Displaced People are not Misplaced People

by Michael Reynolds (@mrobertreynolds)

God has used the displacement of people groups to accomplish his purposes throughout redemptive history. He displaced Abraham and made the “Father of many nations” out of a Chaldean refugee (think about that). He displaced the people of Israel by bringing them down to Egypt. He displaced the Canaanites to make room for His people in the land of Israel. In the New Testament Jesus commands that His disciples displace themselves for the sake of the gospel spreading from Judea and Samaria to the ends of the earth—and we know from history that those Christians who were pushed out of Jerusalem in 70 AD by the Romans became the catalyst for the gospel to spread across an even wider swathe of territory. It is a beautiful thing that God would displace people for glorious purposes. Certainly these Syrians and Iraqis today have not been displaced without God’s knowledge, permission, and—most importantly—His purpose. 

For all of redemptive history, God has been displacing people and sending them from place to place with His message of mercy, but in these latter days there is a different kind of displacement happening. The first is that refugees are being pushed out of their home countries—many of which are closed to Christian missions—into lands that have had the gospel for centuries and millennia. The second is that these same refugees (many from hostile nations) are being pushed into areas that are much more open for missionaries to go to, though not our home countries. One example of this second kind of displacement is seen in the Kurds and Yezidis of Iraqi-Kurdistan in Northern Iraq. 

The Kurds of Northern Iraq have been refugees for most of their existence and now experience a modicum of comfort in the mountains. They have been chased and pursued from nearly every side and in every century and now, perched in a valley surrounded by their only friends–the mountains–they find a hint of respite. One perspective would be to rejoice that they’ve found shelter, but another more Biblical response would be to see that most importantly they’ve finally landed in a place that we can get the gospel to with relative safety and ease. Safety and ease are not good reasons to go to a people group, but it is often helpful to get higher numbers of workers. 

With the vision stated above outlining God’s purposeful displacement of nations and peoples, what should our response be when people are displaced from extremely hostile areas to less hostile areas? Should our Christian response be any less than to ask how we ourselves can get there or how we can help to get others there with the message of the Gospel? What would the Apostle Paul do if an unreachable people were suddenly brought within arm's reach? Do you think that he would stay put? Not for a moment. He would have walked, hiked, climbed, camped, and sailed his way to that people and he would have preached to them the message of eternal joy found only in Jesus. He knew the consequences of unreached people being overlooked by those who have the gospel in the first century, but we, in all our sophistication, do not grapple appropriately with this reality. May God soften our calloused hearts to see that God’s displacement of Kurds, Syrians, Yemenis, or Somalians has a purpose more glorious than can be presently known.