In chapter 9 of Controversies in Mission, veteran missiologist and anthropologist Miriam Adeney offers a moving reflection on Christian mission in the age of global migration--particularly illegal immigration. She writes:
Today, eleven million people live in this land illegally. According to the law, they have no right to be here because they lack residency documents. Nevertheless, more continue to slip across our borders, including tens of thousands of children, who pushed up from Central America in 2014.
This mobile population represents one of the great issues of our time. What is justice in relation to these people? What is mercy? How do we balance safeguarding our communities, upholding the law, and loving our neighbors? Furthermore, when we encounter migrants who are believers, how do we partner together in the new arenas of cross-cultural mission and ministry that are opening? These questions echo not only in America but worldwide as diasporas ebb and flow across many nations.
This paper focuses on the federal Northwest Detention Center, a 1500-bed facility south of Seattle housing people scheduled for deportation. The detainees range from hardened criminals to those who have overstayed their student or work visas to others who lack complete papers simply because of irregularities in their journeys. For example, they may have no birth certificate because they were born in the middle of a war, and their non-English-speaking parents did not explain this.
Whatever the reason, when the gates clang shut, the words over the entry to Dante’s inferno reverberate: “Abandon hope, all you who enter here.” Suddenly a man loses his income, his long term goals, and maybe even his spouse and children. Most detainees do not have attorneys. If they do not speak English, they may not understand what is happening. Most likely they will be dumped back in the land of their ancestors with or without money, or language, or family or friends. If that country has political or religious prejudices, they may undergo torture. Dante’s warnings ring loud.
Yet a surprising and fruitful ministry with international reverberations has developed in the detention center. This paper briefly narrates that story. Several missiological themes appear:
Each of these themes deserves to be studied at much more length. Hopefully future research will continue this.
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