I hear the cries of injustice. I feel the broken hearts of broken
people. I see the cracks where the world
once fit together but now breaks apart; like a map of the world changing over
time; continents once joined now divorced by stormy waters.
And I read God’s words of truth and love and mercy and
justice. And I see His hand at work in
the small things and the big. I see my
personal life transformed by His mighty powerful interruption. On my escapist travels I find Him. Or He finds me. I meet people whose lives have been
transformed by His mighty powerful interruptions; by His continual relentless
mercy. I find that He is the One who
saves, heals and delivers. He is the One
who can change the world.
And I try to start channelling all of that hurt and
bitterness and anger and despair at how the world is falling apart – everything
is falling apart – into how I can find God: how I can find the work of God in
the darkest places; how I can find the flickering flame of the fire once wild
and untamed and nurture it back to life again.
How the wind of the Holy Spirit can blow through my breath – flow
through my veins, tingle on my hands and feet – to be the oxygen to that flame
and watch it rise. How my tiny tealight
candle – all I have to offer to this world – can join a thousand others and
become significant; world changing; light in the darkest places.
It is in this mind and this desperation that I went to the
Calais ‘jungle’ in August 2015. I read a
blog from someone who had just been about one particular man she had met there
… his life and his journey across Europe to escape war; the things he had seen
along the way; the death of his family and children by militants in his home
country, right in front of his eyes … it makes me weep now as I write,
still. Because no matter how many times
we hear these stories or see the evidence and consequences of war, no matter
how ‘desensitised’ we might feel when the news is always bad news, God’s heart
still breaks. He weeps. The cracks down
the world are the breaks in His heart. And it hurts.
The day that I read this blog I joined a group on Facebook
that was coordinating the UK-wide, grassroots, people-led response to the
humanitarian crisis in Calais. It struck
me that this situation had been going on for so long, decades almost. It struck me that the humanitarian response,
the relief and the aid, was being led by ‘normal people’. Not aid agencies or the French or UK
government or the UN. Just people with a
spare weekend to collect some clothes or a free evening to raise some
money. Professionals and students and
mums and dads. People. The beauty of that (amidst the sad political
failings) warmed my heart. This is what
it is all about to me. People responding
to people. People seeing another
person’s need and meeting it. Loving our
So I made an event, one week in August where I would collect
donations of warm clothing, good shoes and tents, pack it all up in a hired van
and drive over to Calais for a day to meet the local charities working there
and distribute the collection. The
weekend before I was due to start this week someone posted in the UK group and
said, “I’m driving to Calais on Sunday with some donations but my friend isn’t
able to come with me anymore… Does anyone want to join me?”
On August 16 I found myself in the ‘jungle’. Having worked in development for a while I
thought I knew what to expect – mostly I was just excited (for want of a better
word) to meet people and hear their stories; to connect with the charities
there and see how we could help; to witness the grassroots volunteer/activism
movement that had sprung up so spontaneously where there was so much need; to
see the beauty of love our neighbour in action.
What I saw was human survival in the direst of
circumstances. Desperation, hope lost,
people abandoned by those most powerful when they were most in need. I saw chaos and … just desperation. Mostly desperation. These were people living like no person
should live. They were professionals:
lawyers, doctors, teachers, sportsmen.
They were beautiful families from Sudan, Eritrea, Syria, Afghanistan,
who wanted something better for their beautiful children.
Having made the right contacts and distributed our two pennies
– food and clothing donations for a few of the 4000 people – we returned home
saddened and lost. We thought we could
change the world. How naïve. We thought we could make a difference. How proud.
We thought things would get better.
What do we know.
Hearing a call, a cry for mercy; responding
with all I have, with everything I know; looking at the contentedness of other
volunteers who have ticked their ‘I fed a starving child’ box and come home
satisfied to the cheers of their communities; scared – aware – that I have a
‘white saviour complex’; hopeless in the little, if any, impact I can make;
hopeful in the way God can use what tiny pointless things I can do. I come to the conclusion that all I can do is
keep going. In the great wisdom of Dory:
“Just keep swimming”. All I have is all
I have. I give it, I sow it, I put it
out there. If it multiples, if it
blossoms and grows, praise God. In this
lifetime I will never know the results of what I have done. I can only pray I am not destructive or
hindering. I can only pray that God uses
me. I can only pray that what I give is
fruitful and does not fall to the ground and die. I can only pray.
