Migrants and Mission in the Bible
Dr. Benjamin George
Migrant or emigrant: alien, colonist, departer, displaced person, evacuee, exile, expatriate, fugitive, immigrant, migrant, migrator, outcast, pilgrim, refugee, traveler, wanderer, wayfarer.
MIGRATION: A SIGNIFICANT CHARACTERISTIC OF OUR DAY
Today, we are seeing the fulfillment of Daniel's prophecy, “But you, O Daniel, shut up the words and seal the book, even to the time of the end. Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased” (Dan 12:4).
In Malaysia, there is an airline whose slogan is "All can fly." Kerala has long boasted being the most literate state in India. Bus drivers have BAs and conductors MAs. Then thousands of our people began to go to distant states and foreign lands to work or study. I have had to interrupt writing this article to send off a family of seven to Canada, for the sake of their children’s education!.
As children of God in Christ, we are all pilgrims and sojourners in our world. Our position should teach us ways to effectively reach out to the migrants of our day.
MIGRANTS AND MISSION IN BIBLE TIMES
But we do not meet migrants in the Old Testament, but exiles, especially the Hebrews or Jews or Israelites. In those days, it was the practice of kings to war against their neighbours in summer to annex more territory. Egypt, Babylon, Assyria and Rome grew greatly in size and might through endless years of war. Always, they carried away the peoples of conquered lands as exiles to serve as slave labour. They used the cream of the exiles to enrich their land by their divine wisdom and knowledge.
ADAM AND EVE: FIRST EXILES IN THE BIBLE
Adam and Eve, God’s first-created people, became the world’s first migrants. God had made the Eden their permanent abode until they disobeyed God. Then God expelled them from Eden.
The Bible tells us, “So the LORD God sent them out of the Garden of Eden and made them cultivate the soil from which they had been formed. Then at the east side of the garden he put living creatures and a flaming sword which turned in all directions. This was to keep anyone from coming near the tree that gives life” (Genesis 3:23,24).
After the Lord banished him, He told him, “From now on, you'll be without a home, and you'll spend the rest of your life wandering from place to place” (Gen 4:12).
All the generations that followed them became exiles from God and the land that God had ordained for them!
GOD’s FIRST MISSION TO MIGRANTS
Thereafter, God embarked on a mission to migrant humanity to bring them back to Himself. He sent prophets and priests and kings and finally His own Son Jesus to redeem them. He came from heaven and preached the gospel of God’s love and laid down His life on the cross as a ransom for their sins!
God in eternity determined to regain man’s ‘’lost paradise.” This was God’s plan from all eternity.
GOD’S PURPOSE AND MISSION FOR THE NATION OF ISRAEL
To redeem humanity, exiled from their true home, God chose a small nation of no significance to be a people of His own. Their destiny is stated by God Himself. "People of Israel, you are my witnesses; I chose you to be my servant, so that you would know me and believe in me and understand that I am the only God. Besides me there is no other god; there never was and never will be. I alone am the LORD, the only one who can save you. I predicted what would happen, and then I came to your aid. No foreign god has ever done this; you are my witnesses. I am God and always will be. No one can escape from my power; no one can change what I do" (Isaiah 43:10-13).
ABRAHAM’S DIVINE MISSION
God chose Abraham and the nation of Israel for a divine mission: "Leave your country, your relatives, and your father's home, and go to a land that I am going to show you. I will give you many descendants, and they will become a great nation. I will bless you and make your name famous, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, but I will curse those who curse you. And through you I will bless all the nations."
Abram, seventy-five years old, started out from Haran, as the LORD commanded him. Abram took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, and all the wealth and slaves they had acquired in Haran, and they started out for the land of Canaan. The LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, "This is the country that I am going to give to your descendants." Then Abram built an altar there to the LORD, who had appeared to him. Then he moved on from place to place, going toward the southern part of Canaan (Genesis 12:1-9).
JOSEPH THE MIGRANT WITH A DIVINE MISSION TO EGYPT
Joseph was a young shepherd boy in Israel. But the God of his fathers raised him up as a witness to Him before the pagan monarch, the Pharoah of the mighty empire of Egypt. Joseph’s singular ability to interpret dreams and his uncanny wisdom from God caused the king to tell his officers and nation, "No one could possibly handle this better than Joseph, since the Spirit of God is with him." He told Joseph, "God is the one who has shown you these things. No one else is as wise as you are or knows as much as you do. I'm putting you in charge of my palace, and everybody will have to obey you. No one will be over you except me. You are now governor of all Egypt" (Genesis 41:39-41).
JACOB AND FAMILY MIGRATES TO EGYPT WITH GOD’S BLESSING
Jacob, Abraham’s grandson, migrated to Egypt with his whole family. We see God’s hand of guidance in that move. “Jacob packed up all he had and went to Beersheba, where he offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac. God spoke to him in a vision at night and called, ‘Jacob, Jacob!’ ‘Yes, here I am,’ he answered. ‘I am God, the God of your father,’ he said. ‘Do not be afraid to go to Egypt; I will make your descendants a great nation there. I will go with you to Egypt, and I will bring your descendants back to this land. Joseph will be with you when you die’(Genesis 46:1-4).
