A Migrant's Tale
These past few months we’ve journeyed through Exodus. We’ve shaken our heads as pharaoh defies God and brings down suffering on his people. We’ve cheered as slaves walk out of Egypt and into freedom. We’ve freaked out as law enforcement agents hunt down the former slaves, and we’ve sighed with relief as God protects His people by literally washing evil away. It’s a barrage of emotional resonance and Bronze Age rocket launchers, and all within the first few chapters.
But the story of Exodus may not have happened. Don’t worry; I’m not questioning the archaeological evidence for Exodus. What I’m saying is this: The events in Exodus only happened because roughly 400 years before the plagues and the Passover a country chose to act humanely.
Here is the story.
Chapter one: Every story has a beginning
Exodus begins in Genesis. In the plains outside Egypt, a man named Israel ruled over a tent city. He was surrounded by family – more than 60 direct descendants, plus an untold number of in-laws and servants. But, despite all the noise, the squabbles and the smiles that come with a large family, he was lonely. He missed his eleventh son, a gentle boy rumoured to have been torn apart by wild animals.
Two decades after the boy’s reported death, a famine spread through the area we now call the Middle East. People starved. There was economic turmoil and social unrest. People groups began to wander, looking for safety and stability. And in a tent city, a father still mourning his son began to search for food.
The Bible tells us Egypt had food. Lots of food. Food to spare. The “whole world” flocked there. Just imagine the “swarm,” the “hordes.” Among these hungry “invaders” were Israel’s sons. They petitioned pharaoh’s second-in-command for food. The man who ruled Egypt on pharaoh’s behalf gave them more than bread and grain. He offered them refuge. He asked the family, all 60 plus, to become an honoured part of the Egyptian community.
Israel was “lucky.” He had family in Egypt. His son, the one reportedly lost, was alive. More than alive, this son ruled Egypt. And so, a caravan of hungry, frightened foreigners was welcomed into a powerful nation. Rather than dying in a famine, they prospered in a new land.
But imagine if pharaoh had said no. What if in response to the famine the Egyptians had built a wall? What if they’d separated Israel’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren from their parents or detained Israel and his family in overcrowded holding centers? What if instead of sharing their resources, the ancient Egyptians had put “Egypt first?” Where would we, a people who worship Jesus – Israel’s descendants – be now?
Chapter two: God + glory + country
I didn’t grow up in a culture of God, guns and country. But as an Australian, I was raised in the long shadow of “God, glory and gold.” Australia was part of the British Empire, a once vast network of countries ruled by a people who believed they were God’s chosen. The empire ended long before I was born, and yet Australia is still experiencing the consequences of all that was done in the name of patriotism and Christianity.
Australia is called the lucky country. Us Aussies have a reputation for being irreverent, friendly and tolerant. But we can also be racist, prejudiced and xenophobic – three words that mean the same thing: selfish.
In the early 1900s successive governments forcibly separated families, deporting people who had Chinese or other “non-white” heritage. Australians celebrated “white Australia” on Christmas cards, postcards and even in a song called Keep Australia White. Lovely (that’s sarcasm – Australian’s are a very sarcastic bunch). Like all good policies, the white Australia policy also came with a slogan: “Australia for the Australians.” Sound familiar?
European colonists hunted down and killed entire indigenous people groups. Well into the 20th century we forcibly removed indigenous children from their parents, bringing about immense trauma that continues to seep down through the generations.
In the early 2000s, we listened when the government told us “illegals” and “economic migrants” were throwing their children into the ocean to avoid border patrol boats (they weren’t). We re-elected this government, believing the false and dehumanising tales. Today, we lock up asylum seekers in detention centers. We’ve failed to learn the lesson of Exodus.
Chapter three: The moral of the story
There is something in us that loves to have “enemies.” We long to have someone to blame. We long to feel superior. Enemies are perfect scapegoats. We can blame our enemies for all that goes wrong in our lives. We can feel better about ourselves by thinking someone else is “less” – less educated, less smart, less organised, less wealthy, less religious, less worthy. Feeling better than someone else can give you such a moral high.
Us Aussies live this high when we dehumanise asylum seekers and our indigenous brothers and sisters. In the 1930s and 1940s, Germany and Austria lived this high when they wrongfully blamed Jewish citizens for the economic recession. Politicians live this high when they cultivate support by sowing hatred and fear. We even see this high in churches, when we come down hard on someone’s “sins,” but ignore our own.
Exodus shows us another way. It shows us we are blessed when we extend aid. The ancient Egyptians may not have recognised God’s blessing when Israel’s caravan walked across their borders. But we see this blessing today: If the Israelites had been left to die on the borderlands, we wouldn’t have salvation – at least not through Jesus Christ.
As Christians, we worship an outcast. We worship the illegitimate son of a poor carpenter from Nowheresville, Israel. We worship a refugee. Jesus – the Messiah, Son of God and son of Israel – fled his homeland as a young boy. If you had looked at the desert plains near Egypt’s border 2000 years ago you would have seen a man and a woman walking. Their young son rested in his mother’s arms. They crossed Egypt’s borders and found refuge. But what if the Egyptian authorities had “sent him back?”
Kindness brings blessings. Compassion gives us life. The earth and all who live in it are valuable in God’s sight. This is the lesson of Exodus. It’s the lesson that runs through the laws of justice and mercy given in Exodus 23. It’s a lesson that strips back time, ethnicity and nationality. It points us to a higher law – the law of love:
“You must not oppress foreigners. You know what it’s like to be a foreigner, for you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 23 v 9, NLT)
Chapter four: You can write the ending
If studying Exodus has challenged you to think beyond “God, guns and country,” here are ways you can look for God in every country and in every person:
Donate or Volunteer
Save the Children – Operating child-friendly transit shelters for families on the U.S.-Mexican border after their release from detention centers.
Bethany Christian Services – Helping refugees find a safe and welcoming home in America. With several locations across the U.S., there are numerous way you and your church can partner with Bethany to bring hope to the oppressed.
Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service – Providing integration support for refugees resettled in the U.S., through family reunification, employment training, foster care services, prayer, and community engagement.
Read their stories with your family
I’m Australian Too by Mem Fox – One of Australia’s most-loved children’s authors, Mem Fox writes about what it means to be Australian. Through repetition and rhyme children can learn the true meaning of patriotism.
Four Feet, Two Sandals by Karen Lynn Williams and Khadra Mohammed – One refugee camp, two barefoot little girls, and a pair of sandals that becomes a symbol of kindness and hope.
The Arrival by Shaun Tan – Told with pictures not words, The Arrival lets you enter a migrant’s life and discover your world through their eyes.