After seeing the chaos and the difficulties for/because of
volunteers in the jungle, I set about working with the UK group to make sure
things were coordinated and streamlined in the best way possible. My collections in Guildford kept flooding in
and over the bank holiday weekend in August my mum and I sorted, boxed and
labelled thousands of items. The van I’d
hired wasn’t big enough! I decided to
postpone my trip to Calais after conversations with the organisations there
made me realise how overwhelmed they were with all the support arriving from
Britain. It wasn’t that they didn’t need
the help, they just didn’t have enough people on the ground to help sort and
distribute items as quickly as they were arriving. Instead of a one-off event I changed my
‘Facebook network’ into a group, called Guildford: People to People.
Shema to me is not just about hearing God’s call. It’s about hearing it constantly, remaining
flexible, staying in a position of surrender.
What is right one week might not be right another – particularly in a
situation as chaotic and unsteady as Calais.
Whilst God’s call to hear the cries of the needy and respond to poverty
will never change, the way we do this ‘best’ will. People working on the ground in Calais, and the
refugees themselves of course, know the needs more than I do. More than any group coming from the UK will
ever do. Whilst we might want to drive
over there with our van load of goods and share it out feeling great about
ourselves, this might be a really stupid and dangerous idea!! It’s important to
me to hear not only God’s voice but also that of the people around me; the
people in the know; the people with the wisdom and understanding to instruct me
in the way I should go.
The first week of September changed everything. A
friend put me in touch with her friend who put me in touch with her friend who
was also doing a collection in Guildford just a few doors away from me. We connected and decided to collaborate. She was holding an event on Saturday 5th
September to gather and sort donations at her house. I spread the word to my friends and
‘networks’. The plan was to connect with
the CalAid network (a group of people much like ourselves who had made great
relationships in the Calais camps and aimed to travel over every two weeks to
donate and distribute). They were doing
a massive collection at a warehouse in London on Sunday 6th so we
planned to sort and pack our collections and drive it up to them on the Sunday
to streamline our response with theirs.
On Wednesday 2nd September newspapers across
Britain published the now famous picture of Aylan Kurdi, a child, washed up on
a Turkish beach, drowned, just three-years-old.
By Friday 4th September our group had over 1000
members, up from around 300 before Wednesday’s press. The UK-wide group shortly shot up to 17,000
members, up from around 700 before Wednesday’s press.
“A picture speaks a thousand words”
“Every now and then
one paints a picture that seems to have opened a door and serves as a stepping
stone to other things.”
― Pablo Picasso
“The world before us
is a postcard, and I imagine the story we are writing on it.”
Mary E. Pearson, The Miles Between
“A picture held us
captive. And we could not get outside it, for it lay in our language and
language seemed to repeat it to us inexorably.”
Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical
That picture – that awful, striking, heart-piercing picture
– seemed to open up a door to people across the world, particularly in
Europe. That this could happen on our
doorstep. That this could be happening
to a small innocent child when all we were told about before was ‘greedy
migrants’ coming over here in boats to ‘steal all our jobs’ and ‘take all our
benefits’. Suddenly people saw a
person. A person with no preconceived agenda. A person who deserved safety and protection
and warmth and nourishment. The same as
us, the same as our children, our brothers and sisters, our friends and
Suddenly we saw the history we were writing and we thought,
“Do we want to be remembered for this?
Remembered for doing nothing when people were dying in our
backyard? Which side of history will we
be on? What story are we writing?”
And it is inescapable.
Suddenly. That picture implanted
itself on people’s minds. It repeated to
us inexorably. Because a picture speaks
a thousand words.
Our small household drop off day was now a Surrey-wide
refugee response with around 400 people apparently attending with their
car-loads of donations. Our local
council donated a hall for us to use and we arrived at 8am to start receiving
and categorising donations. By 12pm the
hall was full, stacked high and next to impossible to navigate. Until 7pm an amazing group of volunteers
worked with us to sort, box and label every single donation. We filled one massive Luton van by 1pm.
The next day we packed one more hired van and drove up to
Basildon to drop off the boxes into CalAid storage. Once that was full we drove down to another
storage box in Croydon to fill that one up too.
The rest of our donations went into local storage in Guildford until we
can complete another drop off with CalAid on Sunday 4th
Thousands of items were donated that were not suitable for
Calais, but were thankfully and appreciatively received by local homeless
shelters and women’s charities.
