Mission Fields on the Move
The massive global migration we see today presents unparalleled opportunities for ministry.
Migration is a major feature of the 21st century. A 2005 United Nations report claims that there are nearly 191 million international migrants worldwide. The International Organization for Migration estimates the number of foreign migrants at around 200 million. Another 100 million are on the move within their own borders.
Migration is enormously complex. Its causes and its effects range from simple economic betterment to the horrors of war, ethnic conflict, and genocide. Whatever the causes, it is an undeniable opportunity for evangelization that the church dare not ignore, says veteran missiologist J. Samuel Escobar in this installment of the Global Conversation.
In our 50 years as missionaries, my wife and I have become familiar with immigration laws and offices in the countries where we have served: Argentina, Brazil, Canada, the United States, and now Spain. Our most recent experience of standing in line for hours, filling out forms and asking God for patience to cope with bureaucratic slowness, was in Valencia in 2007. Standing in such lines, you hear amazing stories of the joys, tragedies, dramatic expectations, and disappointments of migrant people.
Spain is geographically situated between Europe and Africa, and tied to the Americas by three centuries as an imperial power. As such, it attracts migrants from Latin America, Africa, and Eastern Europe. The country's Catholic church and its tiny minority of Protestant churches have faced the challenge of this massive wave. It is a missionary challenge that forces churches to go to the roots of their faith.
In the middle of the night on May 4, 2002, in the town of Arganda just outside Madrid, a group of skinheads painted swastikas and racist phrases on the walls of a Romanian evangelical church. Then they set it on fire. Similarly, Joaquín Yebra, pastor of a Baptist church in Vallecas, a suburb of Madrid, has had services interrupted by young men whom he describes not as skinheads but as hooligans who have drunk too much. Twice a week his church provides food and medicine for 600 people, mostly immigrants from Morocco and Latin America. Some neighbors have protested the long lines that form for three hours, though most of them are understanding and sympathetic.
At the 2004 Forum for World Evangelization, hosted by the Lausanne Committee in Pattaya, Thailand, the "Globalization and the Gospel" working group heard stories of how churches in Canada and Japan responded to the challenges posed by migration and how they were transformed in the process. "We cannot underestimate the sheer power global migration has on the interdependence of our daily lives and collective fates, creating our larger common horizon of experience," the group's report concluded.
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