Down the road run refugees (website only)

Authors & translators:
Bell, John L. (auth)
Authors & translators:
Maule, Graham
Festivals and Seasons:
Special Sundays:
Refugee Sunday
Composers & arrangers:
Bell, John L. (comp)

The Refugees

1. Down the road run refugees,
a child and father and mother;
scared by what they’ve left behind
and what they fear to discover.

Move and move and move along
in fair and foulest weather.
Stop a bit but don’t stay long;
you might be wand’ring for ever.

2. Hunted out like criminal
and kept at distance like lepers,
cursed and criticised by those
who look and laugh at their papers.

3. At their back run twenty more
and twenty thousand come later;
twenty million follow these:
each year the number gets greater.

4. Kampuchea, Vietnam
and Mozambique provide them;
folk like us with nothing to fear
see fit to doubt or deride them.

5. Jesus and his parents fled
from Herod’s imminent danger;
still he wanders with the crowds,
a frightened, nationless stranger.

6. Who will help the refugees
to cease their endless walking,
while the ones who claim to care
continue endless talking?

Reproduced by permission, from the Innkeepers & Light Sleepers collection/ songbook/ CD (Wild Goose Publications, 1992)
Words & Music John L. Bell & Graham Maule, copyright © 1992 WGRG, c/o Iona Community, Glasgow G5 9JP, Scotland. International Copyright Secured. All Rights Reserved. See Wild Goose resource Group
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Download music as a PDF

Ideas for use

John Bell and Graham Maule note: "This carol is in the form of a protest-song, much the same as 'Standing at the Door' by Sydney Carter. It requires a fairly forceful soloist and a piano accompaniment which keeps the music on the move. The congregation or choir can join in the chorus. If a drummer can be found to keep a steady beat throughout, so much the better."

Verse 4 ("Kampuchea, Vietnam…") speaks of the dominant refugee stories of the early 1990s. In the spirit of other updated protest songs you may wish to consider reflecting those nationalities that are prominent in our news today, e.g.

Out of Syria, from Iraq,
the war-torn nations provide them

OR (a less specific version)

Drought and famine force them out,
and war-torn nations eject them

More information

These words were written in 1992. In 2016, we StF+ was delighted to be granted permission to share the song, but we also note that the anger and shame expressed are as precisely relevant today as they were 14 years ago.

This is, as John and Graham say, a protest song and some may question its fitness for a service of worship. But it sits in the tradition of songs that not only protest but make us ask ourselves questions. We don’t let ourselves off the hook when we sing these words:

Who will help the refugees
to cease their endless walking,
while the ones who claim to care
continue endless talking?

Though The Refugees is particularly relevant during Refugee Week, refugees are always with us – like the poor, as Jesus once suggested (Mark 14: 7). Indeed, as journalist and Baptist minister Mark Woods points out, Jesus’ message of "good news to the poor" and freedom for the oppressed is couched in stark terms in his parable of the sheep and goats – the latter banished from God’s sight:

"For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was ill and in prison and you did not look after me." (Matthew 25: 41-43). See Wandering people – learning from the Bible.

Too often our arguments about addressing the needs of refugees and the pros and cons of immigration become confused – the distinctions are blurred. On Singing the Faith Plus, we have focussed on the needs of refugees. As well as John and Graham’s song, we offer a starter list of additional hymns reflecting the theme; and a selection of Bible stories and readings about those who were forced to leave their homes or who faced persecution.

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