This is the inaugural address of NCCI President, The Most. Rev. Dr. P C Singh at the National Consultation on “Embracing the Strangers and Practicing Prophetic Witness” ( A Program of CCA – Vichara | June 19, 2018 | Orthodox Seminary – Kottayam).
Let me, first of all, greet you all in the name of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
It is with great joy that I am bringing greetings from the Church of North India as its Moderator and from the National Council of Churches in India as its President. My own diocese, the Diocese of Jabalpur CNI also joins me in wishing success for this conference.
I congratulate CCA and Vichara for the great partnership in organizing this conference. The Orthodox Church in India has been gracious to provide this Centre as the venue of the conference. It will be only proper to offer a special word of appreciation for the hard work put in by the Vichara team of Prof. Mammen Varkey.
For CCA “Embracing the strangers” has been a favourite theme and area of action for several years now. For me, it has been a privilege to serve in CCA Central committee. I see that a good number of participants are attending the conference and enjoying the hospitality of “God’s own country”!
Strangers and Wanderers
“A wandering Aramean was my father…” was the memorial confession of the people of God in the Old Testament. Abraham, Jacob, and the people of Israel were all strangers in the land into which their journey brought them . Then, we have the story of 40 years of wandering in the wilderness which depicts many occasions where people were treated as strangers and wanderers. Throughout history even up to modern times we can see people moving or fleeing from one place to another becoming strangers elsewhere.
According to the UN report – 2013, Asians represented the largest Diaspora group residing outside their major area of birth, accounting for about 19 million migrants living in Europe, some 16 million in Northern America and about 3 million in Oceania.
Compared to other regions of destination, Asia saw the largest increase of international migrants since 2000, adding some 20 million migrants in 13 years, and this growth was mainly fuelled by the demand for foreign labour in the oil-producing countries of Western Asia and in South-Eastern Asian countries with rapidly growing economics such as Malaysia and Thailand.
The influx of migrant workers leaving various Asian countries increase yearly and more than 250,000 workers from Sri Lanka and 100,000 from Thailand have also been leaving their country every year since 2008.
The recent cases of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar and the influx of refugees from Syria give us the magnitude of suffering the “strangers” to other countries had to bear. Some countries decided to embrace the strangers whereas some others closed their doors. I am sure that this conference will take much time to discuss about the recent trends in migration and refugee situations. So I do not wish to go into further details.
We will look at our own country where neighbours are living as strangers and not willing to embrace each other. You know that I am speaking about the curse of caste system in our country. Exclusion or the practice of ostracising a group by segregating them from the mainstream by social custom is the dynamics of caste system. Even after many years of abolishing “untouchability”, it is still in practice. The Dalits of India are untouchable for the upper castes.
Thus, I wish to identify three main reasons which exclude people from people and prohibit the opportunity of embracing each other. That is, these are the reasons which create “strangers” in our communities. Economic crisis and disparity, political aggression, religious intolerance are the main causes. Large communities, especially from Asia migrate to economically affluent countries in search of jobs to keep their life going at least in the minimum way. Political exclusion and dictatorship as well as ethnic cleansing are some of the main reasons which make strangers in one’s own country and outside. What is happening in Syria is mainly due to religious intolerance. These situations can be resolved only through dealing with these basic causes at the root.
The Prophetic Role
What does the Bible say about Embracing the strangers? Practicing prophetic witness is what the Bible says. The prophets stood between God and people and communicated to people what God wanted to tell them. It was not simple oral communication only, but it was the compulsion of establishing the justice of God in the world. Let us see some of the passages
- “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 33-34)
- Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. (Romans 15.7)
- Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. (1 Peter 4.9)
- Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. ” (Hebrews 13. 1)
What can we do to enhance embracing the stranger?
We live in a world which is run by selfish economic motives. People use each other for commercial gains. Money has become the measure of all things. Greed has made human race like beasts. The teaching about Christ model, that is giving your life for others, does not attract many people. So we need to create a counter culture of mutual care and deep concern for others. I would like to make some practical proposal.
- Let us start with our homes. Some of us live in heavily protected houses and gated Access for strangers to such living spaces will be impossible. So we need to make our homes open to strangers in need. The “strangers” may be even the people living next door! As communities we need to formulate organized activities to take care of strangers.
- Next, let us take our local church. A recent book on Parish Revitalization titled one of the chapters as, “A Gathering of Strangers?” (Robert Worley, Chicago). Are our local churches a gathering of strangers? We need to take a moment of introspection . There are two questions. First, is our church a place of embracing the strangers within itself? Second, as a church, do we have an outreach programme for the strangers?
- Embracing the stranger at the grassroots. Embracing the strangers has found place in international ecumenical councils like CCA and WCC. Even the NCCI has the related concern of migration as one of its ministerial foci. But embracing the stranger has not found its due place in the agenda of local churches and local ecumenical communities. We know that whatever does not happen locally does not happen at all. So bringing the agenda of embracing the stranger in the local ecumenical level is a pending task.
- Education from childhood. Christian nurture of children is mainly through Sunday Schools. The church has additional resource of schools. These educational institutions can be used as places where children are taught from childhood about the care of strangers. Such positive attitudes are best developed in schools.
- Wider ecumenical instrument. Religious fundamentalism is one of the main causes of exclusion . Strangers are created because of the misinterpretation of religious teachings. When interfaith communities take up the cause of embracing the strangers, it would have a great impact. Well meaning and peace loving religious leaders can come together and make joint efforts towards this.
- The last suggestion is with a punch! Caste system has to go away from Indian community if our country has to be liberated from the bondage of mental and social oppression. The Church can play a model role by removing caste system from her own body. When that happens the Church will have no more strangers!
I am sure that this consultation will bring out rich insights and practical recommendations related to the theme. NCCI and CNI will be happy to follow them as well as implement them.
The Most Rev. Dr. P.C. Singh
Moderator CNI & President NCCI