Our oft-repeated Christmas story centres around one of the boldest statements ever proclaimed: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:14)
In a world that often seems devoid of peace, full of war and rife with strife, a statement like this can feel like an impossible dream.
Last week, I entered into one of the most tangible of these conflicts with a visit to the refugee camp in Calais. I have seen the refugee crisis from many angles. I’ve read the articles, watched the news, debated the politics, and wondered what in the world is “right” in what has become one of the largest global issues of our time.
Entering the camp holds a certain shock. The flapping tents are pitched around muddy roads. The mixing of countries and cultures is as diverse as a map of the world. They estimate between 500/600 currently occupy the camps, with up to 100 new arrivals per day. Two warehouses, full of dedicated and sacrificial volunteers, manage the distribution to those in stark and desperate need.
Even in the midst of the warehouses, even among the volunteers, the debate carries on. Even as we sorted supplies, clothing, tents, and blankets, people wonder aloud: where will the people go? What is the long-term solution?
And in the brisk professional efficiency of a camp distribution, the questions are lost in the simple need. Each volunteer holds a position: of blocking the jostling crowd, of pulling supplies from the van, of handing one item per person, mindful of the equality of distribution. The humanity of the refugees reduced to head counts. 500 blankets to 500 men, handed out in 15 blurrily-fast minutes, passed in the blink of an eye. There were many, but somehow they were all the same. Peace feels like a distant concept.
On our final day, we simply walked through the camp. We carried no supplies, no gifts, no money. And it was on this visit, as I entered the temporary wooden structures that housed a family of nine, as we sang in a flapping, muddy church in a tent, as we sat cross-legged in an Afghan restaurant that serves no Afghan food (“only eggs”) and drank sweet, milky chai with 40 men, in these places, I experienced the humanity of a refugee camp.
It was here I was reminded that Jesus, the God I love, spent his first years as a refugee. His family fled their country of birth. In his later years, he often had no place to rest his head. My God was a refugee.
This part of the Christmas story strikes home with a special clarity to me this year. If my life, my family, my child was in danger, would I not be the first to flee?
If I knew that I could provide a better, safer, more generous life for the ones I love, would I allow anything to stop me?
I have no answers to the global crisis, no wisdom for the long-term placement, no peace in the political crisis.
I simply know this: in Calais, five hours from my home, more than 5,000 people sit in muddy squalor, and if nothing else, I believe that I am called to love the Lord my God with all my heart, and to love my neighbour as myself.
It’s in the love of Christ that we find peace in wartime. It’s in the humanity of our fellow-man that we discover that the good-will He gave was for us, and for them.
May we love the ones in front of us, regardless of the politics and debates, with the same love we were generously given at the cross.