Humanity has been on the move since the most ancient times. Some people move in search of new economic opportunities and new horizons. Others do so to escape armed conflict, poverty, food insecurity, persecution, terrorism, or human rights violations and abuses. Others are displaced by the adverse effects of climate change or natural disasters (some of which may be linked to climate change) or other environmental factors. Many do, in fact, move for a combination of these reasons.”[1]

The People of the Bible and the Migrant God

Let’s consider how biblical narratives can illuminate us. They show us a God who walks with his people, who is involved in their history and reality. In the biblical narratives we find a God who opts for a nomadic, slave people with great cultural diversity (12 tribes), which is constantly on the move. These tribes are eminently rural, that is to say, that their relationship with nature and their way of subsistence is mediated by the territory and the rains that nourish it (Sal 104). From the biblical worldview, God is the creator and giver of life, therefore, the territories with all their biodiversity and ecosystems generate life for all their creatures, including the human being (Gen 1; 2-3).

The biblical people have multicultural, peasant and migrant roots, that is, they are a people in mobility and cultural exchange (Gen. 15.13-14; Gen. 23.4; 28.4; Ex 3.13-15; 6.2-4), a people that recognizes God in their history and journey. We find figures with leadership like Abraham, an Aramean who migrates with his family (Dt. 26.5-10; Gn. 11.27-12.4). Biblical memory shows us that the people are made up of migratory flows, where the different peasant groups understand themselves as responsible for the land and are seekers of new places where life abounds, knowing that the land always belongs to God (Lev. 25.23). The biblical people experience peasant and labor exploitation by the Egyptian empire, while recognizing and confirming faith in the liberating God who saves them and opens new horizons (Ex. 3; 15; 22.21; 23.9 ).

In the imagination and in the spirituality of the biblical people, the loving predilection of God for the most fragile and defenseless of that people is very clear: the orphans, the widows and the foreigner-migrant (Lv. 19.18; 19.33-34; 25; Dt 10.18). The experience of God with the people is expressed in a God who loves the peasant, who is a migrant, even reminding his people that their identity is rooted in being a migrant (Dt. 14.21; 16.14; 26.12, 13; Lv. 19.9-10 ; 27.19). The spirituality of the biblical people has as its context the rural environment and human mobility (Ex. 2,22; 18.1-3; Sal 39.12; 119.19; Jer. 35.7). God himself loves the migrant, that is why he frees them and takes care of them by giving them his food (Dt. 10,18-22).

In the biblical narratives, God acts by liberating his people and, at the same time, promises them a land where “milk and honey” will flow, a land inhabited by other cultures with which they will confront the diversity and originality of that same culture (Ex 3.17).

As for the possibilities of being forced to migrate or of being nomadic in the territories where the people of the Bible moved, there are many reasons that can cause a peasant to migrate. What was clear in the spirituality of the biblical people is that they believed in a liberating and migrant God (Dt. 24,15.17). The justice-based system makes it possible for humans and creatures to have life. God cares for and defends the defenseless on the road (Mal. 3,5).

Roof, territory and river that gives life

When the peasant is forced to migrate or a person is forced to leave their heritage, culture and territory, a deep uprooting is generated. It is a wound that marks their entire existence, that leaves affected the social and family fabric, because the peasant is linked to the land and water, to all the biodiversity that sustains him. In Latin America there is a historical collective memory of uprooting, dispossession and territorial destruction experienced by peasant families, caused by the reservoirs generated by hydroelectric plants, monocultures and in recent years, mining extractivism.[2]

In recent years, climate change has led to disasters in the territories, because the government is not prepared in risk management and community organization that allows it to act in the face of natural phenomena. Also, because governments have prioritized extractivist companies and have colluded with drug trafficking.[3] This dramatic situation affects the social fabric. This type of displacement from the countryside to the city. It makes the peasant and indigenous settle in a geographical space that impoverishes their quality of life, as they are often forced to live on the outskirts of the cities.[4] Migratory flows in Latin America are becoming visible with “caravans” which continue to increase in frequency, even in the “pandemic”.[5] We

I will end with a story of a peasant family in Panama:

“When Alejandrina was relocated due to the construction of the Cobre Panamá mining project, she never imagined having to go through the same thing again: a forced exile, a goodbye to her homeland facing environmental deterioration and climate change, as the Panama Canal hopes to build a water reservoir in the Indio River basin. To achieve this, they will have to flood several communities – about 24 – including El Limón de Chagres, where Alejandrina now lives” [6]

Water is not for sale, it is cared for and defended!

René Arturo Flores, OFM