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Refugees, Train Journeys, and Warm Welcomes

I’ll never forget the feeling, sat on a train at a station somewhere west of Budapest, that something ominous was about to happen. I’d cut it scarily fine getting to Kőbánya-Kispest station and dashed through the halls trying to find my platform; I was shocked to find that even in that suburban station there were people slumped against walls and hovering with desperation in the ticket office.

I got on the train, with a minute or two to spare, and found that our carriage was filled with people fleeing the war in Syria. As we stopped at the first station outside of Budapest, I glanced up to see a dozen police officers next to my train window – pistols on their waists and truncheons in their hands.

My mind replayed the news before I’d left England; videos of train carriages full of refugees being surrounded by police, of scuffles and screams. We waited for five unendurably long minutes and then set off again, complete with police guard at the end of our carriage. A substantial police presence greeted us at every station on the way out of Hungary.

I see a church that beckons ‘WELCOME HOME’ to every man, woman and child that walks through the doors.
– Brian Houston

When we reached Wien Meidling things started to get tense. Refugees stand up and make to get off the train but as they do others tell them that this isn’t the right station; in the ensuing chaos the atmosphere fills with fear and tension. As the train rolls out of the station nobody sits back down. People steal worried glances at each other.

This happened again at the next station and by the time we finally reached Wien Westbahnhof the tension was palpable. The carriage was full of scared people standing, looking around, hoping, fearing, enduring. All through Hungary, in the face of police everywhere, they had been calm, but now so close to their destination the fear of not making it had turned to panic.

As the doors opened and we stepped onto the platform of the station we were met by a handful of smiling aid-workers in red coats. “Come this way,” they say, “welcome, we’ve been expecting you, we’re here to help,” and suddenly the unbearable tension was broken in an instant and replaced by a tangible sense of peace and calm.

The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence.
– Ephesians 1:23 (MSG)

It reminded me a lot of what church is called to be. All across the world today there are people broken, hurting, and in need. There are wandering exiles from the kingdom of heaven, in varying states of fear and disillusionment with life. Church has to be the place where they arrive and are told, “welcome, we’ve been expecting you, we’re here to help”.

The church has a calling, a duty and an obligation, as the body of Christ, to help in any way we can. Our calling is broader than the refugee crisis, broader than those being persecuted, we’re called to be a place where we reach into community and meet needs for all.

We’re called to be the place where all those disconnected from God are welcomed home. The church is the vehicle through which He chooses to reach humanity, and connect them to Himself.

We’re called to be the place where all those disconnected from God are welcomed home.

When the refugees on the train I was travelling on arrived at Vienna everything wasn’t magically fixed in an instant, but the whole atmosphere was changed because they arrived in a place where people made them welcome and set about helping to connect them with their future.

May the church forever be dedicated to becoming that place for broken people, a place that, as Pastor Brian Houston describes it, ‘beckons welcome home to every man, woman and child that walks through the doors’.

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Photo from Josh Zakary, used under Creative Commons Licence.

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