“We’ve come to join!” said the young Iranian as he cheerfully burst into the tiny training room at the Coventry Jesus Centre followed by three other young guys. Somewhat startled, we women (six of us) looked up from our Bibles and hurriedly put out extra chairs for our unexpected arrivals. It was 2014.
What a rich time of learning our augmented Bible class enjoyed for the next few weeks. Energy, enthusiasm as well as seriousness about God’s Word was the hallmark of the group as we sat down together each week to read, to learn – and these four young men were never afraid to invite their friends along too.
Our four young men went through the usual asylum process and all four, in their turn, received a ‘yes’ from the Home Office, being given ‘Leave to Remain’. A few weeks later, all but one, left Coventry to go where they could find greater opportunities to live and work.
I was so disappointed: I had so wanted them to stay around our church, some perhaps to become future leaders amongst us. Such warm young men, with huge personal qualities and a love for Jesus are worth their weight in gold in any church.
This scenario, a welcome and a sad goodbye, has been repeated many times and has led me to rethink: ‘Just what am I doing?’ and, ‘What is God saying?’
I have had to undergo a process of learning to view people that come amongst us in a very different way. I realised that I, we, often unconsciously, look at people and think: ‘how useful can they be to us, to our scene?’
So, what have I learned?
Firstly, Jesus told us to love and, inputting people in every way we can, is part of that: we are involved in other’s lives, other’s traumas; we even become ‘family’ to them– for a while at least. With the same generous love that is required for all this, we have to unreservedly bless them on their way and let them go.
Secondly, it has dawned on me that the kingdom of God is as wide as the universe. Our input is not wasted when people take their blossoming gifts elsewhere; just because we don’t personally benefit from people’s growth into Christian maturity, doesn’t mean it’s wasted. Somewhere, some people will benefit. In God’s economy, nothing is wasted. Our lives, our particular church, are just a tiny part of God’s vast eternal master plan.
Thirdly, I have slowly realised that having a wide-lensed vision for people (how important!) is different from having ‘an agenda’ which, albeit unconsciously, is inspired by their usefulness and involvement with me, with us.
I continue with our Jesus Centre Bible study and many have come and gone. In July this year I have begun a new initiative; we start together and divide into three groups – each led by three trainee leaders. They will lead for eight weeks and then, hopefully, another three will step in. I give feedback; they have a weekly self-assessment sheet. The vision is for them to grow in leadership, for everyone else to support (an important skill in itself) and for us all to learn! This may not be of any lasting benefit to our church – but there is vision – our trainees will take the skills learned somewhere in God’s kingdom to others hungry for God’s Word. I find this really exciting.
Strangely enough, in recent months, there has been a growing trend amongst our asylum seekers to choose to stay with us once they have Leave to Remain. Whatever, we still want to continue to hold people lightly, to love and have vision for them – but not an unconscious self-propelled agenda – and, when necessary, bless them as they leave.