From the Vicar Nov 2015
From The Vicar, Revd Paul Cawthorne
The media seems to have been dominated over the summer by refugee issues. Its good that there is attention being paid to the plight of those who are vulnerable and that attitudes seem to be gradually changing from how do we pull up the drawbridge and how dare they invade 'our' space to concern for lives being lost and sympathy for people feeling constrained to leave homes and habitual livelihoods. I vividly recall a docudrama made by the BBC a decade or more ago about an 'invasion' across the Mediterranean and what difficulties the European
authorities had handling what was happening. It made a connection for meat the time because I had been working among the people who seemed to be portrayed and could see how much good research had gone into it. It seems so relevant again now that I am surprised there has been no reference to its prescience.
Before becoming a vicar I spent time abroad for a number of years as an aid worker, including with Eritrean refugees sheltering in Sudan and Cambodian refugees returning from the camps in Thailand after the Pol Pot years to try to recommence their former lives. It was illuminating and humbling to hear so many individual stories and to realise how much people had endured and also how much they had to offer. Some of the Eritreans had been in exile for more than twenty years yet still yearned to return to their homelands in the dramatic highlands or the fertile plains. Many families would send a scout back to their former village to check whether homes were still standing and fields free of landmines so they could plant crops to sustain themselves on their return. There was an immense tension while families waited for the scout's return and from the faces of our local workers and their loved ones, we could always tell whether good news or bad had arrived. It reminded me of Joshua being sent to check out the land of Canaan.
There are so many ethical principles involved in trying to understand what is happening and how to respond that it can be very confusing. An honourable part of us wants to treat others like ourselves, following Jesus' teaching, and open-heartedly invite refugees and migrants to share the benefits available here. A fearful part can want the 'problem to go away', often by averting our eyes or trying to classify migrants as somehow less deserving than the settled community. A practical perspective can point to the carrying capacity of our crowded cities and
this small island itself as a long-term environmental constraint. An entrepreneurial spirit can welcome the talents and drive of those who have had the ingenuity to brave the journey and the skill to solve many problems to reach here. A compassionate spirit can just want to relieve their suffering however we can. There is so much that we are presented with by the arrival of people who appear as what philosophers call the Other, what we experience through our TV screens as a prostrate little figure on a beach or on the street as an outstretched hand asking and questioning our self-understanding.
It has been fascinating over the summer to hear so many people start a conversation by naming the refugees among their own parentage, which breaks down the sense of otherness. In my case the Huguenot lineage is still recalled with deep respect for those who permitted my forebears refuge from the conflicts of their time. I wonder what local Egyptians thought when Joseph and Mary arrived fleeing Herod (Matthew 3:14) with a little baby who would grow to share a hope-filled message with the world. The problems we face now are age-old, the yearning for peace as St Augustine said over fifteen hundred years ago is fundamental and perennial. Let us ask God to guide us deeper into his wisdom and peace in these difficult times.
The Revd Paul Cawthorne is Team vicar for The Baldons with Nuneham Courtenay, Berinsfield and Drayton St Leonard.
e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and tel: 01865 340460.