Why I'm raising money for Syrian refugees
Revd Gareth Rayner-Williams, School Priest and Senior Teacher at St. Teilo’s Church in Wales High School, is taking the Ration Challenge and eating the same food rations as a Syrian refugee for one week. Here he reflects on Jesus feeding of the five thousand and asks how we can continue this miracle today?
A couple of weeks back the Gospel reading for Sunday was the feeding of the five thousand [Matthew 14:13-21]. There we see the miracle of a world transformed by compassion; a world where the hungry are nurtured and fed, and the dispossessed are embraced and welcomed. We glimpse the justice of the Kingdom of God.
And all ate and were filled.Matthew 14:20
But it doesn’t begin that way. In fact - at first - the disciples make what sounds like a reasonable excuse. “It’s late, Jesus, we’re in the middle of nowhere! The crowd is massive and they’re all hungry. Send them off to buy their own food. We don’t have enough to feed them”. What they’re saying of course is that the problem is too big for them to solve. “We’ve got food for ourselves - thirteen and no more. Send them back, back to where they came from”.
“Send them back”. But back to what? Back to Herod’s oppressive regime, that’s what. Back to the town where, just days earlier, John the Baptist had been beheaded. Back to a psychopath ruler who years before had ordered the slaughter of infants just because he felt threatened by the rumour of the birth of a saviour. Back to all that: oppression, dictatorship, famine, intolerance, violence and injustice.
“Send them back, back to where they came from”.
“Send them back”. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? The numbers are different. The Gospel reported five thousand men, not counting women and children, camped for refuge with Jesus in that deserted place. Today there are 25 million refugees in the world and let’s count the children this time shall we, because over half, 13 million, are under the age of 14. But send them back, back to where they came from. In the last 12 months alone 3,500 unaccompanied children applied for asylum here in the UK. That’s children who left their homeland because of war or fear or oppression. One of those children was found drowned on our shores just this week; no doubt the tiny inflatable dinghy - and the shovels he used as oars - lost in the sea as the aircraft intentionally flying over his head made his journey “unviable”. But send them back – that’s what you’ll read on Facebook. But back to what? Back to the Herods of today - the Herods of drug trafficking, violence and sex trafficking. The Herods of poverty, child labour, dictatorship, war and famine. Send them back, back to the slaughter of today’s innocents.
Jesus refused the disciples’ request to send back the oppressed to their oppressors. Jesus refuses our request to do the same today. For the real miracle in the feeding of the five thousand isn’t that Jesus can multiply a few loaves and fish, It’s that his justice and compassion has no borders. It’s a compassion that feeds those who hunger; hunger for food and love, security and peace, freedom from oppression and dignity.
So to all who say, “There isn’t enough, send them away,” Jesus says,
“There is more than enough. They stay. We’ll find a way. Let’s feed them.”
Let’s feed them. I believe passionately that our moral compass as a country has been strengthened and not weakened by the trials we have endured together during this time of pandemic. That’s why I am going to take part in this year’s Refugee Ration Challenge. For one week I will attempt to live on the rations a refugee would receive in order to survive. The money I receive from sponsorship will help bring humanitarian aid to those traumatised by the circumstances that have brought about their forced migration. We will feed them.
I’m doing this because I believe Christ wishes to continue his miracle today – one of hospitality for the oppressed, sanctuary and radical welcome.
It’s what the church exists for.
Support Fr Gareth's Ration Challenge
So please will you consider sharing the equivalent of ‘five loaves and two fish’ in order to bring about that Kingdom reality. And as you donate, pray that Brexit Britain will care more about protecting vulnerable human life than it does its borders. Thank you.