Reach the Migrants
Ms. Starla Luke
Growing up, we often heard the call to "go" to other cities, towns or villages to share the Good News. Learning a new language, adapting to new customs and food habits were encouraged and appreciated when done effectively with the intent of advancing the Gospel.
How different is the world today! The places where we grew up are far different from those we live in now. Our very perception of the world itself is changing. So is our perception of missions. Our challenge today is to deal with these changes – which are neither good nor bad in themselves – or we risk living contrary to what God has called us to do.
Living in Kerala for the past 14 years, I have noticed how rapidly circumstances have changed – people, economy and political dynamics all combined should cause us to rethink the ways we ought to be engaged in missions.
Kerala being a state at the southern tip of our vast sub continent, not many from outside of the state have ventured into “God’s Own Country”. Except for a few Tamil speakers who hailed from towns bordering the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border, in the past we hardly saw people from other states in our midst.
Today, the scene in totally different. Various migrant communities are seen in Kerala as construction workers, hotel boys, skilled workers, etc. Odisha, West Bengal and Bihar are some of the leading states whose young men leave their lands and come to little Kerala, which to them is as good and promising as the “Arabian/Persian Gulf is to us here". There are hordes of migrants working in Kerala today – a ready field for evangelism.
I recall how when the new facility for India Bible College & Seminary was being built at IGO campus, we had over 400 people as part of the construction team living on our property for several months at a stretch. They came from all of the states mentioned above. They were very good workers without wasting a day ( a boon to the strike/hartal-ridden state of Kerala). Soon, the IBC community realised that the Lord had brought into our campus the very people we wanted to reach out to – for which our students were being equipped in the classroom and in the ministry field. Right here in our backyard we had an entire lot of people to whom we may never have access to otherwise.
How would we respond to this opportunity? Our students who hailed from the 'migrants' states seized the opportunity by ministering to these labourers in their own language. Films were screened in their languages, songs were taught, scripture was highlighted through choreography and skits, and finally theGospel was presented in a simple way to them. Many responded and asked Jesus into their hearts.
The reason these migrants come our state or go anywhere else seeking better prospects, is primarily for better-paying jobs in order-to send more money home.
These workers did not get here on their own, they were hired by agencies or construction companies or business owners. This is migration within the country where passport or visa requirements are not impediments to travel. For years, people from our smaller towns and villages moved to northern metropolitan cities in search of better job opportunities. Today we see an influx of people of diverse language groups coming into our state. Thankfully many of these people have a working knowledge of Hindi – thus making it easy for us to reach out to them using one common language.
What does this mean for “missions”?
We need to identify the people that have migrated to our land. Find out if there are children of God among them. If there are any, then they can be our "contact people". They can be encouraged to give leadership to the groups that are intended to be held regularly.
I was on a teaching assignment in Salalah, Sultanate of Oman during 1998 - 2000. The day after we first got there, the English church pastor and his wife, Pastor Ken and Margaret, visited our facility to meet with the nine Indian ladies (from various language, religious and social backgrounds) who he heard had just arrived there. Both of them introduced themselves to us and got basic details on each of us. He then prayed for us and gave each of us a copy of The Daily Bread. This was the best welcome we ladies received. For all the time we were there, none of my colleagues ever forgot the warmth and special way in which we were all made to feel assured, comfortable and cared for. None of my friends ever refused to show interest in anything Pastor Ken had to share and many were attracted to Jesus because of the warmth they displayed when we first landed in a new place. So, making the migrants feel welcome will always win you into their hearts.
If the majority are people who do not know Christ, they need to be approached with much prayer. This is a period of time in which they feel isolated and lonely. as they are away from their families and loved ones, they will in most cases willingly receive any encouragement or care without reservation. As Christian men and women, we can show our care and concern by being sensitive to their needs. As newcomers to a ‘foreign’ state, they are not provided with much orientation. So, someone who knows to communicate in their language must certainly take the responsibility to identify and give them whatever will make them comfortable in their new setting. This will make them open to our sharing the Good News with them at a later point.
We should also safeguard migrants against new and dangerous ideologies and temptations. With the sudden influx of money that they earn, they should be educated to protect themselves from falling prey to dangers that lurk around them. Instead we must teach them to save finances, make them aware that the quality of education for their children is of utmost importance and even provide extra tuition for such children, if needed.
In conclusion, we must remember that not all missionaries are expected to ‘go’ to distant places. Many times God brings the ones we should reach our doorstep. All we have to do is meaningfully reach out to them from the comfort of our homes or local churches. Migration and urbanization should cause us to rethink : if people are moving out of their comfort zone to be near us, shouldn’t we take a step and in their direction and make them feel precious and wanted? They need our time, our love and empathy. Missionaries should enter their lives and see them though the eyes of Jesus – doing so will, without a doubt, build Christ-centered migrant communities.