With #LiftTheBan, the campaign to give people seeking asylum the right to work, in full flow this Weekly Focus continues the reflection around refugees and asylum. This week’s focus is based on Liberation and Entrapment project: Mission And Migration from the Mission Theology Advisory Group (MTAG), which asks ‘What kind of world does God want?’.
Jesus and his parents were refugees fleeing persecution when they went to Egypt. The conditions that surround the refugees, which have broken their lives, are therefore conditions of sin, offence against God. Click To Tweet
The Glorious New Creation
For I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice for ever
in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
and its people as a delight.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
or the cry of distress.
No more shall there be in it
an infant that lives but a few days,
or an old person who does not live out a lifetime;
for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth,
and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.
They shall build houses and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
They shall not build and another inhabit;
they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
They shall not labour in vain,
or bear children for calamity;[a] for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord—
and their descendants as well.
Before they call I will answer,
while they are yet speaking I will hear.
The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
but the serpent—its food shall be dust!
They shall not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain,
says the Lord.
Isaiah 65:17-25 (NRSVA)
What kind of world does God want?
Isaiah 65.17-25 sets out the kind of world which encourages and sustains human flourishing: a living context of peace, safety, stability; the ability to work and provide for individuals, families and communities; shelter, health and wellbeing and some measure of prosperity enabling people to build for a future. In such a world, people are much freer from fear and uncertainty; they have time to reflect on who they are as human beings in relation to God and what they want the future to contain. Jesus puts it more succinctly ‘I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly’ (John 10.10).
‘Ahmed, from Damascus, has been waiting at Keleti station for three days after journeying overland for more than three weeks through Turkey, Greece, Macedonia and Serbia. He says he is looking for two things: physical safety, and the ability to work and rebuild his life. Once in Western Europe, Ahmed (who asked that this real name not be used) hopes to bring his family over from Syria. “We have escaped death four times,” he says. “Our children are scared all the time. Even if you close a door loudly you can see the fear in their eyes.”’ [The Economist, 2 September 2015]
We can see immediately that the lives of the migrants and refugees like Ahmed are not remotely like the Isaiah vision. A Save the Children video which went viral on social media reflected this by showing a western child celebrating a birthday with her family and playing happily and securely with her toys, followed by images of the same child running in fear from explosions, and making her way, exhausted, into an uncertain world, clinging to a bedraggled toy as to the remnants of her life.
Refugees have often left their homes because there is no peace or security in the towns they have fled and may have been driven out because of war or persecution or violence against them. Some of these are Christians fleeing from groups such as IS or the Taliban. Displaced people fleeing from violence have no opportunities to provide for their families; they become entirely reliant on those who will shelter them and give them the means of movement. They are extraordinarily vulnerable when removed from the places and people they know. They often fall victim to evil people whose only interest is to rob them and exploit them – traffickers who take everything they have and abandon them, often to terrible deaths.
It is clear then that these conditions are not what God desires for human beings. Scripture indeed is littered with the stories of displaced and persecuted people and makes it clear that God goes with them. Jesus and his parents were refugees fleeing persecution when they went to Egypt. The conditions that surround the refugees, which have broken their lives, are therefore conditions of sin, offence against God. This is why the five marks of mission include loving service towards others, the need to challenge unjust structures of society, and the need to work for peace and reconciliation. The marks of mission are not general guidelines for Christian living but robust challenges to see human life changed for the better, permanently. Moreover, the marks of mission are not just about responding to lives as they are lived now; we have a responsibility as Christians carrying God’s intentions into the world to address every part of their lives – the violence and ruin of their past in the countries they have left, their needs now as migrants and refugees, their future lives in new and different places, and their needs to reconnect with other family members, their culture, their history and their origins.
An initial task, then, is to see and respond to migrants, refugees and asylum seekers as human beings, loved by God and desired by God to have settled, fruitful lives.