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.
By Major Nick Coke
Look at this photo. What do you see? It’s a typical Christmas scene – The Salvation Army band out carolling. ‘It’s not Christmas until I’ve heard the Salvation Army band’, I can almost hear someone say. It looks a little chilly but even from this distance I can sense that warm, fuzzy feeling inside as the music rises and falls in my imagination. Strangely comforting, hopeful, beautiful.
Now take another look, but let’s turn the photo around. Same band, different perspective. This is not your usual carolling gig. This is a band playing carols for justice outside the Houses of Parliament. On this night they played for unaccompanied refugee children who remain stranded far from home.
Standing nearby as the band played, I sensed the power of the Christmas story confronting a dark world in which children flee war and poverty only to be turned away. Together with 400 others from a wide spectrum of faith and civil society organizations we called on Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, to ensure Britain plays its part in welcoming 1000 children to our shores. This year we’re up to 800, but surely we can make room for a few more this Christmas. There is room in the inn! There are those ready and willing to give shelter and a warm welcome.
Together we sang a few especially adapted carols, accompanied by the band. New words to favourite tunes – here’s one:
‘In the bleak midwinter
Far away from home;
Children sleep as refugees
Scared and alone;
Snow is falling, snow on snow
In the bleak mid-winter
Not that long ago.
The streets they cannot hold them
Nor makeshift camps sustain;
The fear is that they’ll flee away
While confusion reigns:
In this bleak mid-winter
No stable place will do
Each child needs a place of rest,
Just like me and you.
What can we give them,
Civilians as we are?
If I were an MP
I would write a law;
If I were prime minister
I would do my part;
Yet what we can we give them –
A welcome from the heart.’
Here’s a thought. Why not use these words at a carol service this Sunday? And as you do, consider what you can do to help unaccompanied refugee children. Restart The Rescue Christmas Carols can be downloaded by clicking the link and a petition signed here.
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 Cadet Lottie Milner
Last July, as a young adult member of The Salvation Army Corps in Stepney, I was invited to take part in a BBC Radio 4 recorded discussion, marking the launch into the Citizens UK Commission into Islam, Participation and Public Life. Gathered together in a room in the East London Mosque were a group of young people from different backgrounds, responding to comments made by David Cameron in his speech about extremism, and discussing the young British Muslim identity. I heard a cry of pain graciously articulated amongst those present that I had not fully recognised before. My eyes were opened for the first time to how multi-faceted the issues facing British Muslims are. We could never have imagined the situation that we see now, a year later.
We’re very excited to make the new Marching Towards Justice Study Guide available for download here!
This study guide is aimed at those attending or working at Salvation Army Corps or Centres who are interested in social justice, although it will be useful for many other settings. The four sessions cover history, method (x2 sessions) and next steps. They are intended for a small group setting (e.g. a home group or staff team meeting) and should be done alongside the reading of the Marching Towards Justice, which can be downloaded here.
Thanks to the support of The Centre for Theology and Community, we’re looking forward to releasing the Marching Towards Justice Study Guide on Sunday afternoon, after the commissioning of the authors, Sam Tomlin and Paul Williams, as Salvation Army Officers!
This Study Guide will accompany Marching Towards Justice which was released a year ago.
Salvationists from 9 corps across London joined with friends and neighbours in a powerful act of solidarity in anxious times. Here’s a reflection from someone who took part.
Guest post by Lieutenant Lee Raggett
Yesterday London Citizens joined together to stand outside 30 stations across London to change a dark narrative that has been stirring in the city. Some say it’s a result of the ‘leave’ decision – others say that it’s been there all along. We stood because we believe in a different story!
I stood because my friend A was told to ‘f off back to Poland’ – she’s German and she works hard helping mums to be and sitting with new mums through difficult early days of parenting. I stood because I heard the British-African lady crying into her phone in fear of hatred. I stood because I saw the young Polish mum take abuse at the checkout. I couldn’t change her attackers hatred but I could show her love. I stood because I believe that in the end love is stronger than hate.