Juliet Kilpin: Witnessing The Birth Of A New City In Calais

Juliet Kilpin has been spending time in Calais in recent months befriending refugees and listening to their stories. She has taken some time to share with us some of her experiences.
Tea in Syrian TentI am fascinated by cities. A foundational challenge that my faith is built on comes from Ray Bakke’s famed book, A Theology as Big as The City, which suggests that if we cannot find God in a city, we may not find God at all.

The European refugee crisis has been called the largest movement of people across Europe since World War 2 and it is stretching our existing political, border, charitable and humanitarian aid policies to the max. Kilian Kleinschmidt, a leading authority on humanitarian aid, worked for 25 years for the United Nations and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in various camps, most recently in Zaatari, the world’s second largest refugee camp and Jordan’s third largest city. In an article he says I think we have reached the dead end almost where the humanitarian agencies cannot cope with the crisis. We’re doing humanitarian aid as we did 70 years ago after the second world war. Nothing has changed… We [are] building camps: storage facilities for people. But the refugees [are] building [cities].

2015-11-18 15.44.55I think this is why I have felt so drawn to Calais since my first visit in August. Not only have I been faced with the slum conditions and poverty I have experienced whilst visiting friends and fellow urban missionaries in Lima, Kampala, Phnom Penh, Sao Paulo and Tijuana, but I have witnessed the birth of a new suburb, perhaps even a new city in France. It has been truly mind-blowing coping with this paradigm shift, which brings the poverty of a developing world scale to one of the richest countries in the world. My head has literally ached with the processing, the questioning, the pain and challenge of not being able to rationalise lack of participation with the excuses of distance and expense.

I have been grateful to have many from Urban Expression accompany me on trips to Calais. It has been invaluable to walk, talk and reflect with those who share values and grass-roots urban experience. Many have wanted to remain involved and some have even joked (prophesied) that it feels like Urban Expression Calais may have started. Our prayers have certainly already been prayed there.

2015-11-18 13.07.37In December I started a new 2 day per week role with Christian International Peacemaker Service (CHIPS). They have been concerned with the unregulated, multi-national, uncoordinated “refugee camp” of Calais which is now home to approximately 7000 people. They are keen to support grass-roots peacemakers and enhance their work of intentional, proactive peacemaking and my role is to help with this.

One of the first things we have done is, at residents’ requests, to provide a “listening caravan” and begin to build a team of “listeners” to support the volunteers (some with papers and many without) who often operate on the edge of burn-out with no assistance from recognised organisations. We are also hoping to help create opportunities for dialogue between members of the camp and the police to try and reduce the amount of tear gas being used against the refugees. If you would like to become a “listener”, do get in touch!

Every visit to Calais is an intense and privileged learning opportunity. I hope that together the peacemakers there can help to birth a peaceful city.

If you are interested in experiencing the birth of a new city and becoming a listener, why not get in touch with Juliet today?

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