In my late teens and twenties, I entered a somewhat drawn out do-gooder phase, inspired as I was by my newly found Christian faith. Yet more than once, wise, old, pious types counseled me “charity begins at home”. I think they were making the point that it may be all well and good to help those you don’t know or who are not members of your tribe, but we need to give due precedence to those we know and who are. Ever since that time the phrase has cropped up many times and only this week one newspaper gave this as a reason for not helping foreign migrants camped in Calais from entering the UK, given the all too evident need of our own people.
Being one of those who tries to take my direction from what the Bible teaches rather than from popular sayings promoted by popular newspapers, however appealing these happen to be, I decided to check out what the Bible really does teach on where charity should begins. Given we are called to take responsibility for looking after our own families, it seems that the saying has some credence and too often people spend time saving the world and their own families are neglected. Here I hold my own hands up. Yet the Bible teaches the great command to love our neighbor and this is just as much the destitute would be asylum seeker escaping tyranny, holed up in Calais, as the people who live next door, and even more so given the immediate need of the former is greater than that of the latter.
I have already reflected on the Calais migrant crisis (here and here) and however much some people wish it were not so, particularly if they need to do something about it, it ain’t going to go away and building bigger fences to stop the swarms coming over will not solve the problem and will further exasperate those who are in this “living in limbo” existence. Statements by the popular press and politicians in government, revealing antipathy and indifference toward such people, and ordinary folk who periodically berate do gooders who want to welcome or at least practically help are countered by those who feel it is a disgrace including those like one of my Facebook friends, who has recently gone over to Calais to find out for herself what is going on and help where she could. It reminds me a bit of the homeless situation here in Southend. It is great that we can show random and not so random acts of kindness to rough sleepers yet we are not giving them the accommodation, meaningful activity and the support they especially need making the need even greater. Yet carry on we must, because we are members of the human race, mindful of the great command that binds us.
When it comes to the migrant crisis in Calais and the far bigger crisis affecting displaced people the world over, we may well choose to escape to our own bubble but sooner or later that bubble will burst and we will reap the consequences of our actions or rather inactions. On Saturday I met with a former classmate who has been a long time left leaning political activist over a beer and naturally our conversation turned to politics and some of the issues politicians face, including the crisis in Calais. My friend made the point we could and should take in some of these people and unless I misread him any who would want to come and live in the UK. While I have no doubt we should play our part, I really ought to reiterate my own position, subject to being persuaded otherwise through rational argument. We have is recent years taken in too many economic migrants and too few genuine asylum seekers.
While I have some sympathy with the argument that immigrants give to the UK more than they take from it, I sometimes wonder if we are trying to compare apples and oranges. Do we, for example, have enough jobs, houses, schools and hospitals? And while it is lovely we take in foreign doctors and nurses who serve this country well (and I am married to one of them – ed) there is something perverse that these posts are not taken up by home bred natives, some of who are unemployed, and even more perverse these folk aren’t serving in their own countries where the need is greater. Yet as I have argued in my earlier post there are things we can do as individuals and there are things we can do as a country. I am merely pointing out that we are not doing them when we should.
Having sifted through several articles discussing the situation we are now seeing and offering all sorts of solutions, and of varying merit, I recently come across one that seemed to stand out. It had the intriguing title: “Immigrant Crisis is an Opportunity to Right Some Wrongs”. It was written by the grandson of someone who had been liberated from a Nazi concentration camp at the end of the Second World War. Having been helped to adjust to “normal” life following the horrors she had witnessed and experienced, she seized her opportunity of a new life in the UK and made good as did her family. There was much the UK failed to do that arguably contributed to the annihilation of many under Nazi rule, but at least in the end it did something and some like this family have much to be thankful for.
If we continue to bury our heads in the sand like ostriches, as if the problem doesn’t exist or not our problem, then future generations and those being oppressed will rightly judge us, and so will God.