God’s People on the Move

Biblical and Global Perspectives in Migration and Mission.
By VanThanh Nguyen and John M Prior (editors)
Review by Darren Cronshaw

Hundreds of millions of immigrants are on the move today. Migration has always been part of human history, and is a big part of the biblical story. This volume’s editors introductory words include: “The Bible is filled with stories written by, for, and about strangers, migrants and refugees. It begins with the first human parents being exiled from Paradise and ends with the prophet John in exile on the island of Patmos envisioning all peoples migrating to the New Jerusalem.” (xi) But in the world today with growing inequality, global conflicts and viable transportation, more people are “on the move” than ever before. The church needs more biblical and missiological reflection of how best to respond with advocacy and hospitality.
The International Association for Mission Studies (IAMS) gathered in Toronto, Canada in 2012 and explored the scope and complexity, and especially biblical understandings and missiological responses to global migration. Most of the papers in this book were first discussed there in Toronto. The book has contributions from ten scholars – Protestant and Catholic, women and men from different ethnic backgrounds and working on five continents.
Part One “Biblical Perspectives on Migration and Mission” offers six chapters on biblical episodes relevant to migration. The two chapters on Abraham and Sarah show them as the unknown nomads yet agents of mission, and exemplars of mutual hospitality. A chapter on David’s migration to Gath as a political refugee shows how God can use strangers in a new land for God’s missional purposes. My favourite chapter from this section was Paul Hertig’s treatment of Jesus’ migration and boundary-crossing, and his tendency to “withdraw” to the margins. Another two chapters examine early Christian migration movements that expanded the gospel, and Paul and Barnabus facing rituals and beliefs in a strange land (Acts 14).
Part Two “Contemporary Issues of Migration and Mission” offers six chapters on issues for mission among and with migrants. It includes treatment of undocumented workers in the United States and how society relates to those perceived not to belong, including criminalization and refusing healthcare (and how the Good Samaritan modelled an alternative approach).
Craig Hendrickson challenges congregations to find a fresh sense of local place and from that to develop initiatives of reciprocal hospitality and embodying shalom. This is a profound chapter that places the displaced context of the church in the West alongside the experience of foreign migrants. Hendrickson warmly invites the church not to see migrants as objects of mission but as people to love, cry, laugh and come to the table together with.
Part 2 is shaped around contemporary issues bit continues to include some fascinating biblical engagement. There is an excellent qualitative study of Franco-phone migrant churches in Pretoria and their practice of Jeremiah 29 and Psalm 137. I plan to use that chapter to teach mot just migration but research methods in practical theology. Another very grassroots chapter is John Prior’s discussion of failed migrants returning to Indonesia with HIV and their reading together with him of the Book of Ruth. Tragically, HIV/AIDS comes with a “preferential option for the poor”, as Paul Farmer writes, but Prior shows how people on the margins can bring fresh readings of Scripture for their own liberation and for us to learn from.
George Wieland discusses migrants in Auckland, New Zealand alongside local readings of Acts. It is inspiring to read of leaders of immigrant churches capturing a vision for being partners with God and other churches in local mission.
vanThanh Nguyen explores migration trends in Asia including often inhumane treatment of migrant workers. His conclusion underlines a primary theme of the book – the imperative, and mutual blessing, of genuine hospitality to strangers and migrants from other lands.
God’s People on the Move offers this series of excellent chapters on biblical and current issues regarding migration and mission. It will be valuable for mission practitioners and teachers, especially those interested in trends of migration and mission among migrants.

This review was originally published in Exchange: Journal of Missiological and Ecumenical Research 45 (2016), 87-88.