Preaching Articles

The headlines may have calmed down for a while, but the tragedy remains. Millions of people are on the move worldwide, many of them displaced people fleeing war, violence, religious persecution, economic poverty, or political chaos.

            The migrant crisis is bigger now than ever before, with some sixty million men, women, and children on the move. “We are witnessing a paradigm change, an unchecked slide into an era in which the scale of global forced displacement as well as the response required is now clearly dwarfing anything seen before,” said António Guterres, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

            And I have news for you. It’s going to get worse before it gets better. Our world is full of war, poverty, terrorism, corruption, failed states, and ecological disasters, all of which uproot people and send them searching for a better life.

Some people respond to the tragedy with a shrug. Others shed an occasional tear, particularly when confronted with heartbreaking images, like photos showing infants lying facedown in the surf, dead after a long, harrowing water journey. Still others respond with anger or fear, threatening to round up the outsiders and either send them back to where they came from or lock them up and throw away the key.

            Today, followers of Jesus find themselves in all three of these emotional camps. I am writing to help Christians understand the challenges our world faces and respond to these challenges in Christ-honoring ways.


Them or Us?

If you’re fortunate enough to have a roof over your head and a reliable income, it’s only natural for you to think of today’s refugees as “those people.”

            But let’s take a moment and look in the mirror. What do you see? When I look, I see an immigrant staring back at me.

            It’s easy for us to forget that our ancestors probably looked like “those people” when they made their journeys from the old countries to new lands in Europe or the “New World.”

            The United States is rightly called “a nation of immigrants,” but even card-carrying Europeans like me need to admit that nearly all of us arrived after the last Ice Age!

I am culturally English today, but I’m the product of immigration. My Irish grandparents emigrated from poverty-stricken County Cavan to England in 1899, where there were more opportunities for a young doctor and his wife. They were not the only Johnstones to scatter across the world in those years.

            Flowing in my veins is Celtic blood, Dutch blood, Viking blood—and not a drop of English blood so far as I know. My boyhood schoolmates quickly seized on my obviously Irish name, “Patrick,” and teased me mercilessly, even bullying me. To them, I was one of “those people.”

The migrants scrambling today to reach our borders are no different.


Immigrants and Refugees

There are so many terms being thrown around. So who’s who, and what’s what?

Immigrant: Someone who has relocated (for whatever reason) to a new country.

Emigrant: Same as above, only viewed from the opposite end—someone who has left for a new country. In 1933 Albert Einstein emigrated from Nazi Germany. He immigrated to the United States.

Internally displaced person (IDP): Someone who has fled their home but is still inside their country’s borders. (IDPs account for two-thirds of today’s 60 million on the move, in fact.)

Refugee: Someone who has left their home country to escape war, natural disaster, or the fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, or political opinion—AND has been registered as such in a receiving country.

Asylum seeker: Someone who appears to be a refugee but hasn’t yet been officially evaluated.

            In the years after World War II, Europeans largely welcomed the war’s refugees. The same happened in the U.S. in the years after the Vietnam war. United States accepted more than a million refugees from Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos.

            But today, refugees often receive a chillier welcome.


Are Christians Really More Negative About Immigrants?

I can understand why some people fear refugees and want to “throw the bums out.” But I’m surprised when Christians embrace that approach. A study from the Pew Research Center shows that I shouldn’t be so surprised!

            Pew asked four groups of people (white evangelical Protestants, white mainline Protestants, white non-Hispanic Catholics, and secular “nones,” or nonreligious people) to complete this sentence with choice a or choice b:


            ““The growing number of newcomers from other countries …


(a) “...threaten traditional American customs and values” or

(b) “… strengthen American society.”


How did everyone respond?

            White evangelical Protestants cast a landslide vote for (a), 63 percent to 32 percent. The other segments were less lopsided; in fact, the secular respondents voted for (b) by a margin of 54 percent to 39 percent.

            A few years later, the Pew researchers went back with another pair of questions: “Immigrants today … (a) are a burden because they take our jobs, housing and health care” or (b) “… strengthen our country with their hard work and talents.”

            Once again, white Evangelicals were firmly on the side of (a), 66 percent to 24 percent. White Catholics were nearly the same (but not Hispanic Catholics). The “unaffiliated,” on the other hand, were almost the exact opposite: 26 percent for (a), 67 percent for (b).[i]

            When I read these statistics, my heart sinks.

            Are my fellow Evangelicals so hard-hearted?

            Are feelings such as these caused by bedrock nastiness and spite?

            Do the survey respondents not actually know any flesh-and-blood immigrants?

            And do they not know that God has a few things to say about the proper treatment of immigrants in His big book, the Bible?

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 or on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.


Patrick Johnstone was brought up in England as the eldest of six siblings, children of an Irish father and a Dutch mother. He was converted to Christ in 1959 during his first year as a student at Bristol University, while reading Chemistry in preparation to become a research scientist. At a Christian Union meeting, he heard Glyndwr Davies speak about the evangelistic work of the Dorothea Mission in urban townships in southern Africa, and he rose to the challenge and committed his life to serve as a missionary evangelist. He went to South Africa in 1962, completing his theological training at the Dorothea Mission Bible College in Pretoria.