THE MIGRANTS BECOME EXILES AND SLAVES
Then a new king of Egypt, who knew nothing about Joseph, came to power in Egypt. He said to his people, "These Israelites are so numerous and strong that they are a threat to us. We must find some way to keep them from becoming even more numerous. So the Egyptians put slave drivers over them” (Exodus 1:8-13). The Israelites were the main exile group in the Old Testament. But God chose them in His eternal plan and purpose to save the world through them.
ESTHER, THE EXILE SLAVE GIRL AND HER MISSION TO ASSYRIA
Though a mere slave girl from Israel, Esther was sent by God to the palace of the king of Assyria. God gave her such exquisite beauty that the king made her his queen. Because of her faith in the God of her fathers, she influenced the king and thwarted the evil plans of the wicked prime minister to destroy her people! The king was impressed by the Israelite girl’s witness to the God of her fathers. Esther answered, "Your Majesty, if you really care for me and are willing to help, you can save me and my people. That's what I really want.” The king granted her request and saved the Jews from annihilation.” (Esther 4:14-16).
DANIEL AND HIS FRIENDS IN BABYLON
Daniel and three Hebrew young men were among the exiles brought to Babylon. They became mighty witnesses of their Lord God. It is recorded, “At the end of the three-year period set by King Nebuchadnezzar, his chief palace official brought all the young men to him. The king interviewed them and discovered that none of the others were as outstanding as Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. So they were given positions in the royal court. Whenever the king asked for advice, he found their wisdom was ten times better than that of any of his other advisors and magicians. Daniel served there until the first year of King Cyrus” (Daniel 1:18-21).
THE WITNESS OF THE THREE YOUNG MEN TO KING NEBUCHADNEZZAR
The stubborn refusal by the three young men to bow down to the king’s idol caused the wrath of the King to flare against them. The three men replied to King Nebuchadnezzar, "Your Majesty, we don't need to defend ourselves. The God we worship can save us from you and your flaming furnace. But even if he doesn't, we still won't worship your gods and the gold statue you have set up."
THE AMAZING TESTIMONY OF NEBUCHADNEZZAR TO THE GOD OF ISRAEL
They were thrown into the fiery furnace. Their God delivered them. Then, King Nebuchadnezzar said: “Praise their God for sending an angel to rescue his servants! They trusted their God and refused to obey my commands. Yes, they chose to die rather than to worship or serve any god except their own. Now, I won't allow people of any nation or race to say anything against their God. Anyone who does will be chopped up and their houses will be torn down, because no other god has such great power to save” (Daniel 3:26-29).
DANIEL’S WITNESS BEFORE THE BABYLONIAN KING AND PEOPLE
King Nebuchadnezzar’s advisors said to him, “All of your officials, leaders, advisors, and governors agree that you should make a law forbidding anyone to pray to any god or human except you for the next thirty days. Everyone who disobeys this law must be thrown into a pit of lions.” Daniel heard about the law, but when he returned home, he went upstairs and prayed in front of the window that faced Jerusalem. In the same way that he had always done, he knelt down in prayer three times a day, giving thanks to God. The men who had spoken to the king watched Daniel and saw him praying to his God for help” (Daniel 6:7-11).
DANIEL’S FAITH DELIVERS HIM
Daniel said, “My God knew that I was innocent, and he sent an angel to keep the lions from eating me. Your Majesty, I have never done anything to hurt you." The king was relieved to hear Daniel's voice, and he gave orders for him to be taken out of the pit. Daniel's faith in his God had kept him from being harmed. And the king ordered the men who had brought charges against Daniel to be thrown into the pit, together with their wives and children. But before they even reached the bottom, the lions ripped them to pieces.
THE CONVERSION OF KING DARIUS
King Darius then sent this message to all people of every nation and race in the world: "Greetings to all of you! I command everyone in my kingdom to worship and honor the God of Daniel. He is the living God, the one who lives forever. His power and his kingdom will never end. He rescues people and sets them free by working great miracles. Daniel's God has rescued him from the power of the lions." All went well for Daniel while Darius was king, and even when Cyrus the Persian king ruled (Daniel 6:23-28).
OPEN YOUR EYES AND LOOK AT THE FIELDS OF MIGRANTS
God sent His Son to a mission field to preach and to die for migrants. 2000 years ago, He told the disciples what He tells us today. "I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together” (John 4:35-36).
MISSION TO MIGRANTS IN THE NEW TESTMANT
The Believers of Jerusalem Became Migrants and Missionaries
When the church was persecuted, the believers scattered and became migrants in many parts of the Roman Empire.
The Book of Acts says that because of persecution, the believers from Jerusalem went everywhere (as migrants do) and witnessed first to the scattered Jews and later to the Gentiles. They migrated to the cities, coming from distant parts of the Empire for work and settlement. The Apostles too went from Jerusalem and witnessed to the Jewish Diaspora and to the Gentiles.
