By Jim Ramsay –
Migration – the movement of peoples around the world – has been going on since the beginning of time. Due to the intense political debates recently over immigration policy, many in our nation – and in our churches – risk seeing only a very narrow view of the larger phenomenon. Of greater concern, we can risk missing where the hand of God might be in the movement of peoples. Is it possible that migration is actually one of the ways God is fulfilling his mission? If so, perhaps we should be paying closer attention to ways that we can understand and participate in his mission among human populations on the move.
According to recent United Nations statistics, about 260 million people now live outside of their countries of origin. The migration of people is a global phenomenon. The United States is still the largest recipient of international migrants (19 percent of the total), and yet there are huge movements within continents, especially in Africa and Asia, where 80 percent of migration remains on the continent.
Although refugees represent a highly vulnerable and needy population, they comprise less than 10 percent of the overall population of global migrants. It is important for churches to consider how to offer the love of Christ to refugee populations, but most immigrants are not in that category. (For local congregations, World Relief is an excellent resource for churches wanting to learn to engage with refugee populations.)
Migration plays a significant role all throughout the Bible. In the Old Testament it is often in the context of migrations that God revealed himself to his people. In the New Testament the early church was formed on the streams of migration.
Given that most immigrants who come to the United States actually come from Christian backgrounds, it behooves local congregations to ask: How might we in host-culture churches connect with these newer communities? What can we learn from them? How might we partner together for God’s Kingdom in our communities, our nation, and beyond our borders? What might this look like practically? Here some first steps:
Awareness – Who is around you? The U.S. Census web pages provide a wealth of information. For example, I discovered that 25 percent of my county in Georgia (Gwinnett) was not born in the United States. Your church can do this kind of simple research and find out about these communities.
Prayer – As awareness comes, make it a matter of strategic, concerted prayer for the Lord to guide your community. Pray for divine appointments and for mutual understanding.
Connection – Meet with leaders of some of the local churches you discovered in your survey. If you have first- or second-generation international immigrants in your church, perhaps they can share about their experience and their communities.
Cultural Bridges – Identify people in your congregation who can be “cultural bridges” to help connect with communities around you. These can be people from the host culture who have lived and served cross-culturally themselves, or those who navigate both cultures.
Training – Basic understanding of cultural concepts and cross-cultural communication can be vital to building community with people from other backgrounds. It also can help build empathy among those who have never had the experience of being uprooted, living in an unfamiliar setting, or being a minority. Mission agencies can be a resource here.
Followers of Christ can certainly have varied opinions on proper government action in relation to immigration. But we need always to ask, What might God be up to? We then need to consider how we can connect to that. The presence of diverse communities throughout our nation, many of them from Christian backgrounds, presents us with such an opportunity to explore how God might be advancing His kingdom through people on the move.
Jim Ramsay serves as vice president for global operations at TMS Global (www.TMS-Global.org). Through its Activate process, TMS Global can help your church deepen its missional impact locally and globally.