Joseph and Rachel Givens have served at Maria Skobtsova House in Calais, France, through Mennonite Mission Network, since 2022. They accompany volunteers who provide hospitality for migrants, who pass through France, seeking refuge in the United Kingdom.
This Christmas Eve, I sat at the dining room table at Maria Skobtsova House in Calais, France. This is a home that offers temporary shelter to migrants seeking refuge on their way to the United Kingdom. People from four countries surrounded me, communicating in their common language, Arabic. The women of the house, and one of the men, were hard at work preparing food for our Christmas party. There were dishes from Ethiopia, France, Iraq, Syria and the United States. Some of the women sat at the table with me, rolling grape leaves that would later be cooked and used as an appetizer. Other women were in the kitchen preparing injera, an Ethiopian flatbread. The mood was joyous.
One of our former volunteers, a young woman from Denmark, purchased small gifts with donations from her friends and family. She created a beautiful Advent calendar in the form of a basket holding wrapped gifts. At dinner each night, one guest's name was drawn from a hat, and that person got to open a gift from the basket. The guests joyfully unwrapped the packages and displayed their contents to everyone — chocolates, decorations or crafts.
None of our guests would traditionally celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25. Many of them come from Islamic backgrounds and, thus, have no religious ties to Christmas. Some are Ethiopian Orthodox Christians, which means their Christmas celebration usually takes place Jan. 7. However, since they came to a house that is largely staffed by Western Christians, they chose to join us in our Christmas celebrations.
It is the same with our daily prayer times. No one is ever required to join us, but many of the guests choose to do so. In these prayer times, we sing songs in various languages, read the Bible and pray. These times are a beautiful reminder and celebration of the universal nature of the church and of the God we serve. This also opens channels of communication between us and some of our guests from other faiths, many of whom have never been a part of a Christian prayer before. While the house's primary mission is offering sanctuary and hospitality, rather than evangelism, there have been several guests who have chosen to convert to Christianity after spending time here. I believe this illustrates the power that genuine, unconditional love in the name of Jesus can have on people.
So let us remember the power that Jesus shares with us, as we seek to follow his commands to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves. We are part of a beautifully diverse community. This shouldn't scare us. Instead, it should drive us to seek opportunities to love those who are different from us, in real, tangible ways. The power of Jesus' love is beyond our imagining.