sign the online petition asking Norfolk County Council to offer to sanctuary for 50 Syrian refugees.

3. Last, but certainly not least I’m going to pray, and pray some more. To remind me and help me to focus I have found this prayer online:

A Prayer for Refugees 
Almighty and merciful God,
whose Son became a refugee
and had no place to call his own;

look with mercy on those who today
are fleeing from danger,
homeless and hungry.

Bless those who work to bring them relief;
inspire generosity and compassion in all our hearts;
and guide the nations of the world towards that day
when all will rejoice in your Kingdom of justice and of peace;

through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Finally, I need to thank James for reminding me of the obvious:

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” (James 2.14-17, NRSV)

When it comes to faith I can always trust James to shoot from the hip!

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