As has been mentioned already, last Sunday many of us met together in Toulouse to explore more of our specific calling to faithfully serve Jesus in this corner of France, much-loved by those of us who are lucky enough to call it home.
As we reflected on who we are, what our God-given gifts are and what is unique to our congregation we were repeatedly struck by the phrase ‘we are strangers in a foreign land’. Apart from the very youngest amongst us we almost all find ourselves in a place that is not in the country we were born in. And we find ourselves here for many different reasons. Some of us have moved for love, others for work, or study, yet others seeking asylum or looking for a place of rest and retirement. We are all colours, all ages, all nationalities and all denominations. Moving to a new country brings with it many, many blessings and joys. The constant adventure of discovery; new places, faces, flavours, sights and sounds, and the opportunity to learn and about a new language and culture, and for some a new feeling of safety. Yet it can also be fraught with challenge, loneliness, confusion and sadness.
Being a stranger, can mean a constant feeling of otherness or of being the outsider in our workplace, street, school or village. With family and friends far away and social, bureaucratic, language and political systems that can be difficult to fathom, it is easy to see how strangers can become marginalised and even vulnerable. No wonder then that scripture has much to say on how we should treat the stranger (along with many other marginalised groups).
Deuteronomy 10:19 reminds us "So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”
Whilst Leviticus 19:34 goes on “The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God.”
We are to love the stranger as ourselves and to treat them as natives. By enlarge many churches do a very good job at being welcoming or being sympathetic towards those who have moved from another country or town. Yet when you have been in, or indeed are, in that situation yourself you are blessed with a unique insight to the challenges being faced by others. And that is where we find ourselves in Toulouse. A church family with a unique insight.
As we reflected on what our values as a church family are, time and time again we were drawn back to generous welcome and loving fellowship. Knowing that we are ALL strangers in a foreign land. All broken yet all welcome. Knowing how we have valued the love, support and advice of fellow strangers on the journey gives birth to a heartfelt desire and willingness to extend that generous welcome and loving fellowship to all who wish to journey with us.
And so it is that we feel God calling us to be a place of refuge for those who also find themselves as strangers in a foreign land. A place of hospitality, hope and belonging. We do not know where this call will take us but we are excited to faithfully follow that call certain of God’s faithfulness to us and of new possibilities ahead.
We look forwarded to continuing to journey together as strangers becoming friends and we pray that whoever comes to join us for even a few short kilometres would know that they are welcome no matter where they are on their own journey.