Don’t Have to Live Like a Refugee: a book review

People are moving and people are being displaced. There are immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers all wishing to leave there country of origin, for a variety of reasons poverty, environmental catastrophes, terrorism, nations destabilized by war and revolution, and the promise of a better life somewhere else. “There are about 60 million people on the move . . . . 1 out of every 122 people on the planet today is out of there natural home” (15). “The world has literally come to our doorstep. Will we open the door?” (back cover).

4535In  Serving God in the Migrant CrisisPatrick Johnstone and Dean Merrill teamed up to examine the causes of today’s refugee crisis and the global displacement, explore the  Christian response towards immigrants and aliens, and describe actional steps that individuals, churches, non-profits and the global body of Christ can do to respond to immigrants, refugees and vulnerable strangers in crisis. Johnstone is the original author of Operation World (a global prayer guide for Christians), and a number of other Operation World resources. He served on the leadership team for Worldwide Evangelisation for Christ (WEC International) for 32 years and has been active in writing, in advocating for and ministering to refugees in his home, Derby, England.  [Merrill is the author or coauthor of more than 40 books, but the ‘I’ voice throughout the book, is Johnstone’s].

The book divides into three sections. In part one, Johnstone examines what’s going on. Chapter 1, describes the scope of the global migrant crisis. Chapter 2 explores our attitudes toward immigrants. Notably, Johnstone speaks to several fears people have about migrants. Against the charge that immigrants will take advantage of us and be drain on resources, Johnstone posits that once migrants start working, their payroll tax contributes toward social funding (25-26). He also challenges the notion that immigrants have ill will in their hearts (or maybe secret terrorists). Certainly, there is a risk, which government officials are aware of and work to neutralize,  but the vast majority of immigrants are more likely to be victims of crime then they are to be perpetrators. Johnstone quotes Michael Collyer of the University of Sussex:

Where rapid urbanization coincides with a significant rise in urban violence migrants are often blamed. However, newcomers are over-represtened amongst poor and marginalized groups who typically suffer the most serious consequences of violence—they are much more likely to be the victims of violence than perpetrators (26).

Against the idea that helping people will only increase the flood of immigrants into our country, Johnstone allows that while may be true and that there are complicated issues around who immigrates and how (e.g. no one has argued for completely open borders),  he reminds us that as Christians we ought to continue to treat immigrants as Divine image bearers (27).  In chapter 3, Johnstone argues that with continued political unrest—failed states, and states which are on ‘shaky ground—as well as other factors, there seems to be no end in sight to global migration.

In part two, Johnstone describes what we should know as we seek to respond to the migrant crisis. Chapter 4 describes why people run—the things that push refugees out of their homelands, and the things that pull them to seek asylum in the West (e.g. security, hope and the promise of a better life). Chapter 5 provides a brief overview of immigrants in the biblical story (e.g. Jesus, Moses, the people of Israel, etc). Chapter 6 exhorts us to behave compassionately towards immigrants and refugees and to challenge the policies that are harmful toward them. Often government policies in the developing world, leave refugees languishing and at-risk in their countries of origin:

Whatever our nationality, citizens who care about justice for the “alien and stranger” need to work to reform these polices and practices. After all, 99 percent of the world’s refugees are not being savely restelled whether inside the borders of their own country, in a nearby country, or accross the ocean. Instead, they are waiting, waiting, waiting, often in squalid conditions as months and years tick by” (63-64).

Johnstone challenges us further, to not let fear or politics get in the way of helping the stranger:

Let it never be said that we “would have liked to” help today’s refugees, but the policy environment was not conducive, and so we turned to other activities. “Of course we want to keep terrorists out of the country,”  says Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals (United States) “but let’s not punish the victims of ISIS for the sins of ISIS.

His collegue Matthew Soerens, United States director of church mobilization for WOlrd Relief, adds, “With governemetn doing its job of screening and vertting, our role can’t be to ask, “Is it safe?” We have to ask, “Who is my neighbor?”

The need for real people—God’s highest creation—must always trump poitical arguements and personal fear. (68).

Chapter 7 argues that the contributions of immigrants to society will both re-energize a complacent society, and a complacent faith (i.e. often refugees fleeing primarily Muslim countries, are Christians).

In part three, Johnstone explores what we can do. Chapter 8 describes where we start. First, as an evangelical Christian committed to mission, Johnstone argues that we ought to appreciate the strategic opportunity of the world knocking on our door (82). Second, Johnstone argues that we need to admit and acknowledge our past mistakes, namely how Christian enmeshment with empire and colonialism is a driven a good deal of the current migrant crisis (86-89). Third, we need to become more sensitive toward other cultures (88-90). Fourth, we need to believe that God really cares about migrants (90). Johnstone points to a number of examples from the Bible that demonstrate God’s care for the immigrant (cf. Leviticus 19:33-34, Leviticus 24:22. Deut. 10:18-19, Deut 24:14-15, Deut. 27:19, 1 Kings 8:41-43, Psalm 146:9, Ezekiel 47:21-23, Zechariah 7:8-10, Hebrews 13:2).

The remainder of the book, (chapters 9-12) describe what individuals, churches, organizations and the world church can do to minister to migrants.

This is a short book, and certainly, Johnstone does not untangle all the issues. However, there are several aspects of this book I really appreciated. First, this book is certainly non-partisan. Johnstone is an old school evangelical but from a British, not American context. Many of the issues he describes were already pertinent before our current U.S. President took office. The current political rhetoric in this country makes it sound like Democrats care about helping people and Republicans lack compassion. The truth is that Republicans and Democrats have both been bad about carrying for immigrants. Second, I appreciate how much Johnstone sees the migrant crisis as an opportunity to care for others, to share our faith and to bless the world.

Johnstone is more of a practitioner than a scholar and this is a popular level book (134 pages. I read it on a plane ride). Certainly what is said here can be nuanced but if you are looking at the world and wondering how as a Christian you ought to respond to the millions of displaced peoples, this is a good place to start. I give this four stars. ★★★★

Notice of material connection: I received a copy of this book from InterVarsity Press in exchange for my honest review.

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matichuk

I am a pastor, husband, father, instigator, pray-er, hoper, writer, trouble-maker, peacemaker, and friend. Who are you?

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