Strangers Next Door: Immigration, Migration, and Mission

Written by J. D. Payne Reviewed By Alexander Granados

In the late twentieth century, Diaspora studies as an academic field was established to investigate the global issues of peoples on the move. This new academic field is a multidisciplinary study of the history, culture, social structures, politics, and economics of global migration trends. It addresses traditional Jewish, Greek, and Armenian diaspora and includes the transnational dispersions of African, Asian, European, Latin American, and many other peoples. Hence, the term diaspora now carries the connotation of forced resettlement of refugees due to expulsion, slavery, racism, or war, especially nationalist conflict. It also means a voluntary resettlement, due to economic migration, academic pursuits, professional advancement, or political service. Diaspora missiology, the systematic and academic study of the phenomenon of diaspora in the fulfillment of God’s mission, shortly followed.

J. D. Payne makes a significant contribution to the growing academic field of diaspora missiology. He presents a biblical, historical, statistical, and anecdotal glimpse into what God is doing in the world. He desires to educate the Western church on the scope of global migrations that are taking place as the peoples of the world move to the West in search of a better way of life. He wants to challenge the Western church to reach the least reached people living in their neighborhoods and partner with them to return to their peoples as missionaries (pp. 18–19).

Immigration is a contentiously debated issue among Christians. For some, a pro-immigrant stance is rooted in core biblical principles such as love, mercy, hospitality, and the ethical imperative to help those who are less fortunate. For others, an anti-immigrant posture is rooted in Rom 13 and passages that accentuate divine authority and a person’s duty to respect and obey the rule of law. Payne steers away from the volatile debate to focus his attention on the premise “that the Sovereign Lord orchestrates the movement of peoples across the globe in order to advance his kingdom for his glory” (p. 22). He concedes that Strangers Next Door is not about the political or ethical issues revolving around immigration and refugees. It does not address the changing demographic and cultural shape of the Christian faith or how a local church should respond to congregational cultural shifts (pp. 20–21). He aptly emphasizes that “something is missiologically malignant when we are willing to send people across the oceans . . . but we are not willing to walk next door and minister to the strangers living there” (p. 33). While we have been commissioned by God to go to the nations, we can’t ignore God’s intimate involvement in bringing the nations to us.

Payne insightfully describes the scattering and dispersion of Jews in the OT and Christians in the NT. He argues that by saying to Adam and Eve, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” (Gen 1:28), God initiated global migrations through procreation and the eventual movement of peoples to fill the earth for God’s glory. Genesis 3:22–24 records the forced resettlement of Adam and Eve initiated by God because of their sin. Men and women have been on the move ever since. This movement of the peoples is clearly seen in the OT through the migration of Cain, descendants of Noah after the flood, dispersion after Babel, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Joseph sold into slavery, the exodus, the story of Ruth, and Israel’s exile to Assyria and to Babylon. In the NT, the setting to the birth of Jesus is marked by movements of various peoples in and out of the land of Palestine. Joseph, Mary, and Jesus were themselves refugees in Egypt (Matt 2:13–14). The great persecution that erupted against the Jerusalem church in Acts 8:1 resulted in the scattering of the disciples throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria. The Book of Acts reveals the migration of believers into Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch and chronicles a wide range of Jewish diaspora throughout Paul’s missionary journeys. The epistles of James and Peter avow that kingdom citizens are all sojourners in this world.

Payne offers a compelling historical synopsis of migration and the West, 1500–2010: the European Colonialism and African-Slave-Trade Era (1500–1850); the Industrial Era (1850–1945), and the Postindustrial Global Migration Era (1945–present). He gives informative data on the number of international students studying in North America and Western Europe. The discussion of refugees on the move highlights the need for compassion, assistance, and most importantly the good news. The inspiring and convicting stories from the field enhance a current and future hope for reaching the nations. The guidelines for reaching the strangers next door admittedly only scratches the surface of the topic and is intended as a conversation starter not an exhaustive discussion. The suggested strategy for reaching the strangers next door, “R.E.P.S.” (Reach, Equip, Partner, and Send), is “designed to be contextualized by churches and missionaries in their areas, among those who have migrated next door” (p. 140). Surely, more stories from the field will be told as churches faithfully engage migrants with the gospel. Payne fittingly concludes with Acts 17:24–27 to affirm how God’s redemptive plan begins with Adam and Eve and ends with heaven being populated from every tribe and tongue and people and nation (Rev 5:9; 7:9).

Alexander Granados

Alexander Granados
The Master’s College
Santa Clarita, California, USA

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