“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18 NIV).
Today is Thanksgiving – if you’re American you’d know that already having celebrated, though I know having spoken to a few American friends any of them have no more idea what it’s actually all about than most people have about Christmas, it’s just another excuse now to drink too, much eat too much – and watch a lot of television.
But the origins of Thanksgiving are in Harvest festivals celebrated by Christians in many nations and at various times. The US version was started by some English believers who in 1619 gave thanks that their ship had made it safely across to start life in the new world.
The Pilgrim fathers did that in various places in the years to come, but the most famous came from England where they suffered persecution (by the Church of England!) for their Puritan beliefs. When they arrived stateside they celebrated with the native Americans of the land who had welcomed them and gave them food throughout the winter and hard times.
102 of the Pilgrims set off from Plymouth on the Mayflower, through storms so strong the main beam was cracked. A baby was born, one man was washed overboard, another passenger and a crewman died on the three month long journey.
When they arrived, an Elder called William Brewster read Psalm 100:
1 Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
2 Worship the Lord with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.
3 Know that the Lord is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his[a];
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
5 For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.
Isn’t it GOOD to be grateful? We don’t even need a special thanksgiving day necessarily though maybe we should put one in the diary anyway and why not pause even now and take a moment and count our blessings.
War homes. Roofs over our heads. Freedom. Thank you Lord.
And of course they were not the only ones at that time coming to America, which I was thinking yesterday about that picture – of grateful men, women and children landing on new shores, after making perilous journeys in boats, people leaving one home because of fear, risking their lives in the hope of a better one, in a new place.
They had no right really to be in America except that they were scared to remain where they were – but when they arrived, the people of the land gave to them, shared with them, helped them. Welcomed them. And their heroism and bravery and faith is now celebrated by that nation all these hundreds of years on, albeit perhaps in a sentimental way.
But here’s another picture. This year of course a record number of migrants have come across the English Channel from France across one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes in thousands of little boats seeking asylum, like a reverse Dunkirk.
The reason they’re in those dinghies is that security at the Eurotunnel has become much more stringent and there are now routine xrays of transport methods which has stopped so many before they might freeze to death in lorries as so many have tragically done in recent years. They used to try to hang onto the trucks or trains and many died that way too.
You might say ‘Why don’t they just stay in France?” but apart from the fact that many speak English rather than other languages, often have relatives here, and that the camps they’re in are just terrible (Zoe and I have visited Ritsona camp in Greece and it’s unforgettably bad), our nation has – believe it or not – a reputation for kindness. Even so In 2020, the UK received a only 29,000 asylum applications whereas Germany received 122,000, France 93,000, Spain 89000 and Greece 40,600.
Yesterday around 40 migrants crossed the English Channel in small boats from France, the day after 27 drowned when their dinghy which was described as little better than a paddling pool sank.
The people smugglers involved are of course massively to blame and everyone points to their greed and indifference to their fellow human beings.
But what about ours?
My friend Tim from Hope For Justice wrote on his Facebook page after the boat sank:
My heart is breaking for the loss of life with desperate people looking to come to the UK. I encourage the government to re-introduce the low skilled visa for those desperate to come to work to the UK so many can come safely rather than risk their lives.Tim Nelson, CEO of Hope For Justice
Very often when we talk about this, Zoe and I will say, “How desperate must you be – whether you’re on your own or as a family with children, small children to put them in a boat in one of the worlds busiest thoroughfares and set off in the hope of a better future?”
That’s the way that my heart gets broken, because I am not in the same boat – but when I allow myself to imagine myself as someone who, if I’d not been born here, if I had not been given the benefits I myself have received and am so often not thankful enough for. If it was me he was putting my kids or grandchildren on a boat or on a train or in the back of a truck – hoping they’d be received by people with compassion rather than hatred and that they’d be cared for by people rather than just caring for ourselves as I so often do.
How often have I loved to preach about or read about Jesus coming and walking across the storm to the disciples in their boat when they cried out for help to him. It gives ME such comfort for whatever I might struggle with when I read that – to hear that he cares and knows, that he came in their hour of need and said “Do not be afraid it is!” and as I snuggle up in bed I’m so grateful that he calms the storm, and I love to sing, “My lighthouse! You will carry me – safe to shooooooore…”
Why do I love that?
Because as with so many songs we like in church, it’s all about ME.
I love those kind of songs and Bible stories when I imagine it’s me in the boat, but what can we do to help or even pray and look for better systems to care for those who are not in the same boat but they are fleeing places like Afghanistan where they lost everything they had because we in the West creatively and greedily mismanaged systems of oppression – by the way the UK is the second largest arms dealer in the world, £11 billion a year– grabbing the oil before washing our hands of the blood as we walked away saying ‘Look how wonderful and green we’re going to be from now on…”
Did you read too that some of the migrants who did survive that fateful journey two days ago turned out to be a interpreters, who helped our armed forces but were ignored and forgotten when we pulled out and left them to the mercy of the Taliban?
Home Secretary Pritti Patel did of course promise a week ago that she would stop the flow 100%, having presided over its sharpest ever rise. The Prime Minister fell out with the French again yesterday having of course made similar noises to control immigration to get the Brexit vote. But we know making promises and keeping them are two different things.
There are of course no easy answers – though of course that doesn’t stop people voicing them. Yesterday I saw some saying, ‘Just turn ‘em round!’ Others suggest we push the boats back to France – but would you want that job when they start suing? I read yesterday someone suggesting we withdraw from the Geneva convention on Refugee rights rather than be thought a soft touch.
Meanwhile the Refugee Council said the tragedy this week was, “the worst humanitarian disaster connected to the Channel in recent times (and) both predictable and preventable.”
And the way they think differently is apparent in the next paragraph, “Behind every single person that needlessly lost their life will be a person who was looking for safety, for protection and who had hope of a new life that now will never be realised.”
See, I read that – and though we are not all in the same boat, I try to imagine again that I am. That stops me thinking about numbers and has me sending up an SOS to God in prayer.
They go on, “No one should ever feel their only option for their future is to cross the world’s busiest shipping lane in a dinghy. 98% of those who cross the channel claim asylum. Men, women and children who have made the heart breaking decision to leave everything they know behind to flee war, persecution and violence – experiencing untold trauma both in their home countries and on route here to the UK.
Rather than tougher measures that seek to punish and push away, or inaccurate and false statements that seek to dehumanise (or) demonise (them) we call on the Government to adopt a fairer, more compassionate and effective set of solutions.
Solutions that will proudly demonstrate our history of protection here in Britain, solutions led by compassion and kindness, and solutions that position the UK as leaders to Europe, if not the world, in tackling this crisis.
The only way to save lives on these dangerous routes is to stop people believing that these journeys are the only way to have a claim for asylum heard in the UK. If the Government want to truly stop people smugglers…we must create safe routes and remove their trade. We understand this is a challenging and complex issue – but there are solutions that can be put in place.”
Challenging words – but the words of Jesus resound louder: