The Salvation Army has welcomed its first refugee family under the Community Sponsorship scheme recently introduced by the Government. Fleeing conflict in Syria, the family had lost their home and been identified by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as being particularly vulnerable and in need of resettlement to the UK. Welcomed under the scheme they will now have the opportunity to rebuild their lives in London, supported by The Salvation Army and its community.
Following the passage of the Dubs Amendment, the Home Office is consulting with local authorities to determine how many unaccompanied children the UK will be able to accept. Since each council’s pledge will be determined by its fostering capacity our local Refugee Welcome Team has been working to promote fostering in Redbridge.
We’ve held an evening to promote fostering to those within our faith communities and to ask the Leader of the Council, Jas Athwal, to pledge to accept five Syrian refugee children. The evening featured presentations from CORAM, Home for Good and Redbridge Council about fostering, as well as testimony from Ernest, who came to the UK as an unaccompanied Albanian refugee, and Farduous, who came here as a Syrian refugee.
Following the action, we took time to evaluate. This was an opportunity to celebrate people who had done well, congratulate individuals who had developed their skills and recognise leaders who had brought others to participate in public life. It was also an invaluable chance to learn specific lessons about community organising. How did you feel? What had gone well? What could we have done better? What had changed as a result of the evening?
My instinctive response to the final question surprised me. It wasn’t the answer I or anyone else was expecting. Because the answer was me. I had changed.
Before the fostering event, I and another member of the team went to meet representatives from the council for a pre-negotiation. I came away thinking that we were asking for the impossible. And so before our event I was a nervous wreck – what was I going to do if the Leader of the Council tried to deflect the question or, even worse, refused outright. I wondered, should we ask for something smaller – maybe ask for less children, maybe not even ask him to commit to act at all. But with the encouragement of others on the team, I found the courage to live with the tension and ask anyway.
Justice seeking demanded that I broke free from my concern about looking foolish. It required that I was prepared to fail if the Leader didn’t give us what we wanted. I needed to ignore my natural inclination to play it safe and disturb the present to better the future.
Of course, this wasn’t all that had changed. Together we had secured a commitment from the Leader of the Council to accept unaccompanied refugee children under the Dubs amendment, although we were disappointed he would not commit to a specific number in contrast to the Leader of the Council in Hammersmith & Fulham, Stephen Cowan, who committed to his borough resettling at least 10 unaccompanied children. Furthermore, we had recruited sixteen potential foster carers. But nonetheless, the change in me is important because it makes me a little bit more who God would have me be.
When the prophet Micah questions what the Lord requires of his people, he responds ‘ To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.’ (6:8)
God’s intention is that our justice seeking, our acts of compassion and our rhythms of discipleship are integrated and interconnected; each a vital and connected part of our spiritual formation.
Justice seeking inevitably arises from a frustration with acts of compassion that serve the suffering but don’t address the causes of the misery, However, justice seeking should also shape our acts of compassion so we serve in ways that empower and bestow dignity rather than foster dependence. Similarly, while justice seeking is an important expression of our discipleship, it is also a place where we are spiritually formed as God challenges us to change, highlighting the places where our character isn’t consistent with the person of Jesus and giving opportunity for the fruit of the Spirit to grow within us.
However, Adele Calhoun reminds us ‘experiences don’t necessarily bring wisdom, nor do they automatically transform us. We need to listen and reflect on our experiences in the presence of the Holy Spirit to learn from them’ (Spiritual Disciplines Handbook 2005: 57). It’s important that we take time to pay attention to how our justice seeking is shaping who we are, allowing it to transform us into the image of Christ.
Some prompts for reflection:
- What do you personally find most challenging about justice seeking? Ask God to show you how this might be connected to aspects of your personality where He is leading you to change to become more like Jesus.
- Look back over your diary for the last month – how much time have you invested in justice seeking, in acts of compassion and in rhythms of discipleship? Is there a particular area you’re not investing in enough?
- Next time you engage in an act of justice-seeking, ask yourself ‘what’s changed?’ and write about this in your journal
Opportunities for Action:
Since January, when a small group of children were reunited with their families at St Pancras Station, another 178 children have been identified, living in terrible conditions in Calais, who have a right to be reunited with their families here in the UK. Disappointingly, the government has transferred less than 50. Worse still there are 14 waiting for up to 10 weeks, whose travel has been fully approved. It’s not good enough.
Join us in calling on the new Immigration Minister, Robert Goodwill to reunite these children with their families by the 25th of August. There’s no reason these children shouldn’t be here in time to start school. Let’s challenge the Minister to find a way and show that we won’t take no for an answer.
In addition to this, The Welcome Summit on Saturday 10th September is a gathering for the groups behind the Refugees Welcome movement from right across the country.
It’s a moment, one year on from the tragic death of Aylan Kurdi, to come together and celebrate what we’ve achieved, take stock of the British response to date, and to plan, train and act together to build a more welcoming Britain. We will also use the time to build accountable relationships with key actors, from government ministers to UN agencies, around key issues including the protection of refugee children, development of community sponsorship, and building of strong communities.
Guest post by Captain Sandra Pawar
In 1912, General William Booth, founder of The Salvation Army, entered the Royal Albert Hall in London to give his last, most notable address to a packed crowd of 7,000 Salvationists. The most famous part of this speech is:
“While women weep, as they do now, I’ll fight
While little children go hungry, as they do now, I’ll fight
While men go to prison, in and out, in and out, as they do now, I’ll fight
While there is a drunkard left,
While there is a poor lost girl upon the streets,
While there remains one dark soul without the light of God,
I’ll fight-I’ll fight to the very end!”
I have always loved this part of his speech and found it incredibly powerful. I loved the heart and passion behind it. I believe it was not only relevant for what was needed in the early century but I believe it is still relevant today and a call to mission for us.
There are still women weeping and there are still young girls lost upon the streets and there is still a need for people to fight for and with them.
There are women and young girls being trafficked around this world and in this country on a daily basis, there are women and young girls being exploited, there are women and young girls who have no safe place to live, there are women and young girls who are being abused by husbands and boyfriends. There are babies being murdered just because they are girls. There are women and young girls who are fleeing war torn countries only to be put on boats that sink or sent to refugee camps that are in incredibly bad condition offering barely any hope.
It is for these young girls and for these women that we must learn to fight.
As followers of Jesus Christ we have strategic responsibility to become aware of the conditions for many young girls and women not only around the world but in our local communities and we need to raise the alarm to others and we must do something with what we know.
I feel like my life has been full of different experiences that have led me to having this full on passion to do something for women and because of all these different experiences whether it be working with young homeless girls on the streets of Sydney who were being prostituted by other homeless young people or whether it be the older women I met in the women’s shelter who were being abused by their lovers and husbands or the women I met in the strip clubs in Atlanta or the rescued young girl with AIDS in India who did henna on my feet for my wedding as a way to escape the red light district. Each one of these women that I have met has stirred a deep passion in me to fight for them and with them.
God has a deep deep love for women, for girls and now that I am aware of all the various circumstances women and young girls find themselves in and the often horrific situations they face I cannot stand back and pretend it doesn’t happen. I must do something.
So the justice conference “While Women Still Weep” held at Southwark Corps recently was my effort to do something. An effort to bring awareness to others, to create a day, a moment where God could speak and stir our hearts to action. We had speakers from International Justice Mission talking about the international efforts being made to rescue and restore, we had speakers from local Salvation Army chapters like Faith House and the Territorial department for Anti Human trafficking to give us information on local situations and how we could join the fight. A representative from Citizens Uk was there to speak about the importance of listening to people’s stories and Stephanie Chagis Bijl talked about joining the justice fight through prayer.
It was a day where hopefully people came away with some practical tools and ideas on how they could join the fight. Once you know, you can no longer stand back and do nothing.
