Mass migration is a feature of our time. Elections are fought over it, newspaper headlines whip up hysteria, and politicians try to avoid blame and responsibility alike. Yet the sprawling community of people living in ramshackle tents in the Jungle just outside Calais presents an opportunity for Christians to shift the discussion.
The early church’s hospitality – sharing homes, possessions, and worshiping together across social and ethnic divisions – marked them out in the culture of the day. The letter to the Hebrews reminded believers of the welcome Abraham and Sarah gave to three travellers in Genesis 18, and told them to ‘not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing so some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it’ (Hebrews 13:2). If any person could be a messenger from God, then every person should be welcomed, valued and treated with generous hospitality. All this, together with Jesus’ own example and call to love our neighbour, makes a compelling case.
We might well relate to the example of receiving people into one’s house, but what happens when borders are involved? Or when it becomes difficult to tell refugee from migrant? As Christine Pohl writes: ‘as citizens of privileged nations and as members of comfortable churches, it is easy for western Christians to become wary of the large number of refugees and migrants. We become fearful of refugee flows that might overwhelm limited resources and interrupt our valued ways of life.’
Yet throughout Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy, we see God regularly telling his people that they should ‘not mistreat or oppress a foreigner’, for they themselves ‘know how it feels to be foreigners, because [they] were foreigners in Egypt’.
Passages like these mean that making room for ‘strangers’ has always been a key part of the Judeo-Christian tradition. So Pohl calls the western church to a renewed understanding of hospitality: ‘Without some sense of our own alien identity and our connections to God’s kingdom, we will find it difficult to see people from God’s perspective and to offer generous welcome without concern for seeking advantage.’
The current problem won’t be solved overnight, though the 3,000 inhabitants of the Calais Jungle make up around just 0.015% of the global refugee population. Each one carries the image of the creator. Our challenge, as Christians, is to remember that we too were strangers, yet Christ welcomed us generously. So we sacrificially do the same.
See here for further reflections, with some suggestions of practical ways of getting involved. Or visit Amnesty International, Refugee Action, Refugee Council, and Refugee Support Network.