Thoughts on Church and Migration (Luigi Peñaranda)

I must admit that the picture of the little boy whose dead body was being carried by a Turkish police officer opened my eyes. It woke me up. It forced me to see a reality that many of us, perhaps inadvertently (maybe intentionally), have been ignoring. But the church needs to pay attention. Issues of migration pertain to the church because God is particularly concerned with doing justice to the landless (those who do not enjoy the same rights as residents).

In a very real sense, the church itself is to be a migrant community, commanded to scatter (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts, yes the whole book!). In another sense, Christians are “politeuma en ouranois” (citizens in heaven; Phil 3:20), or as Hauerwas and Willimon (1989) suggest, a colony of “aliens trying to stake out a living on someone else’s turf” (p. 11). Jesus deterred some from following him, noting that foxes and birds have a place to reside, but not the son of man and, by implication, not his followers (Mat 8:20). If any community should understand the life of a migrant, it should be the church. But do we?

It is encouraging to hear that, in the midst of rampant reactions with xenophobic undertones, many Christians are loving and serving destitute migrants. Parishes and religious communities have been summoned to host landless families. Good Samaritans are loving their neighbors.

Though, for a moment, the world’s attention is on the European crisis, soon the media will forget. Will the church forget?

In reality, the problem is pervasive. According to the 2013 International Migration Report produced by the United Nations, 232 million people lived outside their country of origin during that year. That is, in 2013, 3.2 per cent of the world’s population were migrants. Things have not gotten better, and the repercussions of these massive dispersions are far reaching.

The church needs to hear the voice of the displaced ones. That entails, not only to respond to the humanitarian crisis, but also to rethink or reassess our theology of the “migrants.” Here are some thoughts to generate some dialogue:


  • Why does the story of “the fall” in Genesis 3 end with “the Adam” being driven out of the garden? Regardless of one’s reading of that text, the question still stands.
  • The Pentateuch talks quite a lot about the “strangers” or “resident aliens” (the Hebrew word is “gar”). There were provisions for them. For instance, they could celebrate Passover (under some conditions; Ex. 12:48; Num. 9:14), they were not to be oppressed or abused (Ex. 22:21-27; 23:9; Lev 19:33), they were to rest on the Sabbath (Ex. 23:12; Lev. 16:29; Deut. 5:14), some of the products of the land were to be left so that they could satisfy their hunger (Lev. 19:9-10), they were to be loved (Lev. 19:34; Deut. 10:18-19), they were to follow the same laws as the “citizens” (Num. 15:16), they were to have access to food and clothing (Deut. 10:18), they were to experience justice and to receive a timely retribution for their work (Deut. 24:14,17). How can the church appropriate these passages?
  • The “stranger” in the land, is often in the same category as the poor, the orphan, and the widow. God takes particular interest in doing justice to all of these people. What does that mean for us today?
  • When the church asks the question “who is my neighbor,” is it trying to justify herself like the expert in the law did in Luke 10?
  • Why is a corporation treated as a person and a migrant often is not?

God…don’t let us fall asleep…again!



Hauerwas, S., & Willimon, W. (1989). Resident aliens: Life in the Christian colony. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.

United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2013). International Migration Report 2013.