Sadiri Joy Tira
Unprecedented migration is a global reality of the twenty-first century. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) dubbed 2015 “The Year of the Migrant.” In the last decade, research on and response to migration has become a priority for nations and communities. More recently, mission organizations, denominations, and congregations have rallied to locally address migrants.
Almost a decade ago, during the Lausanne Movement’s Bi-Annual Leadership Conference in Hungary, Ralph Winter reflected on the seeming imminence of a “borderless world”1: “The world that we now live in has become borderless… In 1974 the political climate was very different—it was the age of the Cold War, “state dictatorship,” and many “closed doors.” (personal communication, June 22, 2007)
As I ponder on the recent surge of national movements on the international stage, and ensuing proposals to “build walls” to curtail flows of migration, I look back on this conversation with Dr. Winter with gratitude for the all-encompassing embrace of the Creator-Redeemer God and with renewed hope in the ‘borderless’ reach of his Church. Below, I suggest ways for local churches to remain hubs of connection, and how they can be actively involved in tearing down walls that separate.
Old Reality, New Opportunity
The historical evidence and biblical examples2 of migration as a reality of human existence abound, thus “migration is not a new problem to be solved, but rather a reality to be managed” (Swing 2015). Hein de Haas, professor of sociology at University of Amsterdam, describes migration as an “intrinsic part of a broader development process” (de Haas 2016). Undoubtedly, human scattering has impacted all communities, countries, and regions throughout history.
From a theological perspective, Luis Pantoja Jr., the late Filipino-American theologian, writes in the seminal diaspora missiology volume Scattered: the Filipino Global Presence: “Humankind is designed for mobility and conquest… mobility is endemic to human nature. People reside in or move from one place to another because God made them with such instincts” (Pantoja 2004, 81). At the Third Lausanne Congress in Cape Town, the Lausanne Diasporas Leadership Team affirmed:
The fact is that God created nations (Genesis 25:23; Psalm 86:9-10) and languages/cultures (Genesis 11:1, 6, 7, 9), and determined the place (space) and the timing (time) of our habitation. The passage in Acts 17:26-29 implies that He not only “uses” the “diasporas;” but designs, conducts, and employs such “diasporas” for His own glory, the edification of His people, and the salvation of the lost. Every dispersed person and people group has a place and a role to play in God’s redemptive history. (LDLT 2010b, 12)
International migration continuously affects demographic distribution, economies, structures, and cultures globally. Currently, mass migration is driven primarily by “demography; disasters; the digital revolution; distance-shrinking technology; north-south disparities; and environmental degradation” (Swing, 2016).
In the publication Trends in Total Migrant Stock: The 2015 Revision, the Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat reports that “The number of international migrants—persons living in a country other than where they were born—reached 244 million in 2015 for the world as a whole, a 41 percent increase compared to 2000” (UNESA 2015, 1). This includes “almost 20 million refugees” (UNSD 2016) and ten million stateless people who are denied a nationality (UNHCR 2016).
Further, the report states that:
In 2015, two thirds (67 per cent) of all international migrants were living in just twenty countries. The largest number of international migrants (47 million) resides in the United States of America… Germany and the Russian Federation host the second and third largest numbers of migrants worldwide (12 million each), followed by Saudi Arabia (10 million), the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (nearly 9 million), and the United Arab Emirates (8 million). (UNESA 2015)
Although not a new reality, migration’s colossal increase presents a complex challenge and urgent opportunity for the Church. While government agencies, aid organizations, and community institutions grapple with the effects of modern population movements, missiologists, denominations, and local churches scramble to respond with sensitivity and relevance to God’s movement through the scattering of humans at this time in history.
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