Human migration plays an important part of the Biblical narrative. Abram and Sari came to Canaan from the land of Mesopotamia . Later their descendants went to Egypt to escape famine.
“You shall love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt”
Human migration plays an important part of the Biblical narrative. Abram and Sari came to Canaan from the land of Mesopotamia. Later their descendants went to Egypt to escape famine. After suffering under the burden of slavery, Moses led them back to Canaan via a forty year sojourn in the desert. Later there was deportation to and return from Babylon. Even Jesus was impacted. In Matthew’s gospel, we read that Mary and Joseph took their baby and fled to Egypt as refugees in order to escape the murderous King Herod.
Today, human migration is one of the most pressing issues facing the world. According to the International Organization for Migration’s World Migration Report, there were an estimated 220 million international migrants in 2013. This does not include the tens of millions of internal migrants in China who have moved from rural areas to cities and often face the same challenges as foreign migrants. Nor does it include the estimated 6 million people who have been internally displaced as a result of the Syrian civil war.
A number of factors motivate these relocations. Some migrants are escaping war or persecution. Recently, Iraqis in the city of Mosel abandoned their homes and fled en masse to escape renewed fighting. Others seek economic opportunities so they can better provide for their families. Over 11% of the population of the Philippine Islands lives in diaspora, most have left their country in search of employment.
Increasingly, people are relocating due to climate change. It’s been widely estimated that by the year 2050 there will be upwards of 200 million so-called “climate refugees” who have been forced to migrate due to shoreline erosion, coastal flooding and disruptions in agriculture. Some island nations such as the Marshall Islands which are only two meters above sea level at their highest could become completely uninhabitable or disappear entirely.
In the United States where immigration ignites firestorms of political controversy, masses of undocumented immigrants have been deported and the walls and fences on our southern border are continuously being strengthened. Even so, we have recently seen a large influx of unaccompanied minors from Central America, many of whom are fleeing violence. These children are increasingly being held on U.S. military installations.
Migrants come from a variety of circumstances and their stories are often filled with pain. How, then, shall we respond?
Scripture consistently calls us to receive strangers as neighbors and friends, as in Deuteronomy when the Israelites are commanded: “You shall love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” That is why in Global Ministries, we work with partners around the world in support of those who have been uprooted from their homes: Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon, those in Bangladesh displaced by rising water levels, internal migrants in China, people fleeing war in the Democratic Republic of Congo—in these and in many other situations we work with our partners to minister to the needs of the displaced and to advocate for migration justice. We invite you to join us in loving the stranger.
Rev. Dr. James Moos serves as Co-Executive for Global Ministries and Executive Minister for Wider Church Ministries