Lacking place

At last the Lord has created enough space for us to prosper in this land.”

-Isaac (Genesis 26:22)

The ancient stories of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob attest to the reality that it has never been easy to be a migrant or foreigner in a strange land.

This verse struck me this week as I’m reading through Genesis again.

Although God had confirmed his blessing and covenant with Isaac earlier in the story (26:2-6) it didn’t mean life would be easy in the land of the Philistines. Isaac felt extremely vulnerable and fearful as is shown by his need to call his wife his sister (26:7) and again later when he was desperately trying to secure water for his family (26:18-21).

When Isaac finally digs an uncontested well his joy and relief cannot be contained. “At last the Lord has created enough space for us to prosper in the land!” (26:22).

Still his struggle as a foreigner and migrant is not over. When the Philistine king comes out to meet him, Isaac’s deep pain is quick to surface. “Why have you come here? …You obviously hate me, since you kicked me off your land.” (26:27).

The lack of having a place to which one can tie identity and which one can call home leaves a person feeling extremely vulnerable and often unwanted. Foreigners and migrants live with this on a daily basis.

The host community within which they find themselves can choose to offer them a place of belonging within their society or it can choose to send messages reminding the migrants/foreigners that they do not belong and that they would prefer them to leave.

While this is true of most migrant experiences (including my own forefathers who immigrated to the US and even my own 23 years of living in Europe as a foreigner), it is especially true for refugees and asylum-seekers.

The deepest longing of their heart is to find “enough space for them to prosper in the land“.

Why do people flee?

There is a lot of confusion out there when it comes to why people become refugees.

Many people fail to differentiate between normal migrants and refugees. What makes refugees different is that they have, by definition, been forced to flee their homes and countries due to man-made humanitarian crisis (e.g. war, political persecution, failed states, etc.).

It is situations like the one I read about on the BBC today that force people to leave everything behind and run for their lives.

“The group crossed from the Democratic Republic of Congo into [Burundi]. They went house to house with guns and knives, burning homes, witnesses said. Correspondents say the attack may have been an attempt to disrupt next week’s referendum which could extend the president’s term until 2034.”

Click to see source report

I have no doubt that this sent many new women, children and men onto the Refugee Highway. They are running for their lives and praying that someone will understand, have mercy and offer them refuge.