“They deserve their suffering”, a person said about migrants arriving in the country during a local church meeting in Colombia.
The person continued: “These people bring it upon themselves, fleeing from the policies of their government that they themselves elected. And also, they decided to come here illegally. Because of all this, I say they deserve their suffering.”
The reality of migration is not something that only the Minority World countries face. This is a global phenomenon.
As such, many of our churches in different cultures face the same dilemma: Should we back anti-immigration laws in our country? or should we help those that are arriving despite their legal status? This dilemma becomes even more complex when we remember that what is legal in a society is not always just, and that what is just can sometimes be illegal. As Jesus would say, when referring to the laws of his time: “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath” (Mark 2:27).
The immigrant is a person who lives their reality in two worlds: their original culture and the place where they find themselves. An equivalent term in Scripture would be a pilgrim. This term reminds us that as members of the people of God, we live in diaspora, as exiles in the world. We are called not to conform to society (Romans 12:2), but rather to live according to the values of the kingdom of God, a kingdom to which we acquire a new citizenship.
The above implies that as faith communities – even those members who we were born in the country where we reside – we share with immigrants this same experience of not belonging to the place where we live.
Throughout our ongoing pilgrimage, we can easily identify with those who have left their land and their culture. We can offer space and grace to other people, who like ourselves, are on the periphery of society.
At the end of the day, God has not given us what we deserve, but rather has made us new citizens of God’s kingdom. Included in this citizenship is renouncing human paradigms of power and domination, and sharing the same hospitality that we have received with others.
There can be political and ideological reasons for deporting migrants, as well as economic explanations for why anti-immigration laws exist. However, there are no theological or biblical reasons for supporting them.
Perhaps some migrants arrive in our countries having made poor decisions that force them to leave their home.
Perhaps some deserve the suffering that they face.
Even so, as followers of Jesus, we believe in a God who does not give us what we deserve, but rather what we need. As Christians, we are called to be a people of new beginnings, a people of hope, a people from whom love and care for the foreigner naturally flow, even when it is considered illegal in certain contexts.
In this issue of the Courier, we have chosen to highlight this topic that is so relevant in our world today, a world in which protectionist policies result in dehumanizing treatment for millions of people. It is about immigrants, who like many Anabaptists in past centuries, left their land pressured by violence, persecution or lack of opportunities. They look for new communities of hope, a foretaste of the kingdom of God that enables them to start afresh.
It is my prayer that as the global church we always remember that we are citizens of God’s kingdom, pilgrims and foreigners in this world.
—César García, MWC general secretary, originally from Colombia, lives in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada.
This article first appeared in Courier/Correo/Courrier October 2019.