I want to kick off this blog post with some scripture. You will, no doubt, be very familiar with these passages:
Is not this the kind of activity I have chosen … to provide the poor wanderer with shelter. Isaiah 58
The disciples shared everything they had … [so that] there was no needy person amongst them. Acts 4
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: you shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Matthew 22:36-40
“I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me.”
“Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Matthew 25:35, 40
Familiar passages and we know that this is what true worship is, however we so often limit worship to singing.
In the job I do at Musicademy I need to be constantly reminded that true worship probably has very little to do with singing. For all our DVDs and blog posts about improving our musicianship, raising the standard of our worship services, what God desires of us as Christians is truly to love our neighbours as ourselves.
I’ve been increasingly challenged in recent months by the plight of asylum seekers in the UK. These are people fleeing all sorts of horrors in their own countries, looking for sanctuary in Britain. As a country we have all sorts of colonial history that would attract people to us, believing that as a nation we would welcome them giving them access to a better life. But on arrival in our ports, asylum seekers are not well received and the current political climate is to do all it can to discharge these “neighbours” from our responsibility.
I’ve been involved in a local project seeking to help some of the most vulnerable people in our country – female refugees who have had their first application for asylum turned down. The way it works is that a woman flees from her own country (say The Congo) where she may have been raped, tortured and perhaps seen her family killed. In her appalling situation, she doesn’t generally carry with her documentary evidence of her history. She arrives in the UK and receives some legal advice – what money she brings with her perhaps goes to a lawyer who may well be corrupt. Without documentary evidence and proper support in completing the asylum papers her initial application is rejected. At this stage she ceases to have a right to benefits and housing and is barred from working. She becomes destitute. She has nowhere to go other than the streets. She is hugely vulnerable. If she has children with her, social services will remove them as they are (rightly) considered to be in an at risk situation.
The project I have been working with is run by a couple who have opened their home to such women. There are no government benefits. The couple feed them, clothe them and help them with their asylum applications. But space is limited. There are very few such projects in the UK and none in England that will accept women with dependent children.
We decided to help purchase a house locally that will house refugee women and their babies and children. They are not eligible for Housing Benefit so the costs of the house, food, electricity, water and clothing will come entirely from donations. We’d be extremely grateful if you felt able to help. Please email me [email protected] for more details of how you can send money – we have set up a charity to manage the donations. If you live nearby and can offer practical support (food, clothing, bedding, furniture or time spent speaking English to the ladies) then please get in touch. The house is in Maple Cross Hertfordshire (North West of London). And if you know of anyone that would like to volunteer as an intern at either of the projects then let me know. There is such huge need. In the last 10 days alone we’ve had calls relating to three different women and babies who are homeless and in need of shelter.
I know that many of you will be involved in social action projects connected with your churches. Asylum seekers are a big political issue and many righteous people do not believe that Britain should be so open in welcoming them. However, I think it is both Biblical and one of our first duties as Christians to do all we can. We can lobby politically, but re-read those passages above and see if in your heart and see how you can respond.
The photo above was taken at the opening of Mary House on 31 May. The little boy (Idris) in the front row, together with his mother, will probably be one one of the first occupants. Others in the photo include some of the women who live at Scott and Maria’s home, volunteers and other supporters.