The migrants who have so spectacularly been coming into Europe from Africa and the Middle East are already having a huge impact on Europe which will last for generations. Whether this impact is revealed in the vast numbers of new residents taken into countries like Germany and Sweden, or the huge fences that have gone up around other countries’ borders to keep out even people only wishing to pass through those countries, the entire continent is being affected. In the UK, the first of the refugees taken from camps in Syria are beginning to arrive, and across the continent politics is being affected by the argument between those who say we should show more compassion to our fellow humans, and others who say our countries are already full and charity begins at home.
These issues are so huge that many individual Christians are feeling disempowered, despite caring deeply about the issue. They feel they can’t change anything, have no impact on government policy and don’t know what they can do to help. So here are some of our suggestions.
Pray – It goes without saying that refugees, whatever their religious beliefs, need our prayers. So do the charities, churches, government officials and individuals working with them. Many refugees have seen their loved ones killed, and have lost their homes and communities. They are traumatised, and so are many of the overworked counsellors trying to help them.
Donate – Many of the charities working with refugees could do so much more to help if they had more resources, to help them feed and clothe people in refugee camps, provide education and healthcare, and help to welcome and settle immigrants.
Be informed – Many mission agencies are working with refugees – find out which ones they are through their websites. The European Evangelical Alliance has an excellent webpage, and the latest edition of Vista addresses the issue of migration. The Refugee Highway Partnership has a major role to play in this and the European Evangelical Mission Association is hosting a conference in June focussing on refugee issues and the church’s response. Find out if your network or denomination has a policy, spokesperson on refugee issues and get involved.
Help – Volunteering to help a charity might seem like a huge challenge, but they may need people to sort through donated clothing, distribute food packages and do other tasks which their own staff may be overworked with and would value some help with.
Do – Find out if any refugees are coming to your town, get in touch with whoever is coordinating care for them, and ask what you can do to help. Over 50 local authorities have been helping to settle refugees so there are probably some near you. They will need practical support, help understanding your country’s dominant culture and language, and friendship. You don’t have to be particularly skilled to show them around your community, or drive them somewhere, or go with them to meetings with benefits officers to make sure they understand.
Serve – Many of us have skills which we don’t think about using to help mission workers. We can cook, drive, and speak the dominant language of the host community. We have many connections we can utilise to help. Many of us have professions like hairdressing, nursing, or teaching which we could use to help refugees.
Advocate – In a world where much in the media is openly hostile to the idea of taking in more refugees, write letters to newspapers, local counsellors and members of parliament advocating for them. Sign petitions and use social media to keep the issue in peoples’ minds.
The issues of refugees in Europe is not going to go away quickly. It will change our societies, our understanding of community and the ways in which we go about mission. Churches have a huge part to play in this transformation and have a wonderful opportunity to be on the cutting edge of change.