On departure from the ferry at Calais one of the first things we saw was this:
These two barbed wire fences are designed to keep refugees from getting onto lorries and boats from Calais to the UK. Further up from this there is a third layer of barbed wire on the floor between the two fences. The site of the old ‘Jungle’ camp, once home to thousands of refugees, now lies beyond these fences. The fences stretch on for a couple of miles by my reckoning. Notice the flood lights, the cold weather, the overcast skies. Later, we saw debris from where people had been living strewn across the side of the road; groups of young men huddled around fires staving off the cold and damp.
I am struck by the vast distance there is between choosing to enter a wilderness space, and being trapped in one. Our passports were checked at the border, and our car searched, but our passage was smooth because we had the “right” passport, because by chance we were born into a situation of relative privilege.
For many of the refugees here, Calais is more of a trap than a wilderness place. The displacement is not chosen, this is not a journey of enlightenment but of fleeing violence and war. It is more like the journey Jesus made as a child when his family fled to Egypt to escape tyrannical King Herod, than it is like Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness as an adult. Most people here are traumatised and desperate to be reunited with family or start a new life in the UK.
Nevertheless, it is a wilderness of sorts. Calais is for many people a bleak place, far from home, cold, and dangerous, where refugees have to trust in the grace of strangers for survival. There is an end-of-the-world type feeling cloaking the whole town, dystopian images never far away, and eerie emptiness created by the absent-presence of people living in hiding from the sight of locals and police.
“…he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him” (Mark 1:13)
On the cross somebody taunts Jesus saying, “save yourself! If you are the son of God, come down from the cross!”. But sometimes people are trapped, like Jesus was. They cannot come down from their crosses, God does not swoop down like superman and make things right, oppressive regimes injure and kill God’s people every day. We have to trust in resurrections of all kinds, even when the world appears irretrievably cloaked in darkness. We have to trust in angels and accidental saints – messengers of light – to minister to us in these wilderness places and we have to pray that when children of God are forced into these spaces, we can become those messengers of light ourselves.
In a prison cell, the mind will latch on to glimmers of light – a smile, a song drifting through the walls. At the end of times, whether literal or metaphorical, the forces of dark and light meet. The cross meets the resurrection. Let us hope that the light shining in the darkness shall not be overcome by the sinister forces at work in Calais. Let us see God with and in those who are trapped by borders, barbed wire, and brutality. Let us pray for resurrection, for forgiveness of those who have taken part in the inhumanity here, and for those who are trapped here to be held in the light.
“In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1: 4-5)