In mid October, along with two guys from our Church we ventured down from Derbyshire to Calais in Northern France. We went to the home which is known as “the Jungle”. It is a camp made up of both refugees and economic migrants from large parts of Africa and the Middle East. We spent a few hours of the afternoon in the camp.
The purpose of the trip was threefold,
- Take some items (blankets, tents, clothing) in order to help those who now call the jungle their home.
- See for ourselves what it is truly like. The media stirs up all sorts and I would recommend going along and seeing with your own eyes before passing judgment either way. (It is worth having a contact on the ground though, it’s not all rainbows and butterflies)
- To encourage the Christians there and get alongside a team (who go in weekly to share the good news of Jesus). All with a view of discovering what can we do to make a difference and help bring hope.
So… we did take some stuff. The people of Redeemer King Church were very generous and we filled up my car with a load of clothing (mainly for men) pots, pans, blankets, chocolates, sleeping bags and tents.
Some of this was distributed to a few Sudanese guys we met, they had a shopping trolley that we filled at the road side.
But for the most part we opened up our boot and people gathered round. There was no violence, anger or even the slightest problem, in fact they were more polite than we are. “Can I please have this?” “Do you have any shoes that will fit me?” At one point I was surrounded by 20 guys from Iran, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea and they all patiently waited their turn, all of them thankful, all of them keen to wrap up warm ahead of winter.
The Jungle – well you drive along a B road out of Calais and it is literally there, by the side of the road. It’s like going from your town to the next with a refugee camp along the side of the road. You take one turn off this B road and you’re in. It is a camp of about 5,000, but growing every day as more and more men, women and children make the perilous journey. It’s slowly developing and loads of French and British people were on the ground cleaning up, building shelters and facilities and generally being helpful. That being said, it’s not a nice place to be. It’s a slum and I can only imagine what conditions will be like as winter takes hold
It is heavily segregated, dependant upon where you have travelled from, and even which tribe you belong too from wthin that country. It was peaceful whilst we were there but empty shotgun casings on the floor and the presence of French riot police tell a different story. We spent most of our time with a group of around 20 blokes from the Darfur region in Sudan. (pictured below)
We sat around in one of their tents as the rain lashed down singing songs, drinking chai (tea) and eating dates. Even though they had travelled thousands of miles, they showed incredible generosity towards us – they have nothing to their own names, yet shared what they had. Very humbling.
Most of them were at the jungle because they were waiting. Waiting for their papers, waiting for a light at the end of a very long tunnel. Most of them wanted asylum in France or elsewhere in mainland Europe and they had each come to better their life – they wanted education or to be reunited with relatives. You can’t blame them, I’m fairly sure we would do exactly the same. And the attraction of Calais? Well it’s not the town… it’s more shabby than chic, it’s where their mates are, so why not wait together?
Mohammed told me about his journey from Darfur, up from Sudan into Libya and the Sahara desert, four days in cars and walking to get on a boat headed for Sicily- absolutely rammed with people- and during the crossing people are falling off left and right and there’s no lifeboats, no search and rescue just abandonment. Then from there up through Italy and onto France- a long way to end up in a slum for what seems an indefinite time period. He had been there 11 months. All he wants is to study and help his family out.
The living conditions are poor, tarps and tents make up the majority, however, thanks to the generosity of volunteers they do have warm clothing.
As for giving them hope, we sat round and talked about Jesus, a Spanish man shared his story and we sang some songs. Week in week out, a team from a local town go in and share the good news with them. There were also two Churches in the Jungle one which was set up by some Pentecostal Ethiopians (Come on!) that had literally just begun.
So how do we make a difference?
Well to be honest, the guys on the ground are doing an amazing job so pray for them, encourage them, support them. If you are reading this in Kent or London, get involved.
You see to really help you need to be in it for the long haul, to be there regularly to invest in relationship, that is more difficult to do from a few hundred miles away. You can end up feeling a bit helpless about it.
However, this crisis is larger than Calais, and that’s where other charities come into play. Helping people in Syria or Iraq or other countries where they are being displaced from is really key, helping those that simply cannot make the journey that many of them have made.
So that’s certainly worth exploring either as individuals or Churches.
My final thoughts from going to Calais are these – we need to change our attitude and approach; to treat people as people; and in the midst of loving people to direct them towards the hope that we have in Jesus.
More often than not we spend all our time with people like us, and as a result we love those like us and struggle with anyone who is different. The call of Christ is to share his love not just with our mates, but with those who are not like us, to love those vastly different. In order to change, we have to be intentional in who we hang out with, be willing to take some risks, to be generous and bless people- even if their lives look so different, we have to be the ones who bring hope by telling them of the saviour of the world. For guys like Mohammed in Calais, asylum in the UK or France will not meet their deepest needs, but meeting Jesus will.