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  • Writer's pictureJoseph Givens

A Taste of the Kingdom in Northern France

“I just want to say thank you,” the man tells us as we eat dinner around our shared table. “Thank you is not enough, but it’s all I can say right now.”

The truth is, “thank you” is more than enough. In fact, it feels like it’s more than I deserve. All I’ve done is be here. All I’ve done is eat the food that you and your wife have prepared. I haven’t even been allowed to wash dishes or sweep the floor, since the dishes and broom are forcibly removed from my hands whenever I start to work.

When this happens I joke, “I know how to use a sponge, you know,” or “I’ve swept a house before.” But you have all insisted. “This is our home, and you are our guests,” you tell us.

What I do is have meetings. I have meetings over coffee. I have meetings over tea. I have meetings in French. I have meetings in English. We meet to discuss how we will handle welcoming families including men. We meet to talk about conflicts that arise and how they should be handled. We talk about you. My wife and I, as well as most of the other volunteers or workers in Calais, can discuss your situation from a place of privilege. After all, we’ll never have to flee our homelands in fear for our lives. I return home to sleep in my warm bed every night. We can talk about you nonchalantly, as if we’re discussing grocery shopping or housework. Sometimes we forget that we’re talking about actual people, human beings created by and loved by God. Father forgive us for our failures.

And yet the things we discuss are important. We can’t possible house every single person in Calais or every family. We can’t house men very long because it lowers the number of women and children we can serve. Even the conflicts are often caused by humans who are under extreme pressure and stress acting out the only way they know how. But we must ensure that our house is safe. Safety and peace are the most important things.

But real life is here. In this house. In these people. From you, I have learned that sometimes sitting and talking with you is more important than cleaning the bathroom. I used to feel guilty about allowing you to do most of the cooking, but now I understand. You like spending time with the other people in the kitchen because it can take your mind off the difficulties facing you. It’s also one of the few things that give you control over part of your life right now. It would be selfish of me to take that away from you. From you I have learned the importance of hospitality and making sure that I always offer coffee or tea and something to eat to my guests. I have also learned the importance of sometimes letting things go undone and just being. It’s OK to enjoy a sunset or listen to the sounds of nature. The things I thought were so important will still be there later.

And so, I should be thanking you. Thank you for helping me find balance between the meetings and responsibilities that constantly call me away and the real life that I live among human beings that God loves. Thank you for reminding me that the people we have meetings about and discuss have names and faces and dreams and desires. Thank you for giving me the wisdom to rise above the political discourse about immigration and realise that you are more than just “that group of people trying to get into our country” and that you are beloved by God.

I want to tell you all of these things, but I can’t even explain them to my wife. So I settle on saying, “You’re welcome.”

Father, forgive us for the times we forget to look for you in the faces and in the hearts of the people seeking refuge in Calais or the United States. Forgive us for otherizing people that you love. Forgive us for not having our hearts open to the lessons you want to teach us through these beautiful and kind humans. Forgive the discourse that harms them. Lead us into understanding and kindness. Help us to

see Jesus in them and be willing to respond. We can do nothing without you.

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