Radical hospitality: how the Church is stepping up to welcome refugees

(Photo: iStock/Prostock-Studio)

On 17 November, church leaders will be coming together in London to think about how they can show hospitality to waves of people coming to the UK from Hong Kong and Afghanistan.

Organiser of the Radical Hospitality Summit and founder of Afghan Welcome, Dr Krish Kandiah, says it's a time of enormous opportunity for the Church. 

He speaks to Christian Today about how the Church can give a warm welcome to refugees and others coming to Britain's shores.

CT: Welcoming people from Hong Kong and Afghanistan seems to have really rallied the Church across denominations and traditions. Do you feel encouraged by what you're seeing?

Krish: The number of churches that have done phenomenal things to help these people has blown my mind. Churches have really stepped up in the middle of a pandemic when there were all sorts of reasons why they might have thought they couldn't do anything. Sometimes we have good days and bad days with our view of the Church, but this whole response to Hong Kongers and Afghan refugees has given me great confidence and encouragement in the power of the Church.

CT: What was it that motivated you to get the Church responding to people coming from Hong Kong?

Krish: There was this huge migration and yet I think most people hadn't noticed it. The UK government basically opened our doors and our borders to millions of people from Hong Kong, with the estimation being that 150,000 would come to the UK in the first year alone. I did the maths and worked out that this was essentially the largest planned migration to the UK from outside of Europe since Windrush.

And as soon as I realised that, shivers started to go down my spine because the Church and the nation did not do a good job of welcoming people from the Windrush generation and I was really motivated to say: we can do better this time, we can learn lessons, the Church should be at the front of the queue to welcome people from Hong Kong.

CT: Why is that so important?

Krish: Because offering hospitality is an essential part of the Christian faith and who we are as Christians. It's there all the way through the Bible from Abraham welcoming three strangers that turned out to be God; to the parable of the sheep and the goats when Jesus said 'I was a stranger and you welcomed me in'; to the great wedding banquet at the end of the book of Revelation. I just thought, the Church would be up for this!

CT: And you've had a strong response?

Krish: Around 500 churches have stepped up to be part of the welcome team for new arrivals from Hong Kong - and that has been churches from all different backgrounds. One Chinese pastor told me his church had 50 people in it before the lockdown but by the end of the lockdown this had grown to 200 because it had welcomed in 150 people from Hong Kong. Another pastor in Southampton from a white majority church said 50 Hong Kongers had joined his church this year. So this is a massive migration and the Church is doing a brilliant job in responding - not just by welcoming Christians but offering support and help to Hong Kongers whatever their religious beliefs.

CT: And now this welcome is being extended to people from Afghanistan and you recently met the government about this.

Krish: Yes, I had the opportunity to organise three roundtables, one for the then Minister for Housing Robert Jenrick, another for Home Secretary Priti Patel, and the third for Boris Johnson in Downing Street. It was because the Church did such a good job with people from Hong Kong that the Home Office phoned me to ask if we could help with new arrivals from Afghanistan.

It's a very different group of people coming from Afghanistan as opposed to Hong Kong. Their needs are more severe; they come from a warzone. But we've seen hundreds more churches join in to support Afghans.

One Friday afternoon not too long ago, we were asked by the Home Office to find support for 15 hotels that had received new arrivals from Afghanistan - and they needed this by the next day. So they asked, where are you guys? And my answer was, well, we're the church; we're in every single village, town and city. All across the country, there are churches full of people passionate about caring for vulnerable people. And so in less than 24 hours, we had found churches willing to wrap around these hotels housing newly arrived Afghan refugees.

Now Afghan Welcome is supporting 25 hotels and we've been able to support 1,432 Afghan children and their families. Through our partner Baby Basics, we've managed to distribute 964 clothing bundles for children under the age of six; 924 toy bundles; 444 packs of nappies; 288 feeding bottles, and 175 prams and pushchairs - all new stuff that the Church has donated in order to help these lovely people.

CT: We so often hear how much the UK Church is declining but what it is achieving sounds wonderful.

Krish: There's nothing like the Church as a deployable force for good in the world and we've worked with all sorts of people, like the Home Office, government bodies, landlords. It's amazing.

CT: For some of these people it could also be their first Christmas. Do you see any opportunities there?

Krish: It will be their first in the UK and the Afghan refugees are predominantly Muslim, so we have an opportunity to show Christmas hospitality to people from all walks of life. Our major challenge at the moment is winter clothes for Afghan children because they have come basically with nothing - whatever they could carry in hand luggage on emergency evacuation planes. And so we've been doing a very targeted campaign to find new clothing bundles. We are only providing new clothes because they are easier and safer to give, but also because it's important symbolically that we offer new items to this group of arrivals.

READ MORE: 500 churches sign up to welcome new arrivals from Hong Kong

And I've been amazed by how much people want to help. Last week I facilitated a meeting between the Minister for Afghan Resettlement, Victoria Atkins, and an 8-year-old girl called Ariah who has been volunteering at the local Baby Basics, folding clothes and making new bundles, and doing some fundraising with her friends. Atkins had a Zoom call with her and her classmates, and she was just blown away by what these children have been doing. So if an 8-year-old girl can do some fundraising, what might the rest of us be able to do to help Afghan children?

CT: You are hosting a summit for church leaders this month. What's the aim behind the gathering?

Krish: We want to celebrate the incredible things churches up and down the nation have been doing for Hong Kongers and Afghans. And we also want to encourage the Church that there's more to be done; that this movement of people is not over. Because we are expecting that more people from both Hong Kong and Afghanistan will come.

With the situation in Afghanistan, this is not a short-term thing and people coming from Afghanistan are very unlikely to ever be able to go home again. Many of them are terrified about the humanitarian disaster unfolding in the country and the threat of famine. They are worried about their nephews, nieces, brothers, sisters and parents, and so the Church has a huge opportunity to continue to show hospitality to these people.

CT: What would you like the UK Church to be praying for as this work of welcome continues?

Krish: The first thing to pray is thank you, because I am so grateful for what churches up and down the nation have been doing. And I also want to ask for sustaining grace. Many churches have been very busy but this is not a short-term need. Afghan families are going to need friends, neighbours and colleagues to come alongside them. It's very difficult to move to a different country when many of them don't speak English, and they've been through incredible trauma and are very worried about their wider family.

Finally, I really want to pray for a wave of radical hospitality to spread out across our churches. We've seen so many churches do fantastic things but there's more to be done and hospitality is a core part of the Christian calling. We'll be thinking about this calling more at the summit on November 17th where we'll be launching the Hospitality Pledge inviting churches to embark on a yearlong journey of welcoming others in 2022.

Tickets for the Radical Hospitality Summit are available from Eventbrite.