Ever heard of Mitylene, the capital of Lesbos? Probably not before 2015, when so many refugees commenced their landings on the shore ot that island
But yes, you did hear about this city; very probably you read about it in the account of Paul’s missionary travels (Acts 20:14f). Do we realize how in the first decades of Christianity a similar question was raised like in our times: will the doors of Europe open up? To be sure, in those days the opening up was for the Gospel (with missionaries coming from the Syrian [!] city of Antioch); now, in 2016, the challenge is rather whether a former Christian Europe will open its doors for hundreds of thousands of refugees,from Syria and other countries.
Patrick Johnstone, editor of the famous and voluminous PRAY FOR THE WORLD handbook, now wrote (with Dean Merrill) a small, but very relevant book: Serving God in a Migrant Crisis: Ministry to People on the Move, Colorado Springs, CO (GMI), 2016. And he challenges his fellow-Christians: are we really aware how God is in all of this? Do we know what God is up to in this migrant crisis?
This is not a book for scholars, but for average people like you and me. It is based on scholarly research, though, by someone who has a profound knowledge of global missiology and sociology.
Part One asks: What’s going on? Johnstone mentions a large amount of facts, some of which are quite astonishing. It is an interactive book, as each chapter ends with questions, triggering our feelings and responses. He mentions possible concerns about immigration, but also helps us to get a better picture of facts and figures.
His prediction is: it will get worse before it gets better. ‘We will see more migration, not less, during the next four decades. (…) My concern is with Christians who have convinced themselves that this whole migrant crisis is temporary and will quickly disappear, so they don’t need to do anything about it’ (21).
The impressive list that Johnstone mentions of failed states, or ‘tottering on the edge’ (22-24) mostly include countries with Muslim inhabitants, and especially with an amount of religious-political unrest. This helps in geographically mapping out the larger political situation in the world, where instability is a factor that colours many countries on the map.
Should our attitude be one of increasing fear? Johnston quotes from another author these important words: ‘Our role can’t be to ask: Is this safe? We have to ask: Who is my neighbor?’ (55)
It is important to give a place to faith as the counter-power of fear; but there are facts as well, and we cannot but be impressed by the facts about the blessings of immigration (57ff), and the figures impressive list of the growth of the number of muslim-background believers (63).
The core attitude of Christians, as I would summarize Johnstone, should consist in believing that God truly cares about migrants, and start praying (77ff). And then he gets more specific in the final part of the book, where possible actions are mentioned on four levels: individuals, local churches, Christian agencies, and the global Body of Christ.
The book concludes with a reference to the words from the book of Esther 4:14, ‘For such a time as this’, and asks: “Are we bold enough to raise a different kind of voice in the current debates? Are we willing to operate from a stance of faith rather than fear?’
I do hope this book will be read by many Christians worldwide, and indeed I do pray that it will be translated in my own language, Dutch. It is worth it.