My team of case workers in the Rights and Welfare Department of Migrante International, Philippines.
People label things and attach values to them. For those who do not fit in, or are contrary to the interest of our ownership, we expel them. When we call some people outsiders, we become the ‘insiders’ and ‘locals.’ For the notion regarding the ‘others,’ we easily associate negative discourses such as ‘marginality,’ ‘exclusion,’ ‘borderline,’ and ‘outcast.’
Throughout my 20-month overseas experience as a Global Mission Fellow, my ministry was focused on migrant workers in the Philippines. I identified much with the migrants. I felt shameful when I juxtaposed the treatment of workers in the Philippines to that of my home context in Hong Kong. Migrant workers come to Hong Kong from the Philippines and Indonesia. Though permeating every part of the society, are often seen as the ‘invisibles,’ treated with apathy and suspicion. While during my mission experience in the Philippines, I was treated with great respect, trust and care, never the ‘invisible’ but the dearest guest and friend.
When I returned home to Hong Kong and share my experience in migrant ministry, here are some of the responses I encountered:
“Why do you serve the ‘outsiders’ but not us?”
“They [the migrants] get money out of us. Why should we give them other things?”
The great blocks of developing genuine and significant relationship, are the intentional distinctions and differences that we hold truly as inherent and indefensible.
If Jesus had made such distinctions, the whole story of mankind would have totally been overturned. Being a supreme deity, Jesus incarnated himself as full human being, to experience and suffer the common realities we face. Incarnation is the deepest form of engagement of God with these strangers—a population of sinful, poor and hippocratic human beings.
Jesus has full right to claim his dignity and kingdom on earth, yet He chose to give up all of it and instead, suffered mistreatment and poverty. The odd lies in the fact that the Lord of the Earth was treated as stranger, whereas the mortals of the Earth conceived themselves as Lords, expelling the true Lord and crowning their fellows.
As a matter of fact, we cannot ever neglect ourselves being migrants on Earth. 1 Chronicles 29:15 speaks, “For we are sojourners before You, and tenants, as all our fathers were; our days on the earth are like a shadow, and there is no hope.” We blind ourselves of the transient status we have on Earth, which leads to behaviors of accumulating wealth, securing ownership, exploiting others, and reducing ourselves to the minimal understanding of our being, which is actually destined for eternity.
Migration occupies a main standing throughout the Bible. In the Old Testament, it started from Abraham, the Father of faith, who responded to the Call to move. Joseph, too, was sold to Egypt, exalted as a leader, and delivered the Israelites from Egypt to the Promise Land, in which Israelites lived closely with God and the tabernacle. The prophets in the Old Testament were called out from their home places to foreign lands to speak the Word of God.
However, we as humans have also made a lot of false priorities. We valued kingdom over wilderness, temple over tabernacle, priests over prophets. The kingdom, temple and priests, which were human incentives, represent boundaries and defined areas. In contrast, the life of wilderness, tabernacle and prophets, innovated directly by God, are always on the move beyond boundaries.
Moving is also a recurrent theme in New Testament. Jesus descended from the heavens to the Earth, dwelling with human beings for more than 30 years. After His resurrection, disciples and apostles were called to different places to spread the Good News. Apostle Peter, submitted his life fully to Christ, no longer stayed with sea life but followed Jesus wherever He went, from the periphery of Galilee to the center of Jerusalem. Apostle Paul, a diasporic person having culture of both Jew and Greek, was culturally sensitive to his ministry. He also radically transformed his cultural identity from being a persecutor allied with the Pharisees, to a persecuted cultural status, being Christian.
The first calling of Jesus to His disciples was “Come follow me” (Matthew 4:19). Being the ‘followers’ of Christ implies the prerequisite of a mobile and flexible mentality to follow after the Lord wherever He goes. The early followers got out of their comfort zone and surrendered their decisions to their Lord Jesus’, by which they were able to witness the great teaching and miracles, and establish fundamental relationship with Christ.
Becoming a true follower thus represents the giving up of our kingdoms, control and security, exchanged with a heart of preparedness for an on-the-move faith journey. Following Jesus, we may experience daily crossing borders to the Samaritans, prostitutes, bad-reputed tax collectors, the poor, the sick, the disables, and the widows.
Here is a call to all of us—let’s recognize our castles, borders, and securities, for they have burdened the free Spirit inside of us that can move us in a way to experience daily wonders in the life journey with Christ. The susceptibility to be redirected and transformed, as well as the courage to critically evaluate our preset priorities, boundaries and strongholds, can help us live out faith in an unprecedented scale. A mobile church can foster mission to accommodate more than ‘insiders,’ but those on the margins, those that are excluded.
Ultimately, the power within us that propels Christian bodies with the freedom to move by faith lies in the most critical move already accomplished by Jesus Christ—transcending us from the status of death to the eternal status of life.
Hoi Lam (Hollace) Chai
Harris Memorial College