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  • Writer's pictureJoseph Givens

Drowning and the Resurrection

Easter is tomorrow. I thought it would be a good opportunity to share an Easter reflection based on some recent events at the Maria Skobtsova House. These thoughts are fresh on our minds, and they serve to point out the power of the death and resurrection of our Lord.

(I’ve asked for permission to share this story. I’ve changed the names of all vulnerable people involved.) We have been hosting an Iranian family for over a month now. Their coming to MSH was sort of an accident, resulting from a miscommunication between the organisation known as Utopia, the Women’s Centre, and MSH. In the end, we were happy to welcome them: a father, a mother, a preteen year old girl, a young boy, and their toddler. Their toddler is among the most beautiful, friendliest little girls I’ve ever met. The mom, Boran, always says that their baby is a miracle. They are a Christian family who fled Iran to escape persecution a number of years ago, and finally found their way to Calais recently.

Like most of the people in exile in Calais, the family had dreams of moving to the UK. To them, the UK is a sort of “promised land,” where they can be free to practice their new religion and provide a better life for their children. Boran always tells me that they do everything for their children. I believe it. In this couple, I have seen some of the kindest, most loving parenting of my life. Their children love them, and we love their children like they are our own. Unfortunately, the British government doesn’t know them. They’ve never met the people that are affected by their xenophobic policies. They just pass laws that make it ever more difficult for people with legitimate claims for asylum to find refuge in the UK.

Because of the xenophobia, the family and hundreds of others like them are forced to find less-than-safe means to enter the UK. Thus, their nightmarish story begins.

Wednesdays are normally our free day. In France most schools close on Wednesdays and the children have a day off. So Rachel and I have claimed Wednesday as our one completely free day each week. We spent this particular Wednesday buying plants to put outside our house, buying spring coats for the boys, and eating ice cream at the local McDonald’s (I know, I know, but I live here, so I can eat at McDonald’s if I want). Everything was completely normal until around 3:00 in the afternoon. Rachel had gone out to do some grocery shopping. She texted me an article that I’ll share below about people being rescued from a small boat the sank. The ages of the children that were taken to the hospital were similar enough that we thought it might be them.

We had no confirmation that it was them until later, when Boran called the MSH house phone in a panic. She was at the hospital with their baby and she had no idea where her husband and other two children were. Our volunteers, two young women, rushed to the hospital, which is about half an hour from MSH. They asked if I could come stay at the house until they came back. Of course I agreed. The safety and health of our guests is far more important than my free time. I went to the house, and I sat there for a couple hours, worrying about my friends.

The volunteers called me a little later and said that they were at the hospital with an inconsolable Boran and her baby. They couldn’t figure out what happened to Matthew and the other two children, so they tried numerous other things, including going to the police station, but they couldn’t get any information. To make a very long story short, the Women’s Centre went to work and learned the location of the rest of the family.

I drove to the hospital to help pick up the family and a few other people who had been admitted and needed to come back to Calais. When I walked in to the hospital room and saw Boran, I rushed over and gave her a hug, giving her all my love and support in the embrace. The woman was obviously shaken, but relieved that her husband and children had been found. Our volunteers brought them to the hospital, and we loaded into two vehicles to make the trip back to Calais.

I didn’t learn the whole story until the next day. Boran and her older daughter shared their horrifying experience with us after they’d had a good night’s sleep.

On a very cold night, the father, Matthew, and his family took to a small, inflatable boat in an attempt to cross the channel to England. According to their daughter’s recollection, the mood in the boat was at first celebratory. People were eating chocolates and talking excitedly. At one point the boat’s motor died, but Matthew was able to fix it and get it running again. Matthew can fix anything. Shortly after this, the boat, under pressure from being overfilled and having so many people in it exploded. Of the family, only Matthew had a life jacket, and none of them could swim.

Boran was carrying the baby. She felt the baby fall out of her carrier. Boran was holding a rope tightly, trying not to fall in the water.

“When I thought the baby fell in the water, I wanted to let go and drown. I can’t imaging my life without her,” is what she told me. She was letting go of the rope when one of the other women told her, “Look! She’s right here!”

Their older daughter told me that she didn’t have a life jacket, and that she and her brother went underwater. She saw a life jacket floating in the water and miraculously made her way over to clutch it in her arms. From there, she kicked her way over to her father, and she and her brother held onto the life jacket for what seemed like forever. This young girl saved her brother’s life by her quick thinking, something she’ll never forget.

They were in the freezing water for over half an hour, until the rescue boat arrived. The girl told me that when they took her out, she was too tired to move. They tried to do a physical examination of her, but she couldn’t move her arms or legs to help them.

“It took them so long to get a boat ready and come rescue us. Why didn’t they have a boat ready?” She asked me. “It took them five minutes to get a rescue boat ready. In five minutes, my sister could have…”

“I know,” I said, “But you’re safe now.”

There’s much more to the story than can be communicated here. Boran told me, “What would we have done if you hadn’t been here? The only phone number I could remember was the house phone. You are all our family, and we thank you for everything you have done.”

“I believe that we died and were born again in the water.”

Sadly, we know this will not be the last time people will have this experience. The family is safe this time, but the psychological trauma will last the rest of their lives. And yet the British and French governments refuse to take steps to ensure a legal and safe route for people seeking refuge in their borders. How many more women and children must go through this? How many more must “die and be born again?”

This brings me to Easter.

Easter is the time we as Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. In the words of Matthew’s gospel:

“He isn't here! God has raised him to life, just as Jesus said he would. Come, see the place where his body was lying.”

Remember, just a short few days prior, Jesus’ friends had been weeping as he was slain and died on the cross. The dream that they had of a saviour coming to defeat the Romans and cast them out of Israel was dead. Or so it seemed. In the death and resurrection of Christ, we are reminded of the inverted nature of God’s Kingdom, where the poor are rich and the weak are strong. Indeed, “God chose the foolish things of this world to put the wise to shame. He chose the weak things of this world to put the powerful to shame.”

In Boran and her family, God has shown us even further how his Kingdom is backward from what we expect. Jesus was slain and resurrected to demonstrate the power and love of God. In this time of Easter, we are reminded of just how different God’s Kingdom is from what we are expecting. We never expected to see Jesus in this poor family of refugees from Iran, yet they have demonstrated in a powerful way the love of God, even for those that society views as less valuable or unworthy.

Perhaps if we want to see God’s true power and dream for our world, we should look less to institutions, and more to the lowest among us. I have seen, and I believe with all my heart that the space inhabited by the poor and lowly is the place where Jesus’ kingdom dwells in our world.

This family has undergone great difficulty, something most of us in the West cannot and will never have to imagine. In their experience, as Boran says, they were dead and brought back to life. In the death and resurrection of Jesus, those of us who believe are dead to our former selves and brought back to life as a new creation, one that seeks to love God with our whole hearts and love our neighbour as ourselves.

As we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord this Easter, let us remember those at the bottom of the ladder who die every day under oppressive regimes or even in our Western countries where we neglect to consider them the way Jesus demands. Most of all, let us look for the power of the resurrection in the places we often forget and remember the backwards nature of the Kingdom. I’ll leave you with these words, “And anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name, just because you belong to me, will surely be rewarded” (Mark 9:42).

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