LETTER FROM A MINISTER

What turbulent times we are in. The refugee crisis seems to have blown a hole in the very fabric of the cohesion of Europe. The impact of the Arab Spring promised much but sadly has largely engendered instability and suffering. Politicians are seen to be floundering; unsure of how to respond to the Syrian crisis. National borders open and close like traffic lights. Commentators describe wholesale despair and contradictory responses of generosity or fear. Sometimes the news reports are too distressing to watch, so what can be done, is there any hope?

I have tried to understand what has gone on but am aware that this is no easy task. Syria experienced a four-year drought prior to the uprising which meant many people lost their livelihoods on the land. A thirteen-year old boy from a family displaced by the drought was murdered by the government and this provided a flashpoint for this revolution. But now the six ethnic groups that comprise Syria have in addition seen the arrival of Isis and Hezbollah. International support of the various groups gives the conflict a “proxy war” edge. Indeed none of the main factions seem to run out of munitions, so candid suppliers such as Russia must be balanced by others that are more surreptitious. Here is a list of the conflicts as at the moment: government v opposition rebels; government v Isis; Kurds v Isis;Turks v Kurds; the west (bombing) v Isis; opposition rebels v Isis; Hezbollah supporting the government v the rebels and Isis. I suspect my analysis is inadequate and this is not a comprehensive thesis but it is illustrative of three things: Syria is in a huge mess, it will not sort quickly, but the problems it creates need attention now. Over four million refugees outside of Syria and a further six or seven million displaced within is a problem needing a global response.

My own response starts by remembering that Jesus was a refugee in Egypt. I want to respond personally with hospitality and generosity and plead for it to all. I like to think that when Britain has been generous in the past, for example to the Ugandan Asians, we have benefitted as a nation in the long run. I am glad of the funding of refugee camps, essential now, but this will never be the long-term answer. Indeed Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey are bearing the brunt of this burden. If by birth I had found myself in the situation of the refugees, I would no doubt be shouting “we are humans” as they do, and doing my best to seek a future away from conflict for my family. Meanwhile, I pray for world leaders to dry up the supplies of arms that only exacerbate the situation and seek for peace - however hard this is to create.

Jack Walker, minister of Newport Pagnell Baptist Church