Fostering Carers: how working for justice changes us too

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.

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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.IMG_0173
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.

You can read more about the details of the day here, and register your attendance here.

Just Life

This article first appeared in the Salvationist magazine and is published with permission.

By Nick Coke

I hear the same question all the time. Essentially it’s this: I know we should fight for social justice, but how do we actually do it?

2 Match FactoryIn terms of theological, devotional and motivational material urging us forward in the fight we have never had it so good. The biblical mandate for action is being preached with new fervour in the light of austerity, political upheaval and the refugee crisis. Resources are plentiful – campaign material regularly finds its way into our letterbox, email inbox and social media feeds. Dutifully we follow the instructions to pray, fundraise, get informed and click on the link to another petition website. Online activity in the cause of social change has led to the coining of a new word – ‘clicktivism’. Apparently we’re clicking like we’ve never clicked before. Yet beneath it all comes that nagging question – is any of this really making a difference? It all feels so detached. There’s surely more to justice-seeking than this.

Ten years ago those nagging doubts started my journey towards a more active justice-seeking faith. What follows are four lessons I have learnt along the way. I share them with the hope they might provoke and encourage you a little.

LIVING A JUST LIFE

1 RedbridgeThe beginning of justice-seeking is neither an action nor a programme. As an officer once reminded me: ‘We don’t do social justice – we live justly.’ In Salvation Army theology it springs from our holiness teaching, where the inner life of a believer, orientated around a relationship with God, spills over into public life. Faith may be personal but it’s never private. The inner working of our hearts is manifested in hundreds of actions and decisions we make every day. Living a just life begins with how we treat others, who we include, how we use our wealth and time. This applies to those closest to us, neighbours and work colleagues, our corps family and, by extension, the whole of humanity. The rather wonderful truth I’ve discovered is that the more I’ve chased personal holiness the more compelled I’ve been to seek a just world and the more justice-seeking I’ve engaged with the more convicted I’ve been about personal transformation.

MOVING TO THE EDGES

6 Housing action SouthwarkWhile justice begins with God, it clearly involves people. In the Exodus story the groans of the Israelite slaves rise up before God and initiate a social justice movement (Exodus 2:23–25). In today’s world we constantly hear the groans for ourselves – the low-paid worker at the food bank, the refugee, the homeless and the discriminated against. Most of us long to end such suffering. The uncomfortable truth, however, is that real justice-seeking compels us to move to the edges and experience first-hand the sufferings of others before we can act. There really is no other way. Of course when we get there we discover God is well ahead of us.

In justice-seeking circles I hear the phrase ‘being a voice for the voiceless’ over and over again. But true justice- seeking demands something more costly and sacrificial than speaking on someone’s behalf from a safe distance. Far better to stand with someone as they find a voice of their own. To sit with the homeless person who just got

evicted unfairly, to listen to the asylum seeker who was mistreated at the immigration centre, to turn up at the mosque that has just been daubed with anti-Muslim graffiti. When we personally connect with the issue then we really start to get stuck in.

FIGHTING THE GOOD FIGHT

3 Sam Tomlin SouthwarkOnce personally involved in the sufferings of others, it is tempting to offer charity and stop there. We meet the need, bandage the wound and move on. Most likely people will call us saints.

Justice-seeking, however, walks a different path as we seek to move beyond the sticking plaster to tackle the root cause. Careful analysis is required to unearth the issue, to research in detail the layers behind it and to identify those with power to change things. When working for change, moments will come when we face challenge. Earthly and spiritual powers will do their best to block our way. Disturbing the status quo or pointing out an injustice will not always make us friends. No longer will

everyone call us saints and some will consider us troublemakers. This is often where we begin to falter. We like to be popular. History, however, reminds us that justice is always, always a struggle. We must purposely and prayerfully push on.

POLITICS, BUT NOT AS YOU KNOW IT

8 refugee welcomeThe final stage is to move from a protest voice on the margins into the corridors of power, where decisions are made. Forcing your way into this space can happen only when we organise ourselves to be powerful enough for decision-makers to take notice. This is the work of politics – not party politics – but community-based, people politics. And this is where corps and centres come into their own. After all, we know our communities and, in most cases, we have been a constant presence for generations. Almost every local expression is connecting directly with those who suffer injustice and, crucially, we are collectives who exist to transform the world! In a society where institutional

life is waning, it positions us in an extraordinary place to be justice- seekers.

When we look at our neighbourhoods we soon discover others who share our concerns for justice: faith organisations, schools, community groups. The work of building broad and powerful alliances of justice-seekers will position us around the table where we can speak truth to power and be heard.

The good news is that I hear stories of Salvationists increasingly joining in exactly this kind of grassroots justice- seeking and of powerful transformational results. My prayer is that we grasp the moment presented to us. May God bless us with his holy discomfort to live the just life.

‘…no holiness, but social holiness’: my journey with the Living Wage Campaign

prophetBy Nick Coke

This week is Living Wage Week in the UK. It’s a time of celebration and action for a remarkable campaign, started by a group of church, faith and community leaders, trade unionists and cleaners in East London 15 years ago. The story is a wonderful testimony to the power of grassroots community organising – how conversations initiated in church halls and homes (civil society) have agitated and led government (state) and business leaders (market) into adopting the idea. I’ve written before about how I had the privilege in my previous appointment of being involved in the campaign for 8 years and observed first-hand how it transformed the life of families in my neighbourhood and congregation. Continue reading “‘…no holiness, but social holiness’: my journey with the Living Wage Campaign”