Through August I experienced a freedom of movement that many would give their worldly possessions for, and for which many have and still failed to achieve. I travelled to the US for work at the beginning of the month and then after a week back in the UK I set off on a 9 country, 18-day tour of parts of Eastern Europe and the Balkans, travelling through many countries that have faced the current refugee crisis, either head on or by burying their heads in the sand.
It was shortly after passing through Budapest that I heard of the protest march made up of hundreds of refugees and migrants from Serbia to the Hungarian border (http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/07/hundreds-refugees-march-serbia-hungary-border-160724133938553.html), something which wasn’t even on my radar as I crossed one of the Hungarian/Serbian borders at 2am during my own trip. I spent close to three weeks travelling through parts of Europe which are increasingly becoming the chosen destinations of refugees as Western Europe becomes more and more closed, and yet nothing in these countries would suggest this to be the case. The welcome flags for tourists like myself remain unfurled and pristinely kept but not so for the needy other.
And then I return to the UK, to London and to the plight of many to ensure that 400 children trapped in the Calais Jungle are returned to their parents in the UK, as is their legal right (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-37249847). But it is the news of Southern Rail’s profits which makes the headlines and the disgruntled rail passengers who face disruption to their daily commutes. I’ve often lamented about our creaking infrastructure and privatised rail network and was not unknown to bemoan the delays I experienced on my European travels but it seems to me that we all need, myself included, a bit of a reality check.
During the 2016 London mayoral campaign, Citizens UK hosted an evening in which 6,000 people held the candidates to account in the making of promises regarding London’s housing crisis. It was during the course of that evening that we learned that (at the time) London had only taken in 47 refugees. Forty. Seven. Meanwhile, by May of this year Scotland had accepted circa 600 refugees (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/may/27/scotland-welcomes-third-of-uk-syrian-refugees-resettlement), pertaining to a third of all UK resettlements.
These statistics and our engagement with our fellow humanity offer a startling insight into not only our respect for the other but also for how we view and engage with God. A blog from the Christian site Patheos (and by Michael Hardin) resurfaced on my Facebook timeline yesterday and although posted in 2014, it’s definitely worth a read: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/christianityischanging/2014/11/are-personal-relationships-with-god-overrated/.
In it I found this quote in particular to be of most use in our current context of the “refugee crisis”:
“Union with God then can only be found, not in ecstatic experiences with their concomitant gnosticism, secret privilege and narcissism, but only can be found when we have ‘mystic union’ one with another. In short, shalom, love, joy, peace [or the fruit of the Spirit] is meant to be manifested between us and not apart from our interrelatedness.”
I think I’ll just leave that there and let those words and the voices of the trapped souls speak for themselves.