Over the past few months and especially in September, we have been confronted by the news of vast movements of people around the world fleeing violence and poverty and seeking a new life.
The picture on the front of this month’s Newsletter is of a pilgrimage to Mecca, by the French landscape painter, Léon Belly in 1861. It might seem a strange choice, but I thought appropriate for a few reasons. With the camels it evokes the great movements in the Middle East of Abraham from his homeland in Ur, or the Exodus of the people of Israel from Egypt to the Promised Land. Many of the refugees today are Muslims. For followers of Islam, going to Mecca, is expressing a kind of universal longing for the heavenly Jerusalem, the longing for heaven, for a promised land that all people in all times in their heart of hearts are longing for – an end of suffering, a place of flourishing, a place of love and peaceful fellowship, a place of ever renewed and eternal life. In the desire of Muslims to come to Europe today, is their hope for a better life – one that more closely images that perfect heavenly city.
One of the anxieties that people in Europe have is about the dangers of importing into our society some of the troubles that these people are fleeing from, even their religion, and whether or not it will affect our material prosperity – can we afford to care for them?
It is important to remember first that among the refugees are many brothers and sisters in Christ, who will easily find a bridge and make a contribution to our Western society – bringing with them the blessing of their Christian faith and witness lived out in the furnace of affliction. For those who are followers of Islam, they also bring a witness to faith in God, one that we think could be perfected if they only knew Jesus Christ. Perhaps God’s hand is leading them here precisely so they can hear the gospel in a land that allows them to more freely choose.
All the refugees will no doubt bring with them virtues and vices: skills and learning and different perspectives that can open our minds; and lies that need to be broken through and destructive behaviours that require grace to amend. That is because they are just like us.
The Refugee crisis is a blessing for the city of Utrecht for a few reasons. Foremost, because every human being is made in the image and likeness of God and with an eternal soul, there is no greater treasure on earth. Also, they are demanding love, in a sense, by showing up on our doorstep – like Lazarus at the gate of the Rich Man, in the parable that Jesus tells us (Luke 16:19-31, Trinity 1). In calling forth love from our hearts, we are being blessed.
In this Newsletter we have included three articles on the Crisis and the Blessing: one from USRK calling on us to respond; one from USRK representatives showing very practical ways we can help and where to find more information; and one showing what the life of a refugee is like in Utrecht and what one person in our chaplaincy has been doing to help. We can be witnesses as individuals, but I would like us to hold an open meeting in the next few weeks in Utrecht to reflect as a chaplaincy on what, if any, action we can take. Let us pray and God will show us the Way.
In the love of Jesus, David