This morning I woke up in a hotel on Romania at 5am UK time. Immediately, I fumbled for my TV remote. To my utter shock the UK had voted to leave the European Union… Well, around 52% of us. I stumbled down the breakfast to discuss with a group of Brits… When I say discuss, I actually mean express disbelief, shed heartfelt tears, moan, groan and make bitter-tinged jokes in that truly British way as the number of empty coffee cups grew. All week we’d joked about not being able to get back into the UK when we fly home today. We didn’t really think we’d be flying back to a very different country, uncertain of what the future holds. I looked at the faded EU wording on my passport with confusion.
You see, we’re here to meet with others in the European church to discuss how best to welcome refugees to our continent. In our number (around 60) there are Germans, Dutch, Swiss, Austrian, Romanians, Finnish, Greek, Jordanian, Hungarian, Syrian, Sri Lankan, American, Brazillian, Peruvian and many more. Working together and collaborating on how to provide for the practical, spiritual and emotional needs of brothers and sisters of all faiths fleeing persecution, war and hardship in other parts of the world. How to show them the love of God.
So we are sad. That our country has voted for isolation when we see such need for and beauty in collaboration.
And I am deeply sad that (as it seems to me) many have voted out of fear, fear of the foreigner, of the stranger. That many people who have voted to leave are voting because they themselves are marginalised and downtrodden in the UK and felt this was the only way to assert themselves. That some people feel championing their national identity above all others is the answer to their problems. I was sad as I saw the rubbing together of hands of right wing groups at home and on the continent.
And then we worshipped God. And we prayed.
God is sovereign. We don’t pretend to know if this was his will. Or if he’s shaking his head in despair. He works in ways that don’t make sense to us on paper. Who am I to know? What do I know? He works all things together for good. He uses every twist and turn in his great redemptive plan for the world He loves. We need not fear as the mountains (or the pound for that matter) seem to crash into the sea.
I felt there was something I could learn. And maybe it will be useful for you as you scroll through the wails of despair on social media.
I don’t believe it is a coincidence that we as children of God are here together this week talking about welcoming foreigners, strangers… And that in doing so, a theme that emerged time after time was identity.
A refugee fleeing their land has been stripped of their place of belonging, their national identity and this is traumatic and terrifying. But I know someone who provides a sure, strong, unshakeable identity rooted in unconditional love and acceptance. And this is what I am called to do – to share that with others. Not just people arriving from other shores in unspeakable circumstances, but also to those who are pulling up draw bridges in fear because they too have yet to discover their true and most beautiful identity. And also to those throwing their hands in despair at separation from our union with our neighbours.
What will your voice say over the next days and weeks? Can you respect those who voted opposite to your own opinion? Do you have something to say to counter negativity and fear? Can you spread light, hope and love?
Resting in the knowledge that God is sovereign, with ways that are higher than ours is not passive. It is active love in the face of fear.
PS You’re allowed the occasional joke about moving to a likely-soon-independent Scotland.