THE ANTIOCH CHURCH SENDS OUT MISSIONARIES TO MIGRANTS AND NATIVES
From the Antioch Church missionaries went out, Paul and Barnabas, instructed by the Holy Spirit, went to the cities of Asia Minor. They went from place to place visiting synagogues and market places preaching Christ and salvation through Him alone.
PAUL CALLED TO MISSION IN EUROPE
God gave the apostle Paul a vision (Acts 16:9). During the night, Paul had a vision of someone from Macedonia who stood before him and begged, "Come over to Macedonia and help us!" Thus Paul and Silas went over to Europe and witnessed about Jesus Christ. The gospel of God’s love thus spread westward and reached all Europe and England too. They and other missionaries witnessed to all the migrant Jews, Gentiles and Roman slaves.
LETTERS TO MIGRANT JEWS AND GENTILE BELIEVERS
In order to further witness to scattered believers throughout the Roman Empire, Paul and others, such as Peter, James and John, wrote letters.
MIGRANTS AND MISSION IN OUR TIMES
my work in malaysia
I went to Malaysia as a young medical doctor from Kerala with one mission—to work and earn money and return. That was in 1955. I had no plans to become a missionary. But as a Christian doctor, I had many opportunities to serve sick people with the compassion of Christ as well as medicine. But I had no mission nor was I a missionary to the people of Malaysia who were mostly migrants from neighbouring countries like China, Indonesia and Thailand. Then I was moved by the Holy Spirit to become a vocal witness as well as a missionary doctor. The sixties began my long mission career that took me to all churches and places. The people I worked with were largely 3rd and 4th generation Chinese and Indians. We are forbidden by law to evangelise the Muslims majority.
THE PRESENT FOR TODAY’S IMMIGRANTS
mass migration of workers
A major feature of our times is mass migration of workers from poor countries to richer nations. In Malaysia almost every fourth person you meet is a migrant. Indonesian maids work and live in our homes. Their men build our houses and skyscrapers. Countless Bangladesees, Myanmarees, Cambodians and Vietnamese work in shops and restaurants. Nepalese are our security guards. Most jobs are held by Indians and Sri Lankans. Many hold high executive posts.
In Kerala, too, there is enormous migration from other states, especially among the working class. Our work force from neighbouring states is now replaced by people from north India, especially from Bihar and Orissa. Many homes have migrant maids.
It has become the age of migration. The saying has become true. "The yesteryears saw missionaries going to far-away lands to evangelise. But today the mission fields have come to our door steps.”
ACTIVE MISSION BY CHURCHES AMONG MIGRANTS
In Malaysia we have a serious problem in evangelising migrants because most of them are Muslims! Our law prohibits proselytizing them. Even handing out a tract would court prosecution and deportation of a foreigner. Thank God there is great work going on among the others. Most churches and organisations are actively reaching out to them in various ways. Company is provided to the lonely; food and drink to the hungry; treatment to the sick; clothes to the naked and teaching the illiterate and even entertainment to the board!
MISSION BY ORDINARY BELIEVERS, YOUNG AND OLD
It is very heartening to see young high school students teach migrant workers in simple set ups while the undergrads engage their foreign counterparts in social and spiritual activities. My son recounted the ways their overseas Christian groups actively hunted for foreign students coming to Australia for the first time. They befriended them by meeting them at the airport and did everything to help them and win their confidence to share the gospel. This also helped to keep the stranger safe and secure from vices.
CASCADING MISSION WORK IN THEIR HOMELANDS
Migrants who are saved, established in faith and trained to do mission work often return to their homelands. Thank God they faithfully carry on mission work among their own people. Reports of conversions and establishing churches give us added encouragement to keep on labouring among the migrants with greater enthusiasm.
MISSION TRIPS TO MIGRANTS’ HOMELANDs AND PLANTING CHURCHES
A more recent trend in migrant mission is for local churches to send teams to go to these foreign lands to help, train and support the ‘returnee migrants’ and their work. Our local churches also support them financially to establish new churches.
WE ARE MIGRANTS AND SO JOURNERS
Listen to the apostle Peter who tells us, “You and I are strangers and refugees in this world! You are only immigrants here! So do not give in to bodily passions, which are always at war against the soul.”
He also encourages them, “Though you are indeed strangers and refugees and immigrants in this world, “YOU ARE ALSO GOD’S CHOSEN RACE, THE KING'S PRIESTS, A HOLY NATION, GOD'S OWN PEOPLE, chosen to proclaim the wonderful acts of God who called you out of darkness into his own marvelous light. Your conduct among the heathen should be so good that when they accuse you of being evildoers, they will have to recognize your good deeds and so praise God on the Day of his coming” (1 Peter 2:9-12).
The apostle Paul describes us in these glorious words: “WE ARE CITIZENS OF HEAVEN, AND WE EAGERLY WAIT FOR OUR SAVIOR, THE LORD JESUS CHRIST, TO COME FROM HEAVEN” (Philippians 3:20).