BY A PIONEERS MISSIONARY IN EUROPE
The world’s population is on the move. The latest UN figures suggest that 258 million people are currently living in a country other than their birth country. 78 million of these are settled in Europe, where they have joined the millions of descendants of those migrants who arrived in the last few decades. This gives unique opportunities for Gospel witness, as significant numbers of migrants come from countries traditionally closed to the Gospel.
However, not everyone is excited about the growing global movement of people. Most European countries have seen a growth in political parties advocating stricter immigration policies, and greater control of immigration was one of the reasons put forward in support of Brexit leading up to the 2016 referendum. Similar concerns are seen in other parts of the world. In the US, Donald Trump was elected president partly on the back of a promise to put Americans first, and a range of countries throughout the world are introducing tighter immigration policies.
The presence of foreigners tends to raise two significant concerns in the minds of many:
Firstly, there are concerns that migrants and their descendants have an adverse impact on the indigenous population’s access to jobs or welfare benefits. Every job occupied by a foreigner is one less job for an indigenous person, and every time a foreigner accesses welfare benefits, healthcare or schools, it puts greater pressure on these resources to the detriment of indigenous people.
Secondly, indigenous people often express real concerns that foreigners will have a negative impact on culture. Most cultures have an expectation that foreigners will conform to the dominant culture, and a perceived lack of willingness to conform to the host culture (including language, dress and interpersonal interactions) creates confusion or anger, and possibly fear that foreigners will permanently change the culture in a given neighbourhood or city. Members of the host culture can fear becoming strangers in their own country.
Naturally, the idea that foreigners have a negative influence on a country is not uncontested. For example, strong arguments can be made about the benefits of foreigners providing a necessary workforce in the context of an ageing indigenous population. Many will testify to the quality-of-life improvements brought about by a richer cultural tapestry in a given country – who doesn’t like a good curry?!
Nevertheless, concerns about ‘those’ people taking over ‘our’ country can run deep, and the sentiment can impact Christians and non-Christians alike. This has significant implications for diaspora ministry – ministry to the migrants among us. For no matter how great the potential for diaspora ministry might be, it is unlikely to be realised if indigenous believers primarily view those arriving from traditionally non-Christian nations as a threat to their country. Frustrations or fears related to real or perceived negative consequences of migration can often act as a significant deterrent to any genuine attempt to share the love of Christ with the foreigner. It is hard to love your perceived enemy.
However, Scripture is emphatically clear that we MUST love our brothers and enemies alike, and love should be expressed in both word and deed. That does not mean we necessarily must support an immigration policy that provides free passage to everyone wanting to enter our country. But it absolutely means we must seriously wrestle with heart attitudes that are not in line with Scripture, so that we are ready to genuinely love and share Christ with whomever we meet, including those from other cultures.
This is a daunting task, but thankfully the Holy Spirit and Scripture are formidable resources to us and can help us in at least three ways:
Remind Us Of The Grace We Have Received
I live in a neighbourhood that is roughly 70% Pakistani Muslim, and I remember walking down the street a couple of years ago feeling thoroughly frustrated with an aspect of Pakistani culture. I was getting on my high horse about the deficiency of Pakistanis, when the Spirit reminded me that I was a wild olive shoot that was grafted into the true vine (Romans 11.17). I’m not better than Pakistanis. I am not less sinful. My European culture does not make me more deserving of God’s grace. I am on a completely level playing field with Mohammed and Ahmed – we are desperately in need of God’s grace and mercy. Being reminded of God’s grace should act as a healthy antidote to the sense of superiority that can easily be formed by our ethnocentric view of the world. God’s love for the migrant in our midst is as relentless and passionate as it is for us.
Remind Us That ‘Our’ Country Is Not Ours
This country does not belong to us. It does not belong to immigrants either. This country, and every other speck of the earth belongs to God. No population has a divine right to a particular territory. Even Israel’s control of the Promised Land was conditional – obey the Lord and enjoy the land, disobey and go into exile. We don’t deserve to enjoy the benefits of our country. As a continent, Europe has turned its back on God. When we consider the sinfulness of our own lives, and the societal rejection of God, our first response should not be anger that migrants have come to our shores. Rather, we should marvel that God has allowed us to continue to enjoy peace, prosperity and freedom to the extent that we have. This does not take away the challenges of engaging cross-culturally on our ‘home turf’, but it might dampen our misplaced sense that we are being unfairly ‘robbed’ by undeserving foreigners. Exactly what have we done to deserve living where we do?
Remind Us That This Is Not Our Home: We Seek The Kingdom
Christ told us to pray for God’s kingdom to come, for our Father’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. Scripture also reminds us that we are sojourners passing through – we now long for, and belong to, a heavenly country. Our desire should therefore not be to see our national culture prevail, but for God’s kingdom to grow. And with that in mind, we should feel free to challenge aspects of any culture that does not conform to our Father’s will. So if an incoming culture shines a light on aspects of our own culture that is not in line with Scripture, e.g. our Western hyper-individualism, then we should receive that influence as a gift and be open to grow.
Similarly, at times, members of different cultures may be allies, where our prevailing Western culture is pushing us down a road we don’t want to travel. For example, my daughters are in a primary school with predominantly Muslim children, and I know their Muslim parents would stand shoulder to shoulder with us if the school wanted to introduce significant teaching on gender fluidity and sexual ethics contrary to scriptural commands.
And of course, there will be times when aspects of a migrant population’s culture run counter to Scripture, in which case we should also seek to find opportunities to influence this culture in a different direction. But in all these matters, our benchmark is the Kingdom of God, not our own national culture.
The growth in migration provides unique opportunities for Gospel ministry among diaspora populations, but without the Spirit’s help, we are unlikely to take them. May God continue to shape us in the image of Christ, open our eyes to His heart for all people and prepare us to reach out in love to the foreigner in our midst. ~