DAYTON, Virginia (Mennonite Mission Network) — Behind hundreds of people lined up behind a van waiting for food, makeshift tents stretched for miles. This sight on her first visit to Camp de la Lande in the summer of 2015 left Juliet Kilpin in a state of shock.
The migrant and refugee camp, located on a former dump near Calais, France, housed about 3,000 people at the time. They waited for an opportunity to cross the English Channel at its narrowest point (21 miles) into the United Kingdom.
"I couldn't believe that this was happening on our border," Kilpin said. "People were visibly sick with sores all over their faces and on their hands. There were countless children sitting by themselves in the dirt with nothing to eat."
How does the gospel of Jesus Christ relate in such a situation? Kilpin wondered. After she returned home to London, United Kingdom, she knew she had to become involved.
"There was something about witnessing it," she said. "We are not called to turn away from those who are suffering. Jesus calls us to journey with people, to love our neighbors as ourselves."
The more time Kilpin spent at the Calais camp, the more she saw a need for peacemaking. Before the French government demolished the camp in October 2016, an estimated 10,000 people lived there.
"Asylum seekers and refugees from all different corners of the world with different languages, different cultures, and different religions were all thrown together in this space," Kilpin said.
She began thinking about different ways of doing church that were more diverse and inclusive. It was in that moment that Kilpin sensed the call of God to move out in faith and establish Peaceful Borders.
The organization started out as a grassroots ministry grounded in the values of Anabaptist and practical theology. It supports new arrivals to the United Kingdom through helping refugee and migrant community leaders build their capacity to create peaceful communities.
"I see Jesus as a real peacemaker and that has definitely shaped what I do and how I view missions," Kilpin said.
Kilpin's Anabaptist values of peace, justice, and service eventually connected her to Mennonite Mission Network. The partnership has been rewarding, she said.
"Mission Network understands our mission and the agency has been flexible concerning the fluidity of the needs of the community," Kilpin said.
Through the support of Mission Network, Peaceful Borders has provided mentoring, training, and support programs. They include Hopetowns and the Solidarity and Support Network, both led by migrant community leaders.
Previously, Kilpin worked at Urban Expression with Anabaptist leader, Stuart Murray Williams. She was drawn to places where many others were afraid to witness, places where the violence of poverty threatened to crush the human spirit and drain all hope out of the human heart.
"My philosophy of missions has always been that we go to meet the God who's already there, rather than to take God with us," Kilpin said. "I believe that our responsibility is to go find out what God is doing, join in with it, and try to enhance the work of God."
Doing the work of God in Camp de la Lande has not been an easy mission for Kilpin. She experienced vicarious trauma, secondary trauma, and direct trauma. She remembers when the police attacked with tear gas and guns pointed at the crowd. She listens to those who tell about an uncle's beheading, or the moment a bomb hit their house, or the capsizing of a boat that sank in the Mediterranean. With some 1,000 people onboard, only 200 survived.
"The asylum seekers and refugees that I work with are people with joys, sorrows, hopes and fears, just like anybody else," Kilpin said. "They have welcomed me into their lives."
She has learned from them to have a community-orientation, rather than to focus on individuals.
"Everything has been taken away from them," she said. "They've learned to be patient and to take joy in the small things. They value life and they value humanity. They've seen the fragility of life. This has given them strength and resilience. Serving them gives me strength and resilience, as well."
Kilpin finds joy in welcoming those who have been granted entry into the United Kingdom and, later, visiting them in their homes as they build a new life for themselves.
"I have always wanted to be someone who made a difference," Kilpin said. "I focus on bringing people together, rather than focusing on our differences. The more we talk with each other, the closer we get to understanding who God is. Then, we can open ourselves up to what God is doing, bear witness to God already at work."