Border security is big news in Australia. We do our best to keep things under control and ourselves safe from the dangers of the unknown and the undocumented.
The Mekong area of South East Asia is very different; people move across borders officially and unofficially on a daily basis. Most border crossing is from poorer countries to wealthier neighbours, but sometimes those not ‘making it’ in the wealthier context will follow opportunities into a poorer country.
I recently observed the border crossing at Poipet on the Cambodian-Thai border. The movement of people and goods across the border was amazing – poor Cambodians seeking work in Thailand; scruffy kids begging; big groups of international tourists; young Cambodian men pushing massive carts of suitcases or commercial goods; and the scammers waiting to take advantage of Thai and international travellers.
Throughout our region, border areas are an incredibly dynamic sociological context and being ‘good news’ in these places is challenging.
The ‘borderlands’ – the areas either side of national borders including the towns at border crossings – are incredibly diverse places with:
- Communities of former refugees established at a ‘safe’ distance across the border having
fled war and persecution
- Remnant communities of another ethnicity because of border changes in the colonial
period or through more recent war
- Minority ethnic communities in remote hills and mountains near the border
- People not able to ‘make it’ in mainstream society
- People who have crossed borders to find work.
- Those trafficking humans for sexual exploitation and labour and those being trafficked
- Soldiers, border police, immigration officers and regular police.
How might we be good news to people in these places?
It has been argued that the Bible is best understood as written by, for and about ‘people on the move – refugees, migrants, those forced into servitude, those living as a minority community in a foreign land, and victims of natural disasters’. Jesus himself was a refugee for some years and came from Galilee, which was known as a crossroads area. Jesus regularly engaged with people of different ethnicities and social classes. He clearly crossed geographical and social boundaries in his ministry and deliberately taught that his Kingdom was for all people.
In its first decades the church crossed cultural and national boundaries as it grew from Palestine into Europe, Africa and Asia. In subsequent centuries the church became truly global and today Jesus followers are in every nation-state.
The recent missiological emphasis on unreached groups has helped us think about ethnic communities and language groups previously not seen. Generally we think about nationstates and geographically defined communities as a missional focus, as our team in Cambodia does with the Khmer people. The unreached approach has also contributed to the development of ministry foci such as urban poor communities, tertiary students, or soccerplaying refugee kids.
What would it look like to be ministering in the borderlands of our world?
These places are often forgotten and a long way from the important urban centres where services and supports abound. So much work is needed in the areas of education, health, capacity building and improving social capital in communities with little natural social cohesion.
We need people skilled in understanding complex social, multi-cultural and multi-linguistic contexts. We need to mobilise those who are willing to live far from the ‘happening places’ in mission and be in for the long haul to be a part of community transformation.
People living in these places are open to the good news as they will often have personal stories of struggle and pain. They are lonely, trying to make a go of it in a new place. God wants to use us as ‘salt and light’ among his people in the borderlands.
The author is the Interserve Country Team Leader for Cambodia.