The girl was devastated. Sunken cheeks highlighted by a grey palour, she’d barely eaten for a week. Her mind was in a tornado of turmoil, she didn’t know what to do, where to go, who to ask.
Church, she thought. I’ll go to church.
The front of the building was almost Gothic in appearance, looming over her like a hungry spectre. Walking into an unfamiliar building, feeling vulnerable, risking being exposed, was one of the most terrifying things she’d ever done. But people would help her there – they had to. It was church.
She walked in and anxiously sat on the back row, heart beating loudly to the music coming through the sound system. She lifted her eyes, looked around in anxiety; small groups of people were huddled together, laughing, sharing some funny moments from the week. They seemed friendly. Should she walk up? Say hello? Explain what was going on? That she really needed a friend?
She decided not to. She didn’t know these people. She couldn’t exactly walk up and just blurt it all out.
No, she’d wait…it was church. Sooner or later, someone would notice and come over and say hello.
But no one did. The girl stayed in her seat, squirming in awkwardness, feeling ashamed at being so alone and so unable to say what was really going on.
The songs were pleasant, sung with passion, the preacher spoke fervently about the need to welcome strangers…they could be angels in disguise.
As the service ended, she lingered for a while, loitered by the coffee area and then trudged wearily to the back door.
Not a word, no one said a thing. And she was too ashamed to speak up for herself.
Refugees welcome here.
Our newspapers are filled with pictures of desperate people all across the world making perilous journeys towards new borders. They’re in pain, having suffered almost unimaginable loss and hardship, looking for a better, more secure way of life, a place where their children can be safe from the ravages of war.
Refugees welcome here. It’s a hashtag on Social Media, many are campaigning for more to be done. And yet, though our hearts are moved with compassion and a huge desire to help, every week in our churches, many different kinds of ‘refugees’ are also sitting there.
And sometimes we’re closeted away in little groups and cliques and we don’t even notice.
The girl in this story is someone I know well. Someone who went through a terrible time, lost everything and in a last ditch attempt to get help, visited a few different churches, hoping someone, anyone would reach out and welcome her in.
She walked in, lurked, but no one said a word. Not a smile, or a handshake or even a ‘how are you?’ The people at those churches were probably lovely people who also loved Jesus, but perhaps felt safer in their familiar groups?
The truth is, often we support campaigns and passionately believe that our governments should do more, but meanwhile at home, we can still be guilty of letting visitors wander in and out of our churches and we struggle to leave our groups, to welcome the stranger within.
We may even worship weekly with people we see week in and week out, but in reality, we know nothing about them, or the private struggles they face.
So absolutely yes, let’s extend compassion, kindness and love to people who are experiencing horror, but let’s also remember the ‘refugees’ of life, who are already here; the newbies who walk into church, the people we worship with, who may be facing heartaches, loneliness, private grief, but who simply never say.
As the saying goes; Be kind to everyone you meet. For everyone you meet is fighting some kind of private battle.