A reflection Luke 22: 24-30
“I am among you as one who serves,” said Jesus, and “You are those who have stood by me in my trials”
They seem unconnected don’t they? And yet when I think about my recent trip to Bulgaria, to take 4 Syrian refugee children to a safe place, those two sentences could sum up much of what that trip was about.
Let’s look at the first sentence; “I am among you as one who serves”
People who serve provide a service to other people, and for those receiving the service, it’s often necessary to wait.
If we are being served, we wait for the shop assistant, or we wait for our food to come to our table, we wait for the service that we need.
Just a few weeks ago, a lady came to Sanctus, our Wednesday morning drop in at St Mark’s church for asylum seekers and refugees.
She is a refugee from Syria, whose husband was killed in the violence and bloodletting that is rampant in that country and in so many others.
She and her 5 children, aged 3 to 15 fled into Turkey, and through Turkey into Bulgaria.
On arrival in Bulgaria, they were put into the Harmanli refugee camp. Harmanli hit the news when Amnesty International reported on the camp in 2013, and found “deplorable conditions…people held in metal containers, tents and a dilapidated building…[without] access to basic necessities such as proper food, shelter and sanitation.“
Amnesty interviewed a woman who was six months pregnant. She had not eaten for two days and had to sleep on a mattress on the floor. A Syrian man seeking asylum told them “if you have money, you get out. Otherwise you stay here”.
In horrendous conditions, no way of working and hostility from local people, This lady got her family out, paying traffickers to bring them into the UK.
The family were separated, as happens so often. The traffickers that she had paid, her only hope of safety, promised to bring the older children separately, but they lied and took her money.
She found herself here in the UK with only her youngest child, penniless, and desperately worried about her other 4 children.
She doesn’t speak English, only Arabic, and I don’t speak Arabic, only English, so our communication was challenging.
And yet, with the help of other refugees at the drop in and a translation application on my iphone, she was able to tell me her story.
This woman and her story touched my heart.
But it wasn’t the words that spoke the most powerfully to me, it was her face. It was the anguish in her eyes as she spoke about her children, alone and hungry in a country that has many thousands of refugees but no support system for them.
I saw a mothers broken and desperate heart, and as I did, the mother heart of God began to stir in me. I knew that I had to serve this woman, I knew that I could be the person to help meet this woman’s need.
This was my purpose, this is why I’m here in this city, to serve the kingdom of God by serving the people that come my way, and this is why you’re here too.
We often make the mistake of thinking that the vicar is here to serve the Christians who come to church, and I’m sorry if this disappoints some you, but nothing is further from the truth.
I am here to serve the broken and lost in our community and in our world, and to encourage, train and equip you to do that with me. Because that is the purpose of the Church, that is what we are here for together.
And if the suffering of the millions of people around the world that we are faced with, every time we turn on the TV and every time we read a newspaper doesn’t cause us to cry out to God for them together, we have a serious identity crisis.
Because this is who we are, this is why we’re here, this is our purpose. If our hearts are beating with the rhythm of the heartbeat of Christ, we will be stirred within ourselves when his Spirit is stirred.
I could have ignored that stirring, I could have said that the needs in this world are so great and I’m so little that I can’t make a difference.
And yet the mother heart of God was pulling at me, her pain had become my pain, and those children had become my children.
Through divine providence, I have several Christian friends in Bulgaria. And through the wonders of modern technology I was able to contact one of them immediately via facebook.
One conversation led to another, and one contact to another, and so through my friends contacts, who is a methodist minister, we were able to locate the children in a town called Haskovo, near to the borders with Greece and Turkey, and supply them with food.
All this within 24 hours! That was a miracle in itself.
The children were together, though not in a safe place.
Another of my friends, is an English lady name Carol. Carol lives in a small village called Kotlentsi in Bulgaria, where God has called her to serve the Roma community.
3 years ago I took a group of 16 year olds out to take part in a kids holiday mission organised by Carol, and we stayed with her in her house.
