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Migration is a major feature of the 21st century. A 2005 United Nations report claims that there are nearly 191 million international migrants worldwide. The International Organization for Migration estimates the number of foreign migrants at around 200 million. Another 100 million are on the move within their own borders.

Migration is enormously complex. Its causes and its effects range from simple economic betterment to the horrors of war, ethnic conflict, and genocide. Whatever the causes, it is an undeniable opportunity for evangelization that the church dare not ignore, says veteran missiologist J. Samuel Escobar in this installment of the Global Conversation.

In our 50 years as missionaries, my wife and I have become familiar with immigration laws and offices in the countries where we have served: Argentina, Brazil, Canada, the United States, and now Spain. Our most recent experience of standing in line for hours, filling out forms and asking God for patience to cope with bureaucratic slowness, was in Valencia in 2007. Standing in such lines, you hear amazing stories of the joys, tragedies, dramatic expectations, and disappointments of migrant people.

Spain is geographically situated between Europe and Africa, and tied to the Americas by three centuries as an imperial power. As such, it attracts migrants from Latin America, Africa, and Eastern Europe. The country's Catholic church and its tiny minority of Protestant churches have faced the challenge of this massive wave. It is a missionary challenge that forces churches to go to the roots of their faith.

In the middle of the night on May 4, 2002, in the town of Arganda just outside Madrid, a group of skinheads painted swastikas and racist phrases on the walls of a Romanian evangelical church. Then they set it on fire. Similarly, Joaquín Yebra, pastor of a Baptist church in Vallecas, a suburb of Madrid, has had services interrupted by young men whom he describes not as skinheads but as hooligans who have drunk too much. Twice a week his church provides food and medicine for 600 people, mostly immigrants from Morocco and Latin America. Some neighbors have protested the long lines that form for three hours, though most of them are understanding and sympathetic.

At the 2004 Forum for World Evangelization, hosted by the Lausanne Committee in Pattaya, Thailand, the "Globalization and the Gospel" working group heard stories of how churches in Canada and Japan responded to the challenges posed by migration and how they were transformed in the process. "We cannot underestimate the sheer power global migration has on the interdependence of our daily lives and collective fates, creating our larger common horizon of experience," the group's report concluded.

But the challenge and opportunity are nothing new. Migration was an important factor in the 16th-century Reformation. Celebrations of the fifth centennial of John Calvin's birth bring to mind the fact that he was a migrant who had fled France. He became a refugee in Geneva, Switzerland, where 5,000 migrants joined a population of 10,300 between the years 1542 and 1560. Historian Fred Brown describes "the terrific task facing church and state in Geneva to take ...

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The Conversation Begins
Selected writers respond to J. Samuel Escobar from around the globe.

Samuel Escobar offers three challenges to the church in his essay on migration: the challenge to show compassion toward migrants, the need to take a prophetic stance against unjust treatment of immigrants, ...

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Samuel Escobar raised one of the main challenges of migration, which is the acceptance of the "other"—the one different from us. Migrants, as the "other," are often regarded as threats by the indigenous ...

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Since the 1960s human migratory flows have remained at historically unprecedented levels due mainly to decolonization, economic globalization, global demographic trends, environmental disasters, armed ...

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I first read Samuel Escobar's timely article aboard a flight from Toronto, Ontario, bound for Edmonton, Alberta. Flying across Canada, a nation touted for its "vigorous immigration policy" and official ...

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