An important theme in missions today is migration. Many of the world’s peoples are on the move. Some are fleeing violence, civil war and dangerous living conditions. Others are seeking a place of religious freedom or political asylum. Still others want to find a home to raise a family and earn a living wage. Some people move temporarily--almost 900,000 international students are studying in the USA.
Migrating peoples are vulnerable to changing circumstances. The families fleeing North Africa and crossing the Mediterranean Sea represent a tragic story. Jam-packed boats have capsized or sunk beneath the waves. An estimated 1250 people died in April of 2015. European nations are not ready for more and more waves of refugees. What will happen to these thousands of desperate people?
The earthquake in Nepal and the effort to help the Nepalese recover from such devastation has yielded a curious story about migration. Apparently, many young men from Nepal actually work in India, Malaysia and the Gulf States. An estimated 1500 young people emigrate daily. Thus, they were not on the scene to lift boulders, clear rubble and save quake victims. And they are not present to light the funeral pyres--custom calls for the oldest son to light the flame.
Economists predict that unless the government acts swiftly to create work opportunities at home, the exodus of young people will accelerate after the relief operation ends, permanently handicapping the country’s ability to rebuild. What can Nepal do to create economic opportunities and retain its young people?
There are unforeseen consequences of population trends. Sometime migration patterns seemingly erupt out of nowhere. Hindsight always is clearer; the chaos in Syria, Yemen and Libya was bound to create waves of refugees fleeing both violence and privation. An earthquake or a tidal wave requires all hands on deck and naturally reveals when there are “too few hands.”
What mission strategy takes all of this into account? A growing awareness of the need for Diaspora ministries is dawning on denominations and agencies. The USA has nearly 46 million foreign-born people in its midst. The country with the next highest total is Russia--with only 12 million foreigners. The Statue of Liberty stands tall as a welcoming beacon to those arriving from elsewhere.
The American Church needs to be proactive in extending hospitality to the stranger. May the churches of Europe meet their immigrant challenges too. People groups do not stay put in their places of origin. People migrate from almost everywhere to almost everywhere. Jesus said on one occasion that, “foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20). May we serve the incarnate Christ as we help the least of these among us!
Grace and Peace,
Richard L. HaneyExecutive Director