Whatever your personal politics, you have to be horrified by the things that we are seeing happening in the Mediterranean as women fight to keep their babies heads above water. Or the terrible stories of murder and mayhem on streets which people used to walk down every day just to shop and to carry on with life. Even this week we have all probably imagined the horror of over 70 people fighting in vain for life in the back of a sealed lorry, watching as their loved ones succumbed to suffocation.
Yet sometimes something lodges itself in your head above and beyond all else. It's not a graphic photograph - not compared to some of the stuff that is out there at the moment. The origin of this photo is uncertain; wiser people than me think this lady and child may be Christians holding their names up to be sold as slaves or possibly to be exchanged for a ransom from their family. (SOLD AS SLAVES - this disgusting phrase - in this century!) The thing that struck me hardest was that the paper has her name on it and the translation of her name is Susan. It's such a normal, ordinary name. It was a very popular name when I was young. I know lots of Susans. She's just a lady - with a child and I cannot get the look of hopelessness and resignation on her face out of my head. She could be me. She has had her life snatched away in the midst of unfathomable wickedness and she is just a mum, like me or maybe like you. She is a person, not a statistic and she puts me to shame.
I am ashamed of my government for confusing the words refugee and migrant so that desperate people, who are running to save their families' lives are portrayed as people coming here because it might be easier to get a council house. I am ashamed because this government agreed to take a certain amount of refugees and seems to now be reneging in that agreement because it wasn't playing well at the General Election.
I am ashamed that this subject isn't front-row-centre of the Christian church's agenda at the moment. If they cannot expect help and mobilisation from us, then where are they going to get it? I am ashamed because my response is falling so short of what God requires. I don't think anyone should think for one moment this whole thing is about religion. It's about what most things are about - the powerful and strong taking advantage of the weak and the weak minded to increase their power base. It has no connection to any kind of faith.
It is overwhelming. What are we supposed to do? A few suggestions.
- Pray. Pray for refugees as they are - people - individuals, men women and children. Pray for a solution.
- Talk the talk. Try and stand up for what is right. I am not talking about hiring a megaphone and standing on a plinth in the market square. But, if I had a fiver for every time I have heard someone say - "Well - with the best will in the world we can't take everybody" No-one is asking anyone to take everybody. These people are not getting into dinghies because they have heard that our National Health Service is a hum-dinger. They are coming because people are being killed in the streets. We should maybe just try, gently to point out that you can't believe everything you read in the papers.
- Think about parting with some dosh. People are out there helping at the pointy end - they could do with some support. I don't suppose any of it will help much but as I see Susan's child cling to her for dear life - I just think we have to do something.