Another van full of food items were boxed and stored in a
room donated by Guildford Borough Council for two weeks until our next event.
Hearing the news from Calais and the chaos that had ensued
there after the photo of Aylan stirred so many hearts to respond (some of them
well, some of them not so well), we decided to hold off on physical donations
and focus on fundraising.
On Saturday 26th September a RefuTEA party was
held at Holy Trinity Church on Guildford High Street. Tea, coffee and cake were served for a
donation. At the same time all of our
dry food donations were unboxed, categorised and sorted into individual food
packages to be given out to refugees in Calais.
Anything that was unsuitable for the ‘jungle’ (they really don’t like
baked beans!!) was donated to food banks and homeless shelters across
Guildford. What a privilege to be a part
of something that serves locally as well as across borders; to love our neighbours
across the road as well as those down the street.
In just two hours we raised over £4000. Most of this money will go towards another
group’s initiative to send UNHCR quality tents to Calais. These are weather-proof and will last over
winter unlike many of the donated tents from the UK, which have been great for
new arrivals but are not long-term shelters.
The rest of the funds are being donated to the Refugee Council who work in the
UK with refugees arriving here, and to organisations working in Greece with
refugees there, such as Kos
Kindness. We wanted to be able to support our national charities, as well
as reach further across Europe and
acknowledge the wider humanitarian crisis and the needs further afield – this
is the most effective and straight-forward way of doing so.
Shema is summed up for me in Psalm 81. Verse 8-16 says this:
“Hear, O My people, and I will
O Israel, if you would listen to Me!
“Let there be no strange god among you,
Nor shall you worship any foreign god.
“I am the Lord your God,
Who brought you up from the land of Egypt.
Open your mouth wide and I will fill it.
“But My people would not listen to My voice,
And Israel did not consent to obey Me.
“So I gave them up to the stubbornness of their heart,
To walk in the path of their own counsel.
“Oh, that My people would listen to Me,
That Israel would walk in My ways!
“Then I would quickly subdue and humble their enemies
And turn My hand against their adversaries; […]
“But I would feed Israel with the finest of the wheat;
And with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.”
This psalm tells me that when we hear God and obey His call
to love Him with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and to love our
neighbour as ourself … wow what fruit can come out of that! Instead of scrambling around trying to find
the smallest crumb to feed our emptiness and desperation for a better world –
“There must be more than this” – instead of scrounging around for food that
gets fed to the pigs (Luke 15:16) – we get taken to a land overflowing with
milk and honey, to a place where we eat the finest of wheat. God brings us to His table, to His feast
(Luke 15:22-24), when we return to Him, follow Him, obey Him, give Him
everything, surrender ourselves and live not for ourselves but for those He
points us to.
This brings together Shema and Vehayah for me.
Vaiyomer I find in Isaiah 61. Verse 10 says this:
“I will rejoice greatly in
My soul will exult in my God;
For He has clothed me with garments of salvation,
He has covered me with a robe of righteousness,
As a bridegroom puts on a turban,
And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”
God has clothed us in righteousness. By the crimson blood of
Christ – in His death and resurrection – He has made us white as snow (Isaiah 1:18).
We, the church, the bride of Christ,
adorn ourselves with beauty and show our jewelled crowns of salvation to a
world suffocating in ugliness. He has
given us (Isaiah 61:3-4):
“[…] a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
the oil of joy instead of
and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair
They will be called oaks of
righteousness, a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendour.
They will rebuild the ancient
ruins and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
that have been devastated for generations.”
This is how our
clothing, our display of His splendour, go out into the world. This is how we are the light in the dark
places. Because He has given us a crown
of beauty instead of ashes, because He has clothed us in righteousness and made
us white, bright, as snow. Because He
has adorned us with jewels of salvation and grace and healing. Now we are fully equipped, with all He has
given us, with the grace He has shown a lost and unworthy people. Now we can rebuild what has been stolen and
destroyed. Now we can restore places,
people, once devastated. Now we can
renew what has been ruined.
We take a healing salve out into those cracks in the world
that look irreparable. We give our two
pennies; our single straining tealights.
And we pray that God, somehow, in His incomprehensible power and
sovereignty, makes it worthwhile.
Picture Credit: Cassy Paris http://www.bellanovaphotography.com/