I have a small something at home with a big story. I’ve not had it long and it was given to me by a stranger.
It is essentially a wooden key ring with an image of Mary and the infant Jesus wrought out of copper. It’s come a long way.
It was on my trip with Save The Children to the camps in Greece last January, that I was given this little piece of Christian art on a chain. And the giver of this now treasured gift? A Muslim refugee.
He had fled Syria in fear of his life and leaving behind his decimated home town, he had seen this lying in the deserted street and couldn’t bear to leave it. He had made his way to Lesbos where by chance we met. He saw the cross I wore and through a translator, said he wanted me to have it. What an incredible gift.
This Christmas season I have loved watching the nativity story with those gift-bearing wise men from the east played out by some of our town’s tiniest. I am looking forward - even in the midst of these challenging times - to finding a few precious moments to celebrate the birth of The Christ, the tenet of my faith and for me, the greatest love story ever told.
But, I know that the freedom to express my faith is a precious thing.
As Christmas carols take us back to Bethlehem, the stark reality is that the future of Christianity in the region of its birth is uncertain with commentators suggesting there is a real prospect that Christian holy sites could become ‘little more than museums, without living communities’.
No one has suffered more at the hands of ISIS than Muslims but of all the factors at play behind the exodus of Christians from the Middle East, the rise of militant Islam is surely the driving force.
‘Peace on Earth’ goes the song of the angels in the carol and this Christmas, as I draw my family close around, I will remember those whose faith means they fear for their lives, those who serve at home and abroad to keep us safe. I will remember those who have tragically lost their lives this very week in a Christmas market in Berlin. And, I will remember the Muslim man in the camp whose gift meant so much.
Wishing you a peaceful Christmas
MP for Eastbourne and Willingdon