Some of the steps that people have been encouraged to take after the conference are:
- Look into partnering with Citizens UK or any other organization that fights against injustice in their local communities
- Set aside time to pray daily for any issue that God has laid on their heart in regards to the injustices facing women and children. One such prayer need was cyber trafficking especially in Thailand
- Volunteer to be either a driver or passenger for the Anti Human trafficking department’s transportation program
- Volunteer with Faith House on their prayer walks and ministry with exploited women
- Give financially to an organisation that is making a difference in the lives of women and children
- Bring awareness to others about these issues and encourage others to take action
- Think about purchases you make and how they may be affecting women and young children around the world. Buy ethically.
- Attend the next ‘While Women Still Weep Justice Conference ‘on March 18th 2017
While Women STILL weep….I will fight.
Sandra Pawar is currently the Corps Officer at Southwark Corps. She is passionate about seeing broken lives made whole, captives set free and chains of injustice broken.
By Nick Coke
I’m listening to The Staple Singers bellowing out ‘Freedom Highway’ from their legendary live performance at Chicago’s New Nazareth Church in 1965. It’s three days after my second visit to the Jungle in Calais. I’ve tears in my eyes and a sickness in my stomach.
Pop staples introduces the song:
“A few days ago, the freedom marchers marched from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. I know some of you know about that. That was in March of nineteen hundred and sixty-five. And from that march, word was revealed and a song was composed. And we wrote a song about the freedom marchers and we call it the ‘Freedom Highway’, and we dedicate this number to all the freedom marchers.”
I’m holding the original record sleeve in my hand. It’s a thrill to know that the person whose hands pressed this vinyl half a century ago and the first owner of this particular LP would have lived through the Martin Luther King led march that made history. The concert was recorded only 3 months after that event.
The guitar kicks in, then the drums, hand-clapping and finally the vocals.
March for freedom’s highway
March each and every day
Made up my mind and I won’t turn around
Made up my mind and I won’t turn around
There is just one thing I can’t understand my friend.
Why some folk think freedom
Was not designed for all men.
Yes I think I voted for the right man
Said we would overcome.
I’m back in the Jungle, standing in the winter rain and mud. There’s a hopelessness hanging in the air I hadn’t sensed the last time. There are rumours of a government demolition, of police brutality, of vigilante gangs beating up migrants whilst the authorities turn a blind eye. I’m told by a Syrian refugee about the orphans living in the camp with no-where to turn. I’m struggling to see the freedom highway.
Pop Staples knew when he composed his song that he was writing about an historic moment. Today we are making history. Future generations will look back and wonder about our response to the biggest humanitarian disaster in Europe since the Second World War. We will be judged for what we are doing and what we are not doing.
The Jungle in some ways has come to symbolise the British response. It’s the closest we’ll allow those fleeing war and poverty to get before they meet our high border fences. It’s a third of the distance than from Selma to Montgomery.
As I listen to The Staple Singers from 50 years ago, I can’t help but dedicate this song to the people I met in Calais. May you one day experience freedom – freedom from war, freedom from poverty, freedom from oppression, freedom from fear. May you find freedom – may you overcome. And Lord – help me be a freedom marcher.
By Nick Coke
A month ago I wrote a piece called ‘A Calais Protest’. It was written within a day or so of visiting the camp known as ‘The Jungle’ rotting on our borders. There’s always a risk in writing something in haste, whilst things are still raw – it can become a knee-jerk response. In this case, however, even with a month’s distance, I stand by every word.
The anger still smoulders in me. Every time it rains, I picture in my mind’s eye the mud and squalid conditions surrounding the crowded tents that are home to 6000 men, women and children. Whenever I hear the boiler kicking in to fire up my central heating, I remember how the night after I visited, a fire swept through the camp as people tried to keep themselves warm around a naked flame. As I’ve watched my son head out to the shops on his bike, I remember the young boy of similar age riding through the camp – it’s no place for any human being, even more so the vulnerable. Each time I go to church I’m taken back to that ram-shackled structure pieced together from random lengths of wood and plastic sheeting where Christians in the camp go to pray and worship. I’ve struggled since to sense the presence of God I found in that thin place in the comfortable worship settings that I spend my time in.
