OK, Asylum seeker jokes.
This guy walking down the street asks me the way to the Mental Health Clinic. So I say: “Oh no, not another Asylum seeker.”
No good? Try this one: it’s a Christmas card showing Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus, post-Bethlehem, on their way to Egypt because they believe that their lives are in danger. The caption reads: “Who says Asylum seekers never amount to much?”
Were you entertained? Or possibly, your reaction was similar to mine, that there’s really not very much that’s funny about seeking asylum in another country (and even less about mental health issues).
There’s an odd little verse in the Bible that says: “Listen to the voice of the refugees.” In fact there are a few similar verses about caring for “the welfare of strangers” or “the outcast in your midst” and ensuring a parity of rights for them. But it never means so much until it happens to you, right? Maybe you’ve experienced the momentary trauma of having your passport stolen whilst on holiday abroad? Or been deported from a country for overstaying your visitor’s visa limit? But these are minor inconveniences indeed, compared to the gnawing anxiety of being totally without rights in a foreign country.
For a while Val and I fostered children who came under the category of “illegal immigrants.” Since they were minors they were immediately put into the Social Services programme and came to people like us, in Short-Term Emergency Foster Care.
Marek came from a predominantly Muslim village in the southern part of Kosovo. As the Christian Serbian militia swept into the village, every Muslim was taken to the street in front of his house and shot. Marek’s father managed to take his family out through back streets and walk about a hundred and fifty miles into Macedonia. They were separated into sexes at the refugee facility on the border: Marek’s father and elder brother in one camp, and his mother and sister taken away to another. Marek never saw his mother or sister again.
Sometime later, Marek’s father left the refugee camp and attempted to go to England where he had a brother living somewhere. They joined a whole stream of the dispossessed making the same journey, hitchhiking, hiding in trucks, skirting frontier posts. Somewhere near Belgium’s border, his father hoisted little Marek on to a truck, but before he could get on himself, the truck pulled clear. Marek, at eight years old, never saw his father or brother again.
There were a couple of other older lads in the truck already, also from Kosovo, who took Marek in hand, gave him some food and dried his tears. He dozed off and woke up in North London, where the three boys were discovered, reported to the police, arrested and put inside police cells. Their shoes and belts were removed, and the cells were cold. None spoke any English and had no idea what would happen next.
They phoned us up quite late one evening, because we had previously had boys from Kosovo staying with us. So this little Muslim boy, who had seen his whole village massacred by “Christians” was brought to a “Christian” family.” They sat in a frigid line, on a bench, looking totally scared.
Poor naked wretches, wheresoe’er you are/That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm/How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides/ Your loop’d and window ‘d raggedness, defend you/ From seasons such as these? (King Lear III. IV. 35 ff)
Gustav Gutierrez calls Luke’s Gospel ‘the Gospel of the outsider’, because Luke has a bias for the poor and the little ones, those for whom society has little value, Lepers, Samaritans, women, tax collectors all play a part in Luke’s Gospel. Luke turns the social order upside down and always has Jesus sitting down to share food with those who are on the edges. It’s the most scandalising piece of writing because it says that all are of value and all are welcome. No-one is left out in Luke’s Gospel. Each of the evangelists has his own particular thrust when writing his Gospel. Luke is the evangelist who, in his writing, reflects most on the action of the Spirit. If Luke is reflecting on the action of the Spirit it’s somehow in the whole area of acceptance and inclusion and understanding that Luke sees the Spirit at work.
That’s challenging because it means that the Spirit is prompting us to look at attitudes within. What is it within me that makes me exclusive rather than inclusive? What is it within me that makes me walk past those in need? What is it in me that makes me self-righteous and arrogant? What is it within me that reacts to the asylum seeker and the refugee, to the street people?
As a Church where should we be?
I often wonder where Jesus would be found if he was physically amongst us. I guess it would be with the young people who roam our estates, with the alcoholics and the street people, with those who are excluded for whatever reason. As Church, the body of Christ, where should we be? I have a sneaking suspicion that the Spirit is prompting us to be in the midst of those in need, standing up for the little ones. If we are alive in the Spirit, aware of that Spirit’s prompting we are to live in the same way that Jesus lived, to walk the same paths bringing healing and peace and forgiveness into the lives of those who are desperate. Let the Spirit challenge you to become like Jesus. Let the Spirit you have been given transform your attitudes and hardheartedness so that you become a vessel of “Good news” for those who for whatever reason are the little ones living on the edges.