Thinking about people on the move

A few thoughts on the migration opportunity in Europe, mostly motivated by recently participating in the Refugee Highway Partnership roundtable. While Europe is in focus here, I think a lot of the principles have broader relevance and application:

  • “Refugee ministry” is NOT just being a “first responder” in an emergency (as critically as that’s needed).
2015-11 refugee - boat landing - lesbos greece - Sergey ponomarev - NYT
Boat landing in Lesbos, Greece. NY Times photo by Sergey Ponamarev

People in crisis need security, shelter, food, water, medicine… or they could die. The goal is stabilizing their situation. It involves thinking, “What we can provide?” Being by nature “unilateral” it can’t, on its own, be truly “empowering.”

If we think this is all “refugee ministry” is, we could assume (incorrectly) that refugee ministry is “not for us,” since we want our work to “develop, empower and release” people.

migration work continuum iafr
Migration ministry “continuum” – from IAFR
  • An integral part of ministry to migrants is “recovery work.”

Things can be “stable” (as in one’s not threatened with imminent death) yet be a long, way from “normalcy.” Getting there requires the (often long and uncertain) process of recovery. This involves strengthening faith (through prayer, worship, Scripture), community (particularly by breaking down marginalization) and emotional well-being; by building capacity (education, language skills); forming and encouraging partnerships… And the Church was made for this! Who is better equipped for this long-term, relational work?

  • Recovery happens through relationships, friendship, belonging… which we all need!

iwasastranger2A basic paradigm (which suggests its own skill set) is welcoming the stranger. It reflects the character of the God whom we represent. It is a core Christian virtue. It is at the heart of our mission to serve “among all people.” The NT word for “hospitality is “philoxenia” – literally, “love of stranger.” From a biblical standpoint, it does not appear to be “optional.” Welcoming is what we are called, as the Body of Christ, to do.

“What do you hear now?” This approach displays trust in the other (and a renunciation of assumed authority on our part). Investing in people and modeling sharing is sustainable and reproducible.

  • This is NOT a niche or specialty. It’s the reality of MULTIPLYING TRANSFORMATIONAL CHURCHES AMONG ALL PEOPLE in today’s Europe!

I believe in a sovereign God… which commits me to the proposition that He is at work here. (Think of how any large-scale “people movement” is described in the Bible!) God is sending a million people into our cities, giving us a clear opportunity to develop gospel initiatives among them… dare we not engage this?

Refugee food distribution - Macedonia - Jim Black
Refugee food distribution, Macedonia. Photo by Jim Black

Fear, mistrust, and loss of faith is what identifies Europe today. Yet, that which the world fears, the church was designed for. A spirit of “fear of the other has gripped the culture” – and is making inroads into the church. Fear to share the Gospel, lack of confidence, fear of making mistakes. “In love there is no room for fear, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear implies punishment and no one who is afraid has come to perfection in love.” Should fear triumph, the true adversary wins.

We may be tempted to think that God has brought “poor, unfortunate souls” from a “place where we never could have gotten to them,” blessing them to come “here” (to a Christian land?!?) in order to meet us (lucky them!) God most certainly is involved, and he has brought many from “the Islamic world” to us “on our watch.” But why assume that it is simply for their benefit? As we are finding with Roma, people with disabilities, etc., God wants to “bring them in” (Luke 14)… with the goal of building the Body, beautifying and strengthening His Bride.

Iraqi_refugee_children,_Damascus,_Syria - James Gordon from Los Angeles, California, USA
Refugee children, Damascus, Syria. Photo by James Gordon, Los Angeles, CA

What might it be that Muslim-background Believers, coming into the church, will bring that will turn out to be “indispensable”?  How might God be using these “disturbances” to build His church?

We often think “X ministry” is ministry for and to “them” (the Xs) and then find out (to our great surprise!) that it’s really a blessing to US (though not the “non-X ‘us’” that “we” used to be, but the NEW “us” that includes X and non-X without distinction).

This wave of refugees is not a problem that God has given us to solve. It is an opportunity to share the good news in the context of relationship, welcome, witness. People will know that the Word is alive in us as they see it in a relational context – particularly as we walk with them in “recovery.”

IMG_20150913_RollOnUpTheRamp (Large)It’s not primarily about migration… it’s about God and what He is awakening in His church… Just ask, “What do you need?” “What might be better?” Think of making ‘social ramps.’ Ramps on curbs were first designed and installed to break barriers, originally out of concern for one particular (disadvantaged, “handicapped”) group. But it turns out that, once installed, they were of benefit to many, indeed to the entire social environment.

With God’s help, that’s what we can work to build together with Europe’s migrants. Something that will make the world a better place for ALL of us.

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