Church must be 'at the forefront' of welcoming refugees, says Nicky Gumbel

(Photo: Unsplash/Mitchell Leach)

The Church "should do everything it can" to welcome in refugees and asylum seekers, says Holy Trinity Brompton's Nicky Gumbel.

He shared his own personal experience with church leaders at a summit organised by Welcome Churches and social entrepreneur Dr Krish Kandiah amid a national debate on the issue following the Liverpool bombing.

Gumbel spoke movingly about how his own Jewish father and other family members escaped the Holocaust by fleeing from Germany to Britain.

"I'm hugely grateful to this country for accepting my grandparents, my aunt and my father. If this country had not accepted my father, he would have been sent back to Germany and he would have died like the rest of his family in the concentration camps and I would not exist," he said.

"So I have plenty of reasons to be grateful to this country for accepting refugees and that's why I feel passionately that we should do everything we can to accept them."

Gumbel's own church has been involved in providing support and practical assistance to Afghan refugees housed in nearby hotels.

"The Church should be at the forefront of welcoming," he continued, adding that people should be welcomed regardless of their faith or beliefs.

"It's not about trying to convert people. It's about loving people as Jesus loved people, welcoming people, showing them the love of God, and protecting them from being persecuted and losing their lives."

Three months after arriving in the UK, Afghan families are gradually being moved out of hotels into permanent accommodation, and churches are being encouraged to sign up to be part of a nationwide network ready to welcome them wherever needed.

Sue Butler, joint CEO of Welcome Churches, told of one family being moved to a small village in a remote part of Scotland. A local church was contacted and asked to help them feel welcome. Now the pastor and family have become really good friends.

"God is preparing the church and then giving people for them to welcome," she said.

The Radical Hospitality Summit also heard about churches that are helping Hong Kongers settle in the UK after coming to the country via the new BNO visa route created by the UK Government following an increasing crackdown on democracy and civil liberties in the former British colony.

The first wave of Hong Kong migration is expected to bring 150,000 people to the UK but Dr Kandiah said the second wave could be even bigger.

Henry Lu, General Director of the Chinese Overseas Christian Mission, said that some churches had doubled and even tripled in size because of new arrivals from Hong Kong.

"That's how big the influx has been," he said.

"It's a good problem to have and it's amazing how God's bringing people."

Although well-educated and skilled, with a good command of English, the summit heard how many Hong Kongers are worried about the practicalities of settling in the UK and finding work.

"This is the largest planned migration into the UK from outside of Europe in a generation," said Dr Kandiah.

"We are still reaping the disaster of the Church's and the nation's failure to welcome people from the Caribbean.

"So it's fantastic that the Church has been on the frontfoot of welcoming Hong Kongers."

He added, "This is a huge moment for the Church and we really need to pray we don't miss it."