​Commemoraction is held February 6 each year in several locations around Europe to commemorate the Tarajal Massacre of 2014. This one was held at Parc Richelieu in central Calais, France, with 100 + people present, including some of the women from Maria Skobtsova House. As part of the ceremony, the names, ages, and nationalities of every person who's died at this border since last February were read aloud. Photo by Joseph Givens.

By Joseph Givens
Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Joseph and Rachel Givens accompany volunteers at the Maria Skobtsova Housing Association and wider community in Calais, France. The Association offers temporary shelter to migrants from Africa and the Middle East, primarily, who are seeking refuge en route to England. 

Learn more about the Givens family and their assignment on their YouTube channel or follow them on Facebook

 

 

In early February, I went to a commemoration, or a “Commemoraction,” as it is referred to here. It was a time to remember the many people who have died trying to leave France and get into the United Kingdom (UK) since last year’s Commemoraction. It was a somber moment, where the names of the dead were read aloud, and we spent some time in reflection and prayer. There were Arabic, English, and French speakers present, and they all had a chance to share.

Earlier this year, a 14-year-old boy drowned in the ocean. The BBC wrote an article about it that you can read here. I’ll be honest: I haven’t read the article. I can’t. For me, it strikes too close to home, too close to my heart. I can barely stand to think about it. Because when I do, I imagine the teenagers that I have known and grown to love since I’ve been in Calais. I imagine them in that same situation, and I can’t handle those thoughts. Thankfully, it hasn’t happened to anyone I know yet. But it could happen, and that is too much for my heart to bear.

And it seems like we hear these reports every week. Another person has died on the ocean/hit by a train/by electrocution/etc. The stories just won’t stop coming. And I know that it is only a matter of time before someone I personally love is killed at this border. Certainly, I know each life is equally valuable, but it’s easy to remain detached when they aren’t people I know and cherish. Someday it won’t be possible to remain detached because I will read about someone I care about in one of the articles. Those thoughts keep me awake some nights.

And yet it won’t end. It won’t end until the governments of Europe and the UK create some kind of legal and safe route for asylum seekers to cross. There is not an incentive to do so now, however, because when troubles arise, it’s easier to have someone helpless to blame than to address the issues that affect the average person. Immigrants and refugees have been scapegoats for societal ills throughout history, and the scapegoating won’t stop anytime soon, either in Europe or in North America.

And so, we wait. We wait for another death at the border, another report of harassment by the police, another report of a far-right politician gaining support by demonizing and otherizing the most vulnerable members of society.

But we don’t wait idly. While we wait, we provide safe and welcoming spaces and places of rest for these same vulnerable people. We serve them and allow ourselves to be served by them. We let ourselves be broken and feel the pain and suffering of the hungry child and the teenage boy lost at sea. We rejoice in each day we spend loving these same people. And we fight. We fight the powers that have caused all this unnecessary suffering, and we call them out. We march on city halls, cathedrals, and government offices, angry and heartbroken.

And we pray. We trust in the God who holds the universe. We seek to bring God’s Kingdom to life around us. We look for where it’s already here. And we seek glimpses of the life that is ours in Christ.

Updates

  • We’re preparing for our North American Ministry (NAM) in the USA this summer. We likely won’t be able to visit everyone we’d like. The plan is to take some time to rest and to visit some of our supporting churches.

  • Our first Mission Network SOOP (Service Opportunities with our Partners) volunteer has just left, and we have two others coming at the end of March. It’s the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

Take action

  • There have been many deaths at the UK/France border over the last few months. Pray for the families of those involved and pray that governments provide legal and safe routes to the UK for people seeking asylum.

  • Pray for Maria Skobtsova House, as it’s been very full over the last few months, and volunteers feel fatigued.

  • Volunteer through SOOP at the Maria Skobtsova House.

  • Your donation, no matter the size, will make a tangible difference in the support the Givens can offer refugees at this critical time.

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​​Joseph and Rachel Givens, with their children, Micaiah and Elijah accompany volunteers with the Maria Skobtsova Housing Association and wider community in Calais, France.

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