And now to truly welcome refugees

We are all refugees, the Rev Richard Dawson writes.

It was heartening to see the response to the first contingent of people from Syria arriving in Dunedin last week.

The welcome provided by so many and the preparations made for their eventual settlement and integration give me considerable hope for a world which is so often defensive and suspicious of strangers.

It was heartening also to see the Church in Dunedin front and central to those preparations, calling on people to give and to be open to the needs of those who are coming here.

This is precisely how the Church is called to express its faith in the God before whom we are all refugees.

The Christian faith is founded on the notion we are all refugees - not so much from a place or a country but from ourselves, only to find our true destiny as children of God.

The New Testament understands we have all walked away from our "country of origin'' not because we found it unlivable but because we were looking to determine our own futures apart from the relationship with God which ultimately defines our humanity.

What then is God's attitude towards we who are refugees from His love?

It is to love us more.

To send, as it were, a ship to rescue us and bring us back to a country we can all share and find peace in.

For Christians this is the country of Christ, a country of both welcome and enormous opportunity because it is a place where we may have time to grow and change and, above all, learn to love.

In that place of dislocation, it is well understood that change is difficult and especially change in a culture that is so different from the one we came from.

So patience, kindness, grace and love are all very much endemic to this new place - this new home.

On the other hand, indifference, apathy, disinterest, suspicion and hate are considered weeds in that place and are continually removed from the gardens and green spaces there.

Furthermore, in that place it is also well understood that the very best medium for transferring the good things on offer is through relationships: face to face, friendship, company, conversation.

It is simply not enough to provide a space without a face and so the Church down through the centuries has attempted to make healthy community a major priority for its life and witness.

It has understood that, more than anything else, refugees who arrive on its doorstep need the warmth and sanity of ordinary human company, unjudging, unquestioning, uncomplicated human company.

Finally, among the many lessons it has learned on its own journey as a refugee from the world, the Church has realised that though poverty be the mark of all refugees, resource is the goal.

In the old saying about "teaching a person to fish being preferable to providing fish'' we forget, I suspect, that the teaching always requires significant resources: time, talent and money.

Are we prepared to offer this as well to our new citizens?Let me repeat: what a wonderful thing it is to be able to offer shelter to these amazing people from far away.

Well done Dunedin!

Now let us do what is needed to truly make them welcome. Let us open the doors of our lives as we have the doors of our city.

- The Rev Richard Dawson is minister at St Stephen's Leith Valley Presbyterian Church.

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