'I prayed for him and I knew he'd met God'. Retired vicar's ministry to Calais migrants

Migrants queue for their daily meal in Calais after they travelled from the Mediterranean northwards in hope of seeking asylum in Britain.Reuters

Last week scenes of migrants in Calais attempting to board trucks to the UK filled the news, with David Cameron saying that it was "totally unacceptable".

Although the strike by French ferry companies added a new dimension to the crisis, the problem of migrants wanting to get to the UK is not a new one. But more than ever this year, the EU has faced the question of how to treat migrants, as almost 2,000 people have died since January trying to make the perilous journey across the Mediterranean to escape persecution and conflict.

A team from Life Church in Folkestone, Kent, led by church member Sue Pardo, has been going to visit the migrants in and around Calais most weekends for more than a decade, taking them food, clothing and offering to pray.

Rev Margaret Knight, a retired Anglican vicar from Hertfordshire, who usually joins the group about once a month, says she often feels "totally inadequate" when confronted by the situation.

"These people are desperate. Most of them have fled for their lives. They've probably got what they're standing up in, maybe a plastic sheet," she told Christian Today.

"To me, the awful thing is that they're not treated like human beings. Nobody wants to know."

It is thought that there are now 4,000 people at Calais, having come from Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Many are currently living in tents, but the makeshift camp is periodically closed down by the French police.

"The police from time to time will just come along and clear it," says Margaret "I've been there when they're just about to turn the hose on them... it's awful."

Over the years different French charities have taken responsibility for providing food and clothing, and ensuring that the migrants get a hot meal every day. At first the charities were sceptical about the church's visits, but now many are grateful for their help.

When Margaret and the team go, they take donations of food and clothing, which they give to the charity to distribute, as well as Bibles and simple Christian tracts. "We can't just go with literature to people that are hungry," she says, "The Bible is very clear: give food to the hungry, give shelter to the homeless, and give clothes to those who need them... I think as Christians we are beholden to do that, and even though it's inadequate, it's better than nothing."

Many of the Eritrean migrants she has spoken to are Christians, and she says it is a "wonderful privilege" when they are able to share Communion with them. The Eritreans have travelled across the desert on foot, and about half of those who set out die on the journey. Those who do make it face further hardship when they get to France.

The group talk to people and offer to pray with them, even though many of them are Muslims. "We usually ask if any of them is sick and if they would like prayer. We make it clear that we are going to pray in the name of Jesus," she says.

They have seen a number of miracles and answers to prayer, despite the language barrier.

"I prayed for one man who had toothache and put my hand on his cheek and prayed for the tooth in Jesus' name. I asked him how it felt afterwards and he said 'beautiful'... Then there was a queue of men waiting for me to pray for toothache."

She also believes she prevented a man from being suicidal. On one visit, a man from Afghanistan walked towards her and she had a revelation that he was about to go and commit suicide. "You can't explain these things in logical terms but I just knew," she says.

Even though they couldn't communicate verbally, she went up to him and indicated that she was offering to pray for him, and he agreed.

Margaret speaking to a group of migrants in Calais.

"I just prayed that God would save him from everything, and he began to weep, and he wept and wept. And then then I just had to walk away from him. I couldn't ask him what God had done. I just knew that God had met him."

On another occasion a Chinese man was following her around for much of the day. He had declined prayer for himself, although he acted as an interpreter as she prayed for other people. Just as they were going to leave, he asked for prayer, said he had done wrong things and gave his life to Christ.

"You should have seen his face, there was no doubt that he had done it. Then you just have to leave them with the Lord; I left him with a Bible and God," she says, adding that leaving them behind is the difficult part, particularly as a pastor.

One group from Afghanistan asked them to pray for them to get into the country legally, because they were well educated, although she acknowledges that the majority of people they meet are trying to get in illegally.

It is this that makes this mission somewhat contentious. "Some people say I'm gullible," she says, "But I don't mind being gullible for the Lord. I don't think, given the opportunity, how we can do anything other than share in whatever way we can. I wish I could do more... you just feel helpless."

Margaret recognises that it is important to tackle the crisis from a political perspective, but says "I'm not called to do that." Instead, she felt called to do what she could with her time and gifts.

"I haven't got the political answer, but there must be Christian people of goodwill, who, instead of looking at this as a problem, [will] see these individuals as people in need, and but for the grace of God any one of us could be in that situation."