‘He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt’ (Deut. 10:18‑19).
As we bring our little boy up to know the Lord Jesus and read well-loved Bible stories to him, it’s so lovely to share in the wonder of God through these stories. As I read again the stories of the people of Israel with him, one of my reflections is on how they were so often sojourners or strangers or foreigners themselves in slavery and in exile. They had a deeply embedded understanding of what it means to be out of place in a strange and foreign land, one that was often hostile to them. This is the situation that many mission partners experience and I’m sure that many of our asylum-seeking friends feel the same way.
Thirteen years of struggling alongside asylum seekers caught in a destitution trap has taught me so much of God’s abundant love for His children of every nation. As I led Bristol Hospitality Network, it encouraged me to hope against near impossible odds, as time and again I saw our brothers and sisters win the right to remain here when all the world seemed against them. It has filled me with wonder at the resilience and fortitude of those stuck in limbo for so many years with little to hope for along the way. Let’s now consider who these people are and what we might do to share the good news about the Lord Jesus Christ with them.
Who are Asylum Seekers & Refugees?
An asylum seeker is a person who claims that they are not safe from persecution in their own country, cannot relocate internally to another part of that country and therefore needs the protection of a different country. Under the 1951 Geneva Refugee Convention there are strict rules about eligibility for sanctuary, to which the UK has signed up. An asylum claimant is not allowed to work until their case is decided. If they don’t have their own means, they can apply for asylum support under which they will be assigned to shared accommodation, recently often in hotels, and given a small amount of pocket money.1
A refugee is someone who has met the definition under the Refugee Convention and has been granted protection. They can work, claim benefits, travel, bring their close family to join them and live much like any other citizen.
There were 74,751 asylum applications in the UK in 2022, the highest number for two decades and a significant increase from 2021 where 48,540 claimed asylum. Most of these applicants were granted refugee status. The majority arrived in small boats. Currently, the UK has the highest backlog in asylum claims since records began. With only 18,699 applications assessed this year, that backlog looks like it’ll keep growing.
At our fellowship we have over 40 members in our Persian language group, most of whom are awaiting a decision on their claim. At the moment, most Persian applications are accepted but many have been waiting for an interview for nearly two years. The wait is a challenge and we can see the impact the uncertainty has on the mental health and wellbeing of these individuals.
Let’s now consider…what we might do to share the good news about the Lord Jesus Christ with them.
Asylum seekers get some pretty bad press: words like ‘swarm’ and ‘invasion’ are regularly used to refer to people seeking sanctuary. The consequences of this are clearly seen in increased violence against asylum seekers, such as the angry mob that descended on a hotel housing asylum seekers in Knowsley in February 2023. How then do we respond to Jesus’ words from the parable of the sheep and the goats? ‘…“Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”…The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me”’ (Mt. 25:34-36, 40). Our hearts should break.
Open Hearts & Homes
In 2022 we saw the start of war in Ukraine, a nearer and easier to understand conflict. The hearts of the nation did indeed break and, praise God, so many people were evacuated directly from that terrible tragedy to relative safety in the UK. In fact, due to the generosity of the British people, 208,389 Ukrainians came under the Homes for Ukraine and Family Visa Ukraine schemes. I spent the past eight months supporting over 300 Homes for Ukraine hosts in Bristol with my other organisation, Refugee Welcome Homes. It wasn’t perfect but it was nonetheless a beautiful expression of welcome and love for the stranger.
Let us listen to the Lord’s call in Isaiah to, ‘Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes’ (Isa. 54:2).
Are we, as the Lord’s people, ready to expand our hearts again to those seeking sanctuary from other countries, wherever they are in the world?
We have been given a wonderful gift of many Persian believers and seekers arriving in the UK in recent years. More and more churches are working with them in a generous and loving way, offering the wonderful message of salvation by grace through faith, alongside warm friendship, a new family to belong to, hot food and English classes among other things. A rural community in Devon is offering holidays for asylum seekers from Bristol. I am heartened by churches and others responding to the needs of the relocated Afghans in our communities, for their openness and offer of sanctuary to resettled refugees.
I long to see the day when God’s fervent call to love the stranger, embedded in the great story of salvation, is burning in our hearts so powerfully it turns the hearts of our nation to justice for the refugees, asylum seekers and stateless and undocumented people living among us in our cities and towns.
God speaks light into the darkness and, as His people, we are called to be there too, unafraid to walk in His steps to light lanterns of hope in places of welcome on the journey so many refugees face across the world.
So, What Can We Do?
Pray – A prayer is a dangerous thing: before I got involved with refugees, I took a map and prayed God would speak to me and, as a result, moved into the area where I live and all this followed on. Let’s pray and be willing to hear God’s leading.
Look for an opportunity to be involved in your area – Are there hotels housing asylum seekers near you? Do you have any Persian believers in your church to support? Could you invite an asylum seeker to your home for food?
Be brave – It’s hard to take that first step in response to God’s call to love the sojourner among us; but, if we are brave and take one little step we are on the road and it’s God’s delight to lead us along it.