These are the words people use to describe today’s bigger-than-ever flood of global refugees and migrants. But people have been on the move since the very beginning of human history. The Bible tells me so.
Jesus was a refugee. So was Abraham. So was Moses. Jews and Christians have been on the move for a long, long time.
The First Wanderers
“We need to move!”
The first husband to utter those upsetting words to his wife was not an Iraqi or a Somali. Nor was he a Vietnamese in the 1970s, or an Austrian Jew in the 1940s. Long before, back near the dawn of time, it was a farmer by the name of … Cain.
“Why?” his wife cried out.
“Because God said so,” replied the exasperated firstborn son of Adam and Eve, who themselves had been banished from the Garden of Eden.
“He’s upset about what happened the other day in the field. He said in so many words, ‘You will be a restless wanderer on the earth’ (Genesis 4:12). Believe me, I tried to argue with Him—I told Him that was out of proportion to what I’d done—I tried to talk Him down. But He held His ground.”
Scripture records the result: “Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod [the name means ‘wandering’], east of Eden.” In time the couple had a baby; “Cain was then building a city, and he named it after his son Enoch” (Genesis 4:16-17).
The first human family migrated to a better place, and the human race has been following their example ever since.
Faithful and On the Move
Abraham moved his extended family some 500 miles from Harran to Shechem, because God had promised blessing in the new place.
Joseph was an unwilling immigrant after his brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt.
The lengthy Exodus of perhaps as many as three million people is one of the epic migrations of human history, the subject of dramatic films and Jewish ceremonies to this day. What must it have been like to trudge through the desert day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year? The ecstasy of escaping Egypt quickly faded.
Jesus endured His own period of forced migration. I like how Jon Hirst summarizes the experience:
I’m thinking of Joseph and Mary of Nazareth with little Jesus in tow. Why were they fleeing? Their plight came on the heels of the Christmas miracle, which turned into an unimaginable disaster. Once, kings had bowed down to their little one; now a different king had sent troops to kill that child with a viciousness comparable to what we have recently seen from groups like ISIS. Joseph and Mary wanted what so many on the roads of this planet today are searching for: safety and a better life for their child.
David Roller, a former missionary and now a bishop in the Free Methodist Church, says Christians need to address two interconnected matters: One is “immigration,” the other “immigrants.”
“The former is about economic policy; the latter is about people,” says Roller. “The former is about a country’s right to establish laws; the latter is about the treatment of people, especially undocumented immigrants.”
But Roller says these two matters are not morally equivalent: “The Christian’s care for people operates on a higher moral plane than the Christian’s concern for economic policy. This higher plane is established in the gospel where we discover the dignity of every person and the presence of the Lord, who made Himself one with the immigrants when He said, ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me’” (Matthew 25:35).
God had long ago made clear His care for the outsider through His prophets. Jeremiah was sent to tell the king of Judah: “This is what the LORD says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place” (Jeremiah 22:2-3, emphasis added).
Several hundred years later, the prophet Malachi reinforced God’s passion about this issue: “So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against … those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,” says the LORD Almighty (Malachi 3:5, emphasis added).
Many people are concerned about terrorists sneaking in among refugees. It’s a legitimate concern in some parts of the world, but not a good reason to extinguish our compassion.
“Of course we want to keep terrorists out of our country,” says Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals (U.S.), “but let’s not punish the victims of ISIS for the sins of ISIS.”
The needs of real people—God’s highest creation—must always trump political arguments and personal fear.
Are you willing to follow Christ into the mess of today’s migrant crisis and do your part to help the strangers among us? If you are, God will guide you as you serve Him.
This article was excerpted from Serving God in a Migrant Crisis: Ministry to People on the Move by Johnstone and Merrill. It is available online at www.gmi.org/serving-god-migrant-crisis or on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.