Romania’s entry into the European Union (EU) in January revealed immigration fears within the United Kingdom and evoked responses from British Baptists.
Tony Peck, who for many years was a regional minister in Yorkshire in the U.K., now works as secretary of the European Baptist Federation (EBF).
EBF was founded shortly after the Second World War and is an important symbol to Baptist Christians of our deeper common identity in Christ, often in the face of political situations that might have suggested otherwise.
Peck speaks of Romanians as a warm- and generous-hearted people, yet reminds us that this is a nation on which has been inflicted invasion, poverty, persecution and totalitarianism for most of the last half-century.
Romanian pastor Otniel (Oti) Bunaciu sees this as the main reason for Romania’s enthusiasm to be part of the EU.
“This was a crucial step to a more secure future,” he told me. “We are now part of one of the most democratic unions of countries in the world.”
Baptists have good reason to celebrate Bunaciu’s ministry as he is currently president of the EBF and has some very different perspectives on migration.
“The new multicultural situation in Europe brings with it many challenges, such as migration, poverty, human trafficking, religious conflict and growing nationalism and exclusivism in reaction. I believe that these issues can also become opportunities to minister to those in need and be witness for Jesus Christ in our world,” he said.
Reminding me that Romanians have been migrating to the U.K. for decades, many particularly to work as doctors and pharmacists, Bunaciu said, “We rely on one of the poorest countries in Europe to train and educate them, and then one of the richest nations benefits from their skills.”
Bunaciu has also played a key role in the establishment and development of Project Ruth, a charity that works with Roma children. This highlights another element in the current debate.
Many of the news reports about migrant people have tended to confuse the Roma community with Romanians in general. Whether or not this is deliberate, it underlines the importance of basing our own opinions on truth.
We do well to remember that this is a community that Amnesty International has specifically highlighted as being subject to significant persecution and discrimination.
Bunaciu said that many of the children of the infamous orphanages were from the Roma community.
There is deep gratitude for the work done by British and other European nationals in the wake of Romania’s liberation.
At the time, many expressed deep concern about how the Roma community had been marginalized and persecuted within Nicolae Ceausescu’s Romania, yet, a generation on, we seem in danger of doing the same.
Pear Tree Road Baptist Church in Derby in the U.K. is a congregation that has a better understanding than most of the identity and presence of Roma people. Around 300 Roma young people now attend a youth club at the church.
Their minister, Elizabeth Pinder-Ashenden, is somewhat surprised by the attention their work is generating.
The work is rooted in a simple desire to put into practice that basic Christian principle of refusing to see fellow human beings as “other,” she told me.
This spirit of generosity and grace was not lost on the local Roma community, and as a result many have been attracted to the church.
An important part of its work now is to seek and encourage integration between young people, particularly those who come from other non-British cultures.
At times this has meant actively challenging stereotypes and prejudices, but more often than not it is more of a straightforward matter of giving people the space to share and listen to each other’s stories.
“Allowing people to tell their story is crucial,” Pinder-Ashenden said. “So many barriers can be overcome by simply creating the opportunity for that to happen.”
In the current political climate, the issue of Britain’s place in Europe remains a significant issue in our public debate.
Our response and attitude must be shaped by the values and principles of Kingdom faith, not the latest exaggerations of single-issue politicians or a popular press.
For me, learning to foster and promote such attitudes strikes at the very heart of what it means to be called a holy people.
Phil Jump is regional minister team leader of the North Western Baptist Association in the United Kingdom and a member of the Baptists Together editorial board. A version of this article first appeared in the Summer 2014 edition of Baptists Together magazine, a publication of The Baptist Times Union of Great Britain. It is used with permission.
Editor’s note: This is the second article of a two-part series. Part one is available here. EthicsDaily.com’s documentary, “Gospel Without Borders,” brings more light and less heat to the topic of immigration in the U.S., separating myth from fact and examining what the Bible says about treatment of the “stranger.”