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26 April 2016

Thank God for the Church – in all its diversity

With a UK referendum on it's future in the European Union now just weeks away, Europe is facing perhaps it's greatest crisis since the Second World War. The crisis of the Euro seems to have been dwarfed by events taking place on Europe's south eastern border, as hundreds of thousands of men, women and children cross land and sea in the hope of establishing new homes in Europe. When the photo of three-year-old Ayln Kurdi washed up in a Turkish beach hit the headlines last summer, suddenly the crisis had a face. A humanitarian response was needed. While nation states, NGOs and faith communities have made their response, it all seems inadequate when we're faced with the sheer scale of the problem.

Worldwide, 60 million people are classified as displaced, a large percentage of whom would love to make a home in Berlin, Stockholm or London. The international institutions, most notably the United Nations and the European Union, have proved to be ill-equipped to respond to the crisis.

Few seem willing to grapple with macro-international issues that are being raised. Relatively poor countries such as Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey are carrying the responsibility for a disproportionate number of refugees, while the long-term future of nations such as Iraq, Syria, Libya and Afghanistan is seriously undermined with so many people, often the professionals, establishing homes elsewhere.

Against this backdrop, late last year, a small event took place organised by the One People Commission of the Evangelical Alliance. Around 160 people gathered on HMS president, moored on the Thames beside the London Embankment. As I looked back onthe evening, I realised I had never been at an event with a greater diversity of church backgrounds, age and ethnicity. The evening was amazing, with the focus on the Building Tomorrow's Church report, commissioned by the One People Commission. The report explored the views and experiences of young adults in the UK Church. It was a great evening with wonderful contributions. As I looked around the room, I realised that this was just a small snapshot of the future of the Church here in the UK, a Church of incredible diversity. We estimate 20-25 per cent of the evangelical Church in the UK are from migrant communities. That evening on the boat, alongside white Anglo- Saxons and Celts, were young adults and leaders from Africa, the Caribbean, China, South East Asia, Korea and South America. 

A gathering of the Evangelical Alliance in 2010 resulted in the formation of the One People Commission. Bishop Wilton Powell, from the Church of God of Prophecy, and Pastor Agu Irukwu, from the Redeemed Christian Church of God, challenged the Evangelical Alliance Council. If we were serious about 'unity' it had to be a unity that crossed all ethnic divides. At the conclusion of their presentation, the Council knelt in prayerful response and within a few months, conversations were beginning to take place, out of which, the One People Commission was formed. For me, the last five years have seen me personally establish friendships with a wonderful cross-section of leaders from the migrant Church. Pastor Yemi Adedeji, the director of the One People Commission, has guided and at times, challenged me – and also us as an Alliance – as we seek to build relationships and be genuinely shaped and influenced by the Church across all ethnicities. The appointment of Dr Tani Omideyi as our new chair of Board is yet another statement of the journey God has taken us on. 

A few weeks ago, Pastor Yemi and myself attended the annual gathering of the Korean Churches Association. Our purpose was to welcome the network into membership, but as we met with Korean leaders from across the UK, I was again struck by the richness of the worldwide Church of Jesus Christ. We really are family, but with an incredible diversity of styles and cultures. This is unity in the midst of extraordinary diversity. There has been so much for me to learn, but I'm enriched by the process. This really is the family of God, we really are brothers and sisters in Christ. So, let's be aware as we consider and pray for the way that the migrant crisis is playing out across Europe - that some of those men, women and children are also part of our family and indeed all of them share a common humanity with us. And let's pray for good, strong, clear decisions to be made by the international community that will provide both short-term humanitarian care, but also point the way towards long term sustainable solutions.

Home for Good's response to the refugee crisis
"Home for Good works throughout the UK with the aim of seeing every child currently in the care system placed in loving homes. When the UK government said it would bring in vulnerable Syrian refugees to the country, Home for Good saw there would be a need for families to welcome unaccompanied children into their homes. They have been working with local authorities and central government to make sure that as children come into the country there are foster carers to welcome them."



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