For this week’s Cinnamon Bite, we reproduce the Credo article by Matt Bird from The Times newspaper, Saturday December 9.
As Christmas approaches we remember the birth of history’s most famous refugee, Jesus Christ of Nazareth. The reigning King at the time of Jesus’s birth was fearful that his monarchy would be threatened by this child who, it was predicted, would become King. So he commanded the genocide of all new born boys. Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, was awakened in the middle of the night and warned of this threat, so he and his wife, Mary, took Jesus and fled to North Africa.
We can probably all recollect a major change of job or move of house and the initial feelings of disorientation, loneliness and discomfort that brought. Magnified several thousand times, that can give us a clue to begin imagining what refugees might be going through. If we were arriving penniless, friendless and hopeless in a foreign country, how would we want to be treated? And how should we translate that to how we respond to Syria?
Syria has been at war with itself since opposition to President Bashar al-Assad began in 2011. Initial peaceful protesters were shot by the Assad regime, resulting in the country spiralling into civil war. The crisis has now been exacerbated by so-called Islamic State (IS) who have taken control of large parts of the country.
There are 18 million Syrians, four out of five of whom are living in extreme poverty. The UN has estimated that 7.6 million Syrians have fled their homes within Syria and a further 3.8 million have left the country and are refugees. Syria is now the world’s largest source of refugees. Many have travelled north into Europe which is now experiencing one of the largest movements of people in contemporary history.
By Christmas, 1,000 Syrian refugees will have arrived in the UK, and during this Parliament a further 19,000 will arrive. It is likely that, over the coming years, we will meet refugees in our communities and workplaces, so it’s worth pausing to consider our attitude towards them.
It is easy to be fearful of what we do not know. On top of this, last month’s massacres in Paris have naturally put us on our guard. As stories emerge of terrorists crossing the borders into France in the guise of refugees seeking assistance, it would be too easy to respond to all refugees with fear and suspicion. Yet terrorists are just as likely to come from those who have been radicalised within our own communities. So let’s guard ourselves against prejudice or bias on the basis of a person’s origins.
The Bible gives us the key to how we should treat the stranger living amongst us. It tells the story of how, hundreds of years before Jesus’ birth, the Israelites were oppressed, enslaved and subjected to forced labour by the Egyptian Pharaoh. Years later God told the Israelites, “Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt“ (Exodus 22:21).
Therefore, we should treat the stranger in our midst as we would wish them to act towards us or our loved ones.
This was the inspiration for “Welcome Boxes”, which helps churches work with their local authorities to welcome refugees in their communities. Several years ago the founder, Karina Martin, moved overseas. She received incredible hospitality from the nationals that she lived among. So, just as she was welcomed rather than mistreated, now she also seeks to help hundreds of communities welcome the stranger.
This Christmas, as we remember the birth of history’s most famous refugee, let’s prepare our hearts not only to welcome him, but also to welcome the stranger in our land. As he himself put it, “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).