It was during this time that he met Jill Amsden, a fellow worker from the UK serving in the Dorothea Mission. Patrick and Jill eventually were able to marry in 1968 on their first home leave. Thereafter, they served together in Zimbabwe, where their three children, Peter, Timothy and Ruth, were all born. 


During his first six-year term on the field, Patrick served in Kenya, South Africa and Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia). In the last of these, he led the first Dorothea Mission team in evangelistic outreach in towns and cities across the country. He learnt a number of African languages, including siNdebele, chiShona and Afrikaans, and also became involved in translating part of the New Testament into chiNambya, a language spoken in northwest Zimbabwe.

It was during this time that he also began the work of gathering data about the world both to inform prayer and for the first editions of Operation World. The first printed booklet with that title, which came out in 1965, was just 30 pages long. The second edition appeared in 1973 and covered nearly every country of the world. It was reprinted several years later by Ralph Winter of the USCWM, and also prompted George Verwer to set in motion an OM-backed rewrite of the book for global distribution. This was completed in 1978 and led to many openings for wider ministry. The impact of Operation World is incalculable. Over 2.5 million copies have been distributed around the world in seven editions and some 16 languages, and the book has played a key role in developing the global vision of African, Latin American and Asian missions.

The 1978 edition also led to some big changes in Patrick's ministry. The first was to join the OM ship, the MV Logos, for a year in Asia and the Pacific in 1979. The second followed an invitation to become part of the leadership team of WEC International, a large pioneer church-planting mission. Patrick's main responsibilities in 1980 were strategy and research and he worked in that role for the next 22 years, playing a part in the considerable growth of the mission as it addressed new unreached peoples and countries. For six years, he was also WEC's deputy international director.

Patrick was long involved with the Lausanne Movement. During the 1980s, he was a member of the Strategy Working Group that helped to formulate many of the definitions for its ethno-linguistic peoplegroup databases. In the '90s, he was co-leader with John Robb of World Vision of the "unreached peoples track" of the AD2000 and Beyond Movement. He has worked closely with David Barrett and Todd Johnson of the WCE and other researchers in sharing information and developing databases, and also played a part in the formation of Global Mapping International (GMI) and the Joshua Project and its listing of people groups.

Jill became ill with cancer in 1990 but she continued to write her children's version of Operation World and had almost completed it by the time of her death in 1992. The book was published as You Can Change the World, and later (by Daphne Spraggett) as Window on the World


In 1995, Patrick married Robyn Erwin from the US, who had been a co-worker with Jill before her death. Patrick and Robyn now live in Cambridgeshire, England, where they currently serve as regional directors for WEC's European bases.

Talk about it...

Terry Frazier

commented on Jun 26, 2016

While I know that the refugee problem in the world is a large one, I can't agree with bringing large numbers of refugees from the Middle east into America because we can't vet them properly and I don't want what has happened in France, Belgium and other countries to happen here. I also want people to pay attention to the fact that most immigrants who come to America and other countries are not assimilating, they are wanting to turn the countries in which they go into versions of the countries that they left. Britain has Sharia courts in their country. A country can't survive with a government that has been there for centuries and then have to implement a sub-government. There are no go zones, and sanctuary cities in America and I find that to be unacceptable. America DOES have a culture and it will be gone if we allow illegal immigrants to flood over our borders.

Jay Smelser

commented on Jun 26, 2016

God tells us to obey the Laws of the government or country (1 Peter 2, Romans 13) but for some reason most people miss that point when it comes to immigration (Legal vs Illegal). You stated you are a ?product of immigration" which is true for me and most other Americans however it was ?Legal? Immigration not Illegal. As far as the refugees from the Middle East it would be fine to help "some" as long as they can be thoroughly checked before entry and it is done legally.

Andrew Moffatt

commented on Jun 27, 2016

Well said Sir!

Klaus Georg Riedesel

commented on Jun 27, 2016

As we are christians, Jesus is our measure treating with people, not the state, because our western countries permit behaviours that God condemns. But we must stand strong against others who want to impose their religion. We must show them from the beginning of the contact, that we are fully decided to not permit that other religions dominate our daily life. They must know our strong will against changes of our culture! Perhaps they decide to return to e.g. a muslim country or even not to enter our countries. But Jesus wants us to teach them His gospel! Behind their possibles aggressions is Satan! Let's fight the right fight in Jesus name!

Jeff Strite

commented on Jun 27, 2016

Scripture taught Israel that immigrants were to be treated gently and with respect. But in that Old Testament era, immigrants could only stay so long. By God?s Law such individuals could become citizens ONLY if they embraced the faith of the God of Israel (and that included the painful rite of circumcision).

Terry Frazier

commented on Jun 28, 2016

The immigrants and aliens that we are faced with today weren't like the aliens and strangers like we read about in the Old Testament. They were by and large people who wanted to assimilate into the culture that they were in. They weren't facing suicide/homicide bombers, and terrorists in the O T like we are today! To try to equate what we're facing today to what they were dealing with in the OT or the NT for that matter is to put it very simply, like comparing apples to oranges or spears to explosives. The enemy has adapted to who we are today and is using every evil person and weapon that he can muster to hurt and kill innocent people wherever he can.

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