This weeks guest blog is by Patrick Johnstone with Dean Merrill
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.
This article was excerpted from Serving God in a Migrant Crisis: Ministry to People on the Move by Johnstone and Merrill. Now available from all good bookstores.