I mused in my earlier post that there comes a time when we must move beyond protest to action. In the case of Calais, avenues for action are limited by the lack of political will in France and the UK to take any responsibility. Bowing to that position, of course, is not a given – rather it is a choice that each of us makes.
I was recently convicted by Martin Luther King Jr’s comments about knowing when to take action:
“On some positions, cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’ Expediency asks the question, ‘Is it politic?’ And vanity comes along and asks the question, ‘is it popular’? But conscience asks the question, ‘is it right?’ And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must do it because conscience tells him it is right.”
My conscience refuses to allow me to sit idly by and do nothing. I refuse to choose silence. So, what to do? Well, I know from experience that when ordinary people band together and organise themselves, even the gravest situations can change. Political realities can take another shape when enough creative people begin to use their prophetic imagination and look beyond the prevailing narratives to something more akin to the Kingdom of God. I’ve asked some of these prophets for their suggestions of what we can do and added a couple of my own. Take a look below and ask yourself, ‘what is my conscience compelling me to do?’
- Go and see for yourself. Calais is a mere 26 miles from our borders – a 2 hour journey from our capital city. The first step towards action is always listening. And if you can’t go, then encourage your leaders to go – political leaders, church leaders, community leaders. I defy anyone to go and not feel challenged to action.
- Read about it, preach about it, blog about it, talk about it and urgently pray about it. Don’t let it fade into the background as if it doesn’t exist. When we agitate and needle others it provokes greater action, public pressure and accountability around the root causes. You can join Facebook groups that keep you up to date with info. Here are some with contributions from ordinary people who are in and out of Calais all the time: Calais Migrant Solidarity Action and Calais Action And there’s one called ‘Jungle Life Calais’ that has testimonies from people living in the camp.
- Bring it to the attention of elected politicians – talk or write to your MP or Assembly Member about it. Admitting it is a UK issue (as well as a French one) is the first step in seeing some action. More specifically call on the French and UK governments to follow basic UN conventions in meeting needs for those living in the camp. The camp currently fails on all internationally agreed standards.
- Join the campaign calling for those in the camp, particularly children, who have family members in UK to be allowed to make asylum applications. More on that here.
By John Clifton
We are delighted that the Prime Minister has announced the following:
“We want to see 1,000 refugees brought to Britain by Christmas” –
See more at: https://www.politicshome.com/home-affairs/articles/story/david-cameron-bishops-are-wrong-over-syrian-crisis#sthash.GztFbr2X.dpuf
This is wonderful news and credit to power of organised people. We’re proud that Salvationists have been a part of the #1000B4Xmas campaign, alongside all the other member institutions of Citizens UK! Continue reading “Win for #1000B4Xmas campaign”
By John Clifton
On Tuesday, Salvationists from a number of different Corps (Ilford, Raynes Park, Stepney, Camberwell, Southwark) as well as William Booth College & Territorial Headquarters joined with nearly 900 organised people from member institutions of civil society alliance, Citizens UK. We came together at Old Palace Yard, Westminster near Houses of Parliament to remember the 6 children who froze to death in the Syrian refugee camps last winter. We also came to present three asks to our Prime Minister and government in relation to Syrian refugees and the United Kingdom. These asks were:
- Will you resettle at least 1000 Syrians by Christmas?
- The government has recently announced the creation of a private refugee sponsorship scheme. Will you work with Citizens UK to make sure that any privately sponsored refugees are in addition to the 20 ,000 that the government has already committed to?
- Will you continue to work with Citizens UK to make sure that Britain plays a full and leading role in responding to this crisis as long as it endures?