When Carol heard about this families plight, she felt that stirring in her heart too, and she knew that she could do something about it. She offered to take in the children.
And so during the 2nd week of my annual leave, I flew to Bulgaria, along with Vanessa who helps to run the Sanctus drop in. We were met at the airport by another Christian friend Gary, who drove us to find the children.
When we eventually found the right door to knock on, it was opened by 15 year old Adad. I said “Hello Adad, I’m Sally, and this is Vanessa and we are from England”
Adad looked into my eyes and just said “We wait”
Just that “We wait”
We’ve seen people waiting haven’t we? Waiting on mountains, waiting in churches, waiting in makeshift camps, just waiting for someone to come and help them, and for many of those people they have waited in vain.
They have been slaughtered before anyone came to help them. And so I cannot even begin to tell you the tremendous sense of privilege and thankfulness I felt as I looked at that boy, heard those words, and realised that God was using me to serve this family.
These children were waiting for someone to help them, and simply because the church door was open to welcome refugees, I had been given the privilege of serving those who wait.
The children trusted us enough to get into the car with us, and six hours later we had reached the safe warm welcome of Carol’s kitchen table in Kotlentsi.
She had prepared a little welcome gift bag for each one of them, with toiletries, sweets and other gifts, and left it on their pillows.
And I won’t ever forget the look on 11 year old Ishtar’s face, as she sat on the edge of her bed, and it dawned on her, that tonight she would sleep in a soft, warm and safe bed.
These are the things that really matter, and these are the things that God cares about.
We’ve somehow been seduced into thinking that God cares about the style of music in our corporate worship, whether the prayers are said from a book or made up as we go along, whether the priests wear vestments or his or her own clothes.
But you know, I don’t think God cares about any of that stuff anywhere as much as he cares about a little Syrian refugee girl being able to sleep in a soft, warm and safe bed with her brothers and sister.
And God cares deeply about the mother who is far from home, far from her children and who has a heavy breaking heart.
God cares deeply about the hundreds of thousands of people who are fleeing for their lives, or simply waiting, waiting for help, or waiting to be slaughtered
And that brings me to the second sentence that I want to mention:
Jesus said to his disciples “You are those who have stood by me in my trials”
How do we do that? We stand by Christ in his trials when we stand beside the suffering people of the world.
The Christians of the middle East are undergoing a fiery trial.
The spirit of anti Christ has inhabited the hearts of those who have given themselves over to evil, and their passions have been given over to the desire to obliterate millions of people around the world.
And so we have a choice to make. Do we choose to look the other way, and carry on trying to make ourselves comfortable, in the belief that we are safe and that can never happen to us.
Or do we choose to open not only our eyes, but also our hearts? Do we choose to believe that because we are the church of Jesus Christ this is our responsibility, this is our calling.
William Wilberforce, a politician of tremendous integrity and faith, said in his fight against the evil of his day, his fight against slavery;
“You can choose to look the other way, but you can never again say that you did not know”.
We are those, along with his first disciples, who Jesus was talking to when he said “You are the ones who have stood by my during my trials”. And if we believe that, we have a job to do.
And for each one of us, the task that God is calling us to do will be different, but together as the Church of Jesus Christ we can join hands across the world and we can make a difference.
We can open our church doors, we can open our eyes and ears, we can open our hearts, and we can listen and respond to the stirring of the heart of God.
My journey started by listening to a woman’s story and then sending a FB message to a friend. Carol chose not to look away, but to open the door of her home. Gary chose to drive hundreds of miles across Bulgaria. Many of you and so many others have given me money to meet this families needs.
Together we were able to help. Their story is not yet complete, the story of the people of God is not yet complete and we are intimately involved in the way that story will unfold, but we do know that the end of the story will be glorious.
Listen to how Jesus describes the completion of the story; “I confer on you, just as my Father has conferred on me, a kingdom, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel”
I think I could cope with that! Could you?