I had a chance to teach a brilliant bunch of missional pioneers last week, and the subject was “Migration and Mission.” The lesson drew from the usual resources in the migration-mission-theology conversation. Using my own book as a resource, in which I have dedicated a few pages to a theology of migration and another to the migration of theology, I attempted to frame migration as a normative theme in mission, arguing that migration should feature more prominently in contemporary mission studies. The pioneer-students searched through the Bible for possible points of connection between migration and mission — and they found them through out the entire Bible. Several stories like that of Abraham, the Babylonian Captivity, the Incarnation of Jesus, the rise of the church in Antioch and the spread of the church from there stood out to suggest that any missional reading of the Bible should reveal it as a book of migrations. In that way, any missional community that is honest about its identity should start with being a community of sojourners–on a journey through this world. Thus, in a sense, we are all foreigners (as in immigrants) in the world. And possibly, a missional church is better thinking of itself as an immigrant church, whatever its location.
When I finished the teaching, one of my colleagues added (talking to the students) that what I had just done was an immigrants reading of the Bible–reading the Bible through an immigrant’s eye. He called it immigrant theology. And I said yes, that is the type of theology that I want to engage with–an immigrant kind of theology. [Is diaspora theology a better term?] Of course, I read the bible as an African immigrant living in the West. My interpretive lenses are coloured by my experiences as black male who grew up in Africa but ended up working in several Western countries for a long time. For instance, I have become fond of thinking about Jesus as an immigrant God–both as a God-man living in Nazareth, but also literally as an asylum seeker in Egypt escaping the wrath of a jealous king. Consequently, when I read the Gospels, I see nothing but the scandal of an immigrant God.
We live in an age that has been called the Age of Migration. Hundreds of millions of people have been displaced for one reason or another, not just across national boarders — a majority of these are displaced within their own countries. This experience of displacement–or dislocation–should be acknowledged as another significant factor in our understanding of God and how God relates with the world. The more I think about it, the more I hope that immigrant theology may become a genre of theology one day. Yes, just like liberation theology, black theology, umunthu theology, etc. Of course, it will also be shaped by different cultural heritages like African immigrant theology, Hispanic immigrant theology, Asian immigrant theology, etc. That way, immigrants like myself will have some sort of space to do our theology in the diaspora.