Sunday 22 October 2017

Sermon for Sunday 22nd October 2017 - God's Provision Not Direct Provision!

Sermon 2 for Sunday 22nd October 2017
"My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest" - Our Lesson reading from Exodus Chapter 33 this morning - The Lord is speaking to Moses and reassuring him of his ongoing commitment to his people who are wandering refugees in that in between place where there is no sense of home or security or safety.
          I wasn't actually going to preach on the Old Testament today but something happened to me yesterday that changed all that.  I wasn't expecting it - but it happened and it rendered what I had prepared to say today completely superficial and shallow and I had no choice but to start again.
          I was attending a conference called RUBICON (click here for more info) organised by the Rector of Rathmines and Harolds Cross Rob Jones and Greg Fromholtz who is the coordinator of our diocesan young adults ministry. The venue was The Sugar Club on Leeson Street.  It was a very varied and stimulating programme which featured among other things a panel discussion on the Refugee Crisis and Direct Provision in Ireland - Among the contributors to the panel were representatives of Oxfam, Christian Aid,  Jesuit Refugee services and the Department of Justice.
However, and with no disrespect to the other panellists the most moving and powerful contribution came from Thiru Guru a refugee from Sri Lanka who shared his heartbreaking story with us both in a compelling narrative and also in poetry which quite honestly reduced many of us (myself included) to tears. The most tragic part of his story was that his pain didn't end when he got to our shores but that it had only begun as he got sucked into the inhumane and soul-destroying reality of Direct Provision which robs people of any sense of purpose and their lives of any meaning. He talked of a barbaric regime where supervisors in these centres told the refugees that they were lucky to have shelter and food and met dissent with a transfer to another centre where they knew nobody and had to begin again. He could not work - he could not choose or cook his own food - he had no space that was his own
- he was in a room with a Christian, a Hindu, a Bhuddist and a Muslim and no account was taken of their various religious needs  and he was still dealing with grief and trauma that he had experienced before he arrived in Ireland. He was a professional - a prominent journalist and as the years went by and forbidden to work his skills declined and he could no longer even spell properly. In a poem which he had written himself he talked about himself as a bird that had forgotten how to fly. Direct Provision had robbed him of who he was and what he could contribute to our world.
          And it wasn't just him - he talked of the men he shared a room with year after year and how they were good men who wanted the best for their families but as time went on they changed - they were changed by the hell that they were living in and became bad men - fighting, turning to drugs and crime - their lives destroyed - no going back. 
          In the same panel discussion the representative from the Dept of Justice who seemed to be a genuinely good person trying to do the right thing (against all odds) still introduced herself with the disclaimer that she had no role in making the policy on Direct provision - She knew that we have created a system of cruel and continuing dehumanisation and we all share responsibility as citizens of this state. There is no future in the blame game - It is time to put an end to this barbaric policy.
          Many have said it and after yesterday I am convinced that it is true  that Direct Provision will be seen by generations to come as the Magdalene Laundries of our time, and maybe even worse. It is hard to convey just how horrific Thiru Guru's account was - but out of all the hurt that we as a nation had added to he was able to respond with the most beautiful and yet heartbreaking poetry in which he spoke of his sense of loss and bereavement which was to our shame only added to by his experience in this land of ours.
Later on in the day we listened to an inteview with Ellie Kisyombe, an incredibly passionate and engaging young woman who is an activist and the founder of Our Table, a community-driven, non-profit project aiming to highlight the need to end Direct Provision in Ireland.  Their goal is to facilitate change through conversation over food. Their pop-up café in Temple Bar is a first step towards a permanent Our Table restaurant. It provides paid employment, training and links to future employment for people previously in Direct Provision, as well as information for those still living within the system.  Elie is a refugee from Malawi where her family were involved in politics at the highest level and was forced to flee when her father and uncle were assassinated.
She became an activist and by her own admission was full of anger but somehow managed to change this into a force for good despite the additional abuse of living for almost a decade in direct provision. She is determined to build a successful business on this island and I believe that she will succeed but  she also points out that if our current Taoiseach's father was treated as badly as she has been by our nation then it is unlikely that Leo Varadaker would be our Taoiseach - It was not a party political statement but rather an observation as to how we welcome the stranger in our midst. Ireland of the welcomes it seems is a dim and distant memory and that should matter to us as Church who follow one who welcomed all to himself.
These Refugees are the modern day children of Israel - of all faiths and none but from our perspective surely all children of God. We are called to be more than spectators in this - We are called to be present to these people in real and genuine acts of welcome so that they too can experience God's care and protection and make those words of our lord to Moses a present reality:
"My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest"
The current Refugee Crisis is the greatest challenge our church and our country  faces in the present age. Our Lord himself was incarnate in this world as a refugee - If we cannot respond in a meaningful way to the current refugee situation in our world then we may very well forfeit the right to call ourselves Christian - It doesn't get any more serious than that! That is where we are today - how will we respond?




2 comments:

Cromdubh said...

thank you for sharing that experience.
My first contact with direct provision was when a Ukranian girl got some unbelievable number of points in the Leaving Certificate just some years back.
This despite studying in a room shared by others of her family; in a photograph the largest book was a dictionary in the Cyryllic alphabet.
The response from officialdom was a deafening silence. Three politicians from my political party didn't even reply to me.
It was as if the feeling was "How dare she. She was not supposed to do anything like that in DP!"
Luckily, the cards fell her way. I hope she has continued to do well.
One phrase used by the more senior politician was "No public money will be spent on her".
What would have happened if it was?
Would the streets be filled with Neo-Nazis baying for blood? I don't think so!
It would appear that a phobia against 'others' exists at the highest levels in the relevant agencies and will not dissipate any time soon

Póló said...

This system is torture by another name. Part of the problem is that it has been hidden from the general public for years so there has been no general sense of outrage and no traction in the political system.

Ballyhaunis should have educated the nation about reception of immigrants & refugees. The first wave came to work for Halal Meats and are integrated into the community. The second wave came in Direct Provision and are slowly dying, despite the best efforts of some individuals and organisations in the community to involve them locally.

The problem is not rejection by the locals, quite the reverse. It is a shameful national policy which dehumanises those who come in contact with it.

Thank you for this post.