Migration and the Church

Migration and the Church

When you are an in-patient in a hospital for more than as couple of days as I recently was, it is as if you enter a time bubble.  The outside world continues at its fast pace and you the patient are cut off from the events of everyday life.  The feeling of being cut off seem to be more acute when you are at your worst.  Even having access to the news via a smart phone or the daily papers you could buy from the WRVS trolley don't bridge the gap; as illness, medication, tests, examinations, regular observations by the nurses and consultations with doctors help focus your mind on the reason why you are in hospital and not what is happening in the world outside. 

During my most recent stay in hospital what I would call the Windrush affair hit the headlines.  The Windrush was the name of the first ship that brought  migrants from the West Indies when they were part of the British Empire, to help rebuild Britain after the Second World War.  It also gave its name to the movement of people who came after the first voyage even on other ships.  What the issue now was, that after a life time of living and working in this country many of these migrants could not prove their right to be in this country.  Not only were the original Windrush generation affected but so too their children and grandchildren.

Migration is a hot topic which many people are concerned about but few seem to understand.  In catching up with these events this was the impression that I received.  Too many assumptions are made.  For example, people may think of themselves as British if they were born in Britain.  This is not necessarily so.  The law on British nationality is complicated and is dependent on when a person was born because our nationality laws have changed over time and when new laws are introduced they are not introduced retrospectively. 

Presently a person is deemed to be British if their parents are British.  However, if the father is British and the mother a foreign national their children will only be British if they are married.  If they are not married they will have the nationality of the mother unless the mother had a right to stay in the country by having indefinite leave to remain or enter.

We can understand the fuss this will cause when people discover that they are not British when they thought that they were.  Recently a school girl discovered whilst she was sitting her A levels, that this was the situation for her and therefore did not have the right to receive student funding as her friends did but could apply as a foreign student and pay the vastly higher fees.   

By now you may have realised that for migrants life is not straight forward.  But as Christians we have a lot to learn from the experiences of migrants.  In New Testament times God uses migrants to extend his kingdom.  In Acts 8 we find that the Church was persecuted.  The persecution did not focus on the leaders of the Church this time but on the ordinary members.  These ordinary Christians were scattered from Jerusalem throughout Judea and Samaria.  In Luke's version of the great commission recorded in Acts 1:8 Jesus told his followers that they would preach the good news in Jerusalem, Judah and Samaria and then the whole world. 

In this persecution of the Church the leaders remained unaffected.  It was those who were not in a leadership position that were forced to flea Jerusalem.  But in doing so they were beginning to play their part in the great commission. God used their forced migration to spread the gospel.  

In a sense this is what is happening now.  The world is seeing the greatest mass movement of people that it has ever seen.  Some are having to flea persecution because of their faith or political opinion.  Others allegedly are just looking for a better life and have simply "got on their bikes" to look for work.  They are called economic migrants.  Yet in their poverty migrants who are not Christian are beginning to meet with Jesus and come to a saving faith in him.

Peter, in his first letter calls the Church strangers and refugees in this world.  ( 1 Peter 2:11)  Do we see this as our status?  Perhaps we accept more easily the status of being a living stone?  In the same letter Peter tells us to come as living stones and be used in building up a spiritual temple. (1 Peter 2:5) 

When a person becomes a Christian it is like changing their nationality.  When we are born again we become new creatures.  We join a new family, the Church.  We become citizens of heaven.  We become part of the flock of God.  And Jesus warns us that we also make new enemies.  Jesus tells us in John 15:19 that If you belonged to the world, then the world would love you as its own.  But I chose you from this world, and you do not belong to it; that is why the world hates you.

The United Nations has produced a report that draws attention to the rise of racial prejudice in Britain since the referendum where the public was asked if Britain should remain or leave the European Union.  Part of the concern was due to the language being used in the press and elsewhere being similar to the language used publically in Rwanda prior to the genocide there.

We need to be careful to ensure that attitudes from the world do not enter the Church.  But Jesus does give us a remedy.  In John 13: 34-35, Jesus tells us, And now I give you a new commandment: love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  If you have love for one another, then everyone will know that you are my disciples.

Ministering to the needs of people seeking asylum from various parts of the world has been a blessing.  Our parish includes a lot of people who are from the BAME community who are from either Sheik or Islamic faith background, as well as people who are nominal Christians.  It is just a thought but if we continue to nurture the love between us at St James then everyone in our parish will see that we belong to Jesus.  And who knows, may even want to join us.

May God's kingdom be extended in us and through us. 

Rev Mike Parnell. 15 May 2018

  


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