Author: Sadiri Joy Tira
A response to Samuel Escobar’s ’Migration & Ethnic Conflict’
I first read Samuel Escobar’s timely article aboard a flight from Toronto, Ontario, bound for Edmonton, Alberta. Flying across Canada, a nation touted for its ’vigorous immigration policy’ and official Multiculturalism Act, I recalled migrant stories of both welcome and triumph, of rejection and despair. In his article, Escobar poignantly describes the trauma often experienced when races and cultures meet.
Though the world is increasingly borderless, humans are still evidently ethnocentric, Christians included. Addressing this innate ethnocentrism, Escobar explains that Christians must grasp the apostle Paul’s theology in Romans 15:7 on mutual acceptance. He exhorts the people of God to ’welcome each other’ in the name of Jesus Christ ’for the glory of God.’ Christians will sometimes find this challenging, but welcoming each other for the glory of God is indeed ’the heart of the gospel.’
The story of Millbourne Alliance Church (MAC) and First Filipino Alliance Church (FFAC) in Edmonton is a story of hope in ’the heart of the gospel.’ FFAC was born to MAC, a congregation composed of primarily European descendants, in Edmonton in the early 1980s. MAC loved FFAC from birth. The mother congregation welcomed Filipinos, accepted them, provided for them, and protected them. MAC leadership assisted Filipinos in fighting injustices, and rallied their members to assist in practical ways, such as providing furniture for new immigrants.
However, clashes are to be expected when cultural differences are forced to the forefront—such as when carefree Filipino children would disrupt joint worship services, seemingly oblivious to the sanctity of the occasion, or when the Filipinos, in moments of over-familiarity, would fail to leave the church basement exactly as they found it. Certainly, there were times when MAC deaconesses felt inhospitable to the Filipinos. Still, MAC loved the Filipinos and in many ways modelled the acceptance of Christ. They showed the fledgling congregation the ’heart of the gospel.’ Once FFAC had matured to be self-governing, self-propagating, and self-supporting, MAC set her free with blessings.
In the following years, FFAC would take her inheritance of acceptance and would herself receive other New Canadians representing a host of races and ethnic backgrounds, would ’mother’ other ethnic groups, and would initiate ministries for New Canadians. Ministries such as PALM in Edmonton, a non-profit organization that provides settlement assistance to New Canadians from all continents, can trace its roots back to FFAC.
MAC–FFAC is a success story of a host church accepting and investing in migrants. I have heard of many traumatic stories too—stories rife with ethnocentrism and indifference. In reflecting on these, I echo Escobar’s three challenges aimed primarily at host Christians—the receiving church. To this I add two challenges to migrants—the ’people on the move’:
(1) The challenge to people on the move to also be sensitive and compassionate, to reciprocate kindness, and to be responsible and respectful.
It takes two to create a conflict. There is such a thing as reverse racism and discrimination—and many migrants are guilty of these. Racism and indifference toward others have a negative effect on the testimony of the church and her effectiveness to represent Christ in our broken world. This evil co-exists with the good, just as in the parable of ’wheat and tares’ (Matthew 13:24–29). The Gardener, Jesus Christ, will ultimately resolve this. For now, receiving Christians must be hospitable, but migrants must reciprocate, acting responsible and respectful.
Migrants should respond with thanksgiving and kindness, respect local rule and order, and be responsible for time and space. For example, migrants should not cut others off in a queue, throw their garbage into the streets as if they were still living in Manila’s Smoky Mountains, or speed when driving in front of schools. Migrants should use pedestrian lanes, say ’excuse me’ and ’thank you,’ and tidy up the church basement after having a party.
(2) The challenge to systematically and strategically prepare Christian migrants to actively participate in evangelism.
The ’people on the move’ can be mobilized for missions. I have met countless Christian migrants who are effective witnesses of Christ to their hosts, including the head baker for a royal family in Africa, the maids of wealthy Chinese bankers in Hong Kong, caregivers of seniors in Israel, and crews working aboard cruise ships. Migrants are not just subjects of evangelism but have emerged as a missions force in the 21st century. Homeland churches should understand that migration is an avenue for the evangelistic dimension of mission. With this understanding, homeland churches can prepare people on the move to be effective witnesses of Christ wherever they may be transplanted. Christians on the move should be affirmed, encouraged, equipped, and mobilized for the kingdom advance, all for the glory of God.
Conflicts between migrants and their hosts are unavoidable, but can be managed in a Christ-like manner. As Christians—both migrants and their hosts—demonstrate ’the heart of the gospel,’ opportunities arise for ministry. Kingdom partnerships are forged between the receiving and migrating peoples to help fulfil the Great Commission. Together, migrants and hosts can work with the whole church to bring the whole gospel to the whole world.
Sadiri Joy Tira is Senior Associate for Diasporas of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, International Coordinator for the Filipino International Network, and Global Ministries Diasporas specialist for the Christian and Missionary Alliance Canada.
Copyright © 2010 Christianity Today/The Lausanne Movement.