By Monica Stringer from Folkestone
A group of Kent Christians went to Calais with the aim of reaching out to the migrants
3 October, 2015
As we approached the sandy dirt road entrance to the jungle we had to pick our way through the rubbish which had been dumped right by the entrance. Right next to it were the first makeshift tents where some of the Eritreans camp. Each of the different nationalities stick together and the different ethnic groups do not always get on. A large number of the migrants from Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and Syria are Muslims but there are Christians too who mostly come from Ethiopia and Eritrea.
Seven of us had come on a day trip from the UK and were joined by three other Christians living in France. We had been delayed on the ferry crossing because the tunnel in Folkestone was closed due to 100+ migrants who had stormed the tunnel the previous evening causing extra traffic on the ferries.. We also spotted some groups of Muslims on the ferry coming from the UK – Nuneaton, London and other places were coming to support the migrants. As a group of Christians mostly from churches in Kent, we were coming to share the Gospel and give out literature so some of the UK Muslims got it too!
I had brought my guitar which always attracted attention. We sang simple Christian choruses which brought smiles to the faces of the migrants. Some of them wanted to try out the guitar for themselves although none knew how to play it. We conversed with the migrants, showing interest in them and offering literature. We had one of the Gospels in four languages – Arabic, Farsi, French and English. We also gave out some clothes, food and tea as we went along. The greatest need seem to be for shoes as many of the migrants arrive in flip-flops from warmer countries. Some were wearing shoes that were very obviously too small for them but we didn’t have shoes with us.
We came across a group who were charging their mobile phones at an electrical point. Even ‘shops’ have sprung up of a shack variety that you find in a third world country reminiscent of India and such places. This jungle is vast and very unlike any previous much smaller ones that were in Calais. About 4,000 migrants live here. Some are seeking asylum in France but many still risk their lives to get to England illegally on trains or lorries. As a consequence of jumping on or off lorries, there are accidents such as broken limbs and a few can be seen limping around with crutches.
There are some women too although the majority are young men. Sadly, there are even a few children. One ten year old boy from Afghanistan who was very taken with my guitar said that his parents were in England and that he was alone although I wasn’t sure whether to believe his story. He couldn’t have come all the way from Afghanistan alone.
Wherever we went, there were always those willing to stop and talk, join in the songs and take some literature, food and clothes. A French Christian who was with us found someone who spoke French and who was very touched by the Gospel message and she prayed for him. We found an Eritrean group who invited us into their ‘camp’ and they were Christians. They joined in the songs with us about Jesus and invited us to eat their simple food of pasta and beans and even to sit down on some plastic chairs. We felt very welcomed and gave them some clothes and literature. One man was so delighted with his new coat that he willingly posed for a photo!
When we eventually left the camp we noticed a line of cars parked outside waiting to deliver food and clothes. These were all people who had come from England to deliver supplies. We were amazed to see so many but they were not allowed into the camp so we directed them to a depot where food and clothes are collected. It is good to see a demonstration of such compassion but there needs to be more co-ordination of the efforts to help the migrants. There were many visitors in the camp itself including reporters.
This is a mission field on our doorstep and it is good to see more people including Christians reaching out to the migrants but there is a huge work to do and the needs both physical and spiritual are very great. As Christians we need to make the most of this opportunity we have to show love and share the Gospel. Many are open to hear it if we are willing to go and tell them.