Under a blazing sun, surrounded by shacks, caravans, tents and cobbled-together shelters, we found it hard to believe that we were still in France. It felt more like being in Africa or Asia, crossing over from one continent to another in the space of a few minutes. On the surface, nothing is lacking: sections organised by country of origin, clothes shops, restaurants, schools; except that all is makeshift, built from planks and plastic.
Welcome to the Calais Jungle, buzzing with activity and where you are constantly crossing paths with refugees, volunteers and riot police: the home of misery and hope, poverty and generosity, life and death.
Enter our OM team, ten or so participants spending a week working alongside the Saint Omer church, an assembly regularly involved in the Calais refugee camp.
After times of worship and training in the mornings, off we went to the camp to meet up with and bring some help and hope to these people, so precious in the eyes of God
The fear we felt on the first day soon disappeared when we were confronted with the friendliness and generosity of the large majority of refugees in the camp. Such is our upside-down world. We were there to welcome them. They gave us food to eat. We were there to give them clothes and shoes. They welcomed us into their lives. Speaking several eastern languages, some members of our team were able to make friends with refugees from Sudan, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Syria. Others helped out in the unofficial school, working in small groups and teaching French or English. Transferring our handy multi-lingual Bible recordings via Bluetooth, we were able to leave them with the most important message of hope ever: Jesus saves!
For of course our lives can hang upon many different hopes and aspirations! Crossing over the English channel to find Eldorado. Having residency papers in order, getting refugee status, seeing family and children once again. And of course, how difficult it is not to focus on such fundamental desires, and then realise at the same time just how insignificant and unimportant our own worries really are. Let us pray that Jesus becomes their greatest hope! And in order to share that hope: «Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; Where there is despair, hope; Where there is darkness, light; Where there is sadness, joy.” (From the prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi)
Simon Yeomans, OM France field leader.