In 2004, as a newly arrived asylum seeker in the UK, I was embarrassed to tell others that I was seeking asylum in this country. It was almost as if I was committing the most shameful of acts. Having had to flee my homeland, the feeling of being an unwanted guest just aggravated the pain.
Having to flee your home is never a pleasant experience, but finding a safe place, and more importantly receiving a warm welcome from the people in the host community can be a remedy in soothing the pain and wounds of traumatic experiences refugees have had to go through. Believers in Christ shouldn’t need to be theologically convinced that welcoming the sojourner is a Biblical mandate. All it takes is a fresh look at the life of the very person in whom we believe. Jesus himself became a refugee, and I’m not ashamed to shout this out loud.
I have the privilege of being part of a church that has welcomed refugees for over 20 years – in fact shortly after it was planted. It was around 15 years ago when I first walked into the Sunday morning service at Jubilee Church Teesside and felt amazingly at home. A broken man, wounded and rejected, felt at home in the most unlikely of places. My home town is full of palm trees and a shining object in the sky that provides heat called the Sun (a rarity here!), yet through the obedience of God’s children at Jubilee, on a cold snowy day I felt at home in Teesside. When our brothers and sisters in Teesside welcomed the first refugees into the church, they were well aware of the costs and challenges it will bring with it, but far greater was their trust in the One who builds His church, and their vision of the Kingdom where people from all tribes, tongues and nations gather to worship the Lamb. Through their obedience, many refugees have been welcomed, and have found hope and dignity, and renewed their strength. This culture of welcome led to a charity being birthed out of Jubilee; Open Door North East.
“I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was homeless, you gave me a roof over my head.”
If you’re familiar with the Bible, you know this is a paraphrase of Jesus’ words recorded in Matthew 25. It was the summer of 2014 when I heard these words spoken. There was no one reading their Bible, and I was not at church or in a Bible study group. These words were spoken to me in the corridor of Jubilee and Open Door’s office by a lady in her late 60s, who kissed me on the head (as is the tradition in her home country), said these words and handed me a thank you card. She was not a Christian and had not read the Bible. She had come to the UK, seeking sanctuary, but within a few months her dream of living in a safe place had crumbled as her asylum claim was refused. She was left homeless, with no recourse to public funds or the right to work. She was signposted to us, and we were able to welcome her, find her a place to live in, provide her with a weekly food parcel and help her move in. Within a few weeks, she was able to re-engage with her solicitor and submit a fresh application. She had come to thank us, and quoted Jesus’ words. Regardless of what our theology might be on these verses, it’s an experience and a memory I shall cherish.
As we’ve welcomed people over the years, many refugees have also welcomed Jesus into their lives. The gift and tradition of hospitality has broken through the barriers of race, language and culture. Many are also serving in different capacities. Let’s make the gift of hospitality into a habit, even a tradition.
At one point, the Sunday sermon was being translated into three different languages simultaneously. In one of our mid-week groups called Salam (which means ‘peace’), we sing worship songs and hear prayers in at least 4 different languages – people groups with historical animosity coming together to worship Jesus in unity. This is a taste of heaven! And just last week, the Salam Group were leading one of our larger midweek meetings where they spoke about welcoming others as a fundamental value at church.
And it doesn’t end here. Not all those seeking sanctuary need practical help, but they would all appreciate a warm welcome. That’s why we continually pray for the work of Welcome Churches. As the name suggests, this wonderful charity helps churches across the nation to be equipped in welcoming refugees in a number of ways.
We’re in a very privileged position to have the mission field on our doorstep. The Great Commission of “go to them” has been made easier by many people coming to our doorsteps. We need to take this opportunity to bring the Gospel to an increasingly post-Christian society, build relationships and preach the Gospel in a context that is accessible to those with a different worldview. The public truth of the Gospel must not be confined to the walls of our private lives. As you welcome people, pray that they also welcome Him into their hearts.
One of the great ways of getting involved is also to give financially to charities such as Open Door North East and Welcome Churches to support the work that’s already happening. Beware, it’s quite impossible to visit one of these places and not want to volunteer for them!
As we come out of our Covid restrictions and look into the next season for us as Jubilee, I wanted to take this time to share some news with you regarding our next steps as a church.
This month, we're privileged to have Michael Akotia write a blog for us. Michael along with his wife Mabel and three children (John, Keziah and Grace) are dear friends to us. Michael leads City of Grace Church in Ho, Ghana and serves on the Christ Central Churches International Team.
Have you ever thought that there might actually be a number of similarities between our Christian walk and baking a cake? Gavin explores some of these similarities in this month's Elders letter!
So Sunday saw the finale of series 6 of the BBC drama Line of Duty. If you haven't been watching it or have watched the latest series then you can read on. If you still plan to watch the final installment of series 6, you may want to stop here (although it's not a huge spoiler)!