Telling the stories of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, NZ and Polynesia

Reframing