Thi Mitsamphanh, church mobilizer at World Relief in Memphis, Tennessee, spoke to students during Wednesday’s chapel about missions in the face of the current refugee crisis. Mitsamphanh is also an adjunct professor at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary and the pastor at First International Baptist Church, a small multi-ethnic church located in Memphis that ministers specifically to refugees and immigrants in the Memphis area.
Mitsamphanh began his message by pointing out that technology has given us the opportunity to travel and the ability to learn about different places more than ever before, making us more connected than we’ve ever been. This, he says, has resulted in “the age of migration.”
“We are now living in a time of unprecedented global migration,” Mitsamphanh said. “There are now more people on the move in the world today than there ever has been in any other time in history.”
Mitsamphanh gave students some statistics about recent migration. In 2015, there were 244 million international migrants, people living outside the country where they were born, in the world. Of these 244 million, 30% are Muslim.
The top destination for migrants is the U.S., which saw 46.6 million migrants last year. Currently, 14% of the U.S. population is foreign-born. Asia is now the biggest source of immigrants to the U.S. Experts predict that the U.S. will not have a single racial or ethnic majority by 2055.
In 2015, 975,000 international students came to study in the U.S. In 2016, 85,000 refugees have come to the U.S., and that number is expected to increase in 2017.
The top countries that immigrants come from include the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Syria, Iraq and Somalia.
“We look at these places and we see that these are places that are difficult for kingdom workers to go into and yet the Lord is bringing them here,” Mitsamphanh said.
Misamphanh looked at the refugee crisis from a biblical perspective. He read Acts 17:26-27 and noted two truths seen in the passage. Mitsamphanh says that the first truth is that God is sovereign over where people live and when people live there, noting that the passage tells us that God “has determined [our] appointed times and the boundaries of where [we] live.”
The second truth, Mitsamphanh says, is that God uses migration for His redemptive purposes “so that they might seek God and perhaps they might reach out and find Him” as the passage says.
Mitsamphanh says that we must look at missions differently and suggests four missional opportunities that we have as a result of global migration.
He says that we have the opportunity to welcome the nations, befriending and building friendships with internationals; evangelize the nations, sharing Jesus through word and deed; disciple the nations, leading internationals to become followers of Jesus Christ in their own culture; and mobilize the nations, spreading the Gospel through the national networks that exist among internationals.
Mitsamphanh closed his message by sharing personal stories of how God uses migration for redemptive purposes. He recounted how he and his family moved to the U.S. from Laos 30 years ago, not knowing a single Christian or about the Gospel. They were practicing Buddhists, but through the love and care of church volunteers they left Buddhism and became followers of Jesus Christ.
Another young man, who came from a Hindu background, came to faith one year after arriving in the U.S. as a refugee. This December, his church is sending him back to Nepal for a short-term mission trip, where he will be involved in evangelism and church planting.
Julie Bradfield, director of student mobilization for University Ministries, shares Mitsamphanh’s passion for refugees and explained the World Relief organization to students.
“Many [refugees] are living in places where they do not speak the language and they don’t know anything about the culture in addition to the trauma and the loss that they face personally,” Bradfield said.
World Relief seeks to partner with local churches to help meet the needs of refugees coming into different places in the world. World Relief has offices in 14 countries around the world and in 27 cities around the U.S., including Nashville and Memphis.
“A variety of ministry opportunities abound in the Memphis community through these families coming into Memphis,” Bradfield said.
Bradfield says that World Relief seeks to meet physical needs such as employment and financial needs, but also to meet spiritual needs.
“They work together in those communities to seek to transform lives and families through the work that they do,” Bradfield said. “They don’t want to just welcome them into the community, but to help the families and the individuals be set up to thrive and to grow in the new communities where they are making their homes.”
Britton Crenshaw, freshman biblical studies major, enjoyed the message.
“I think that’s an unaddressed problem a lot of times and it’s definitely a sensitive subject with like the Syrian refugees and stuff like that but I think we need to follow through with action,” Crenshaw said. “And so to address that, we’ve got to look at the problem and actually have a heart to fix it and minister to it. I think it was really cool.”