I left home three years ago. I am a foreigner, sometimes called an ex-pat, occasionally a missionary but I’ve never been called an immigrant. I am now a foreigner in South africa, here to use their health services as those in the country where I reside are inadequate for what I need right now.
All this makes me think.
Since being in South Africa, I have been exposed to news reports of violent acts of Xenophobia against African and Asian migrants by local people. In addition, we have watched the horrific accounts of people perishing in the European seas in thousands. People dying as they flee to Europe. It is both appalling and outrageous.
I have lived as a foreigner in one of the poorest countries in the world, Zambia, for over three years and experienced nothing but welcome, hospitality and love towards me. Surely we can learn from our Zambian neighbours?
Why do we feel so threatened when people come across our borders? Why are a minority of South Africans so intent on tormenting the very people from countries who protected them during the apartheid years. Why has Europe seemed to have taken so long to unite on the human catastrophe which has already killed double the amount of people who were on the Titanic?
I love my church back home, Kerith Community Church in Bracknell. I heard recently that the local council has asked them to host English conversation courses for Nepalese communities in the area. This inspires me. This is inclusion. This is the response we need to make.
As individuals and as a church, we need to have a voice on the issue of migration in our countries. We need to educate people on the facts, not the panic and fears that certain media and policies choose to infiltrate into our beliefs. We need to be careful not to allow vulnerable people in our communities, for example, those seeking asyum and refuge, to become scapegoats to cover up social problems caused by other factors such as ineffective government policies. The UK is not as overcrowded as we think, people do not take our jobs or drain the welfare system. These are myths. We need to know our facts and be informed.
We need to show grace and speak truth. Our neigbours in Lybia, Syria and Eritrea know full well the high death toll on the waters yet they choose to risk the lives of their families to travel. Why? Because the situations they are leaving are worse, more depraved, more violent and more dangerous than the perilous journey they need to take.
Let us unite and stand up for the voiceless. We can speak out against trafficking and we can petition our leaders to improve the asylum process which ensures the people who deserve safety are protected.
But let us not stigmatise and stereotype the majority who are innocently arriving. Let us not condemn people just for wanting a better life for themselves and their families. Would we not do the same?
Finally, let me close with this image which has been on facebook. It disturbs me. It forces me to face the reality of a shocking injustice.
It also reminds me how I can be so absorbed in my own comfort and seeking my own happiness, that I don’t notice the pain and suffering of those around me. Its fine when I’m in the mood to help, but what about those times when people seek help when it feels like an interruption? When I am on the ‘beach’ relaxing in my life. Do I notice people in need then? Do I reach out and help at those times?
I really hope if that was me in that photograph on that beach, I would have stood up and gone to help that man. Maybe one of the three sunbathers did after this photo was taken. I hope so. What would you have done?
Have a great week