In so many ways the Covid lockdown has prevented many of us from engaging with asylum seekers and refugees to the extent we’d like to. However, in my own case it has been an opportunity to keep in contact in other ways mainly with those who have been through the UK’s asylum system and are now citizens of the UK. It always amazes me how well motivated these new citizens are to get by and make progress in this country – and sometimes really against all odds. In many cases also they prove to be very versatile when looking for and choosing an occupation.
Aisha is a person that springs to mind. She is a young mother of three who arrived in this country without a word of English some years ago. Together with her husband Rashid, they both became very fluent within a short time and went on to do different National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs), she as a beautician (with a job in a large department store) and he in accounting (with a part time job in a firm). After some time they opened a small catering business, cooking and delivering food to a limited number of customers. Rashid has now started his own Ebay shop online which is doing very well. Before that he had been a taxi man for two years before lockdown hit and he was laid off.
Isn’t it amazing to see how much migrants of all kinds contribute to the life, culture and economy of this country! They bring a wonderful richness in diversity and a colourful and often simple lifestyle that can be so challenging for us.
As Christians we are encouraged to reach out beyond the confines of our church buildings and engage with the wider reality that surrounds us. This means welcoming the strangers among us from other lands. We must respect and value them, offer them hospitality and enable them to seize the many opportunities to integrate themselves in life here as well as acquire good educational qualifications that will help them get good jobs.
As people of faith we cannot ignore the cries of uprooted people in contemporary history. Our response must be a biblical one, to welcome the stranger and reach out a hand of friendship to those who are different to ourselves. This is something which we’re not always comfortable with as it’s the predictable, the known, that we are more used to. That which is unfamiliar can sometimes be a threat to us, preventing a mutual opportunity to engage.
Overall, we need to look at our attitudes to people of all religious traditions and none. As we learnt during the lockdown, the future of the church is not in church buildings, but in the marketplace of people’s lives. The church needs to escape from its cultural isolation and get back in touch with its surroundings. It needs to search out the deeper and wider implications of the Christian message. We are called to think fresh thoughts, to look for a new vocabulary and be creative in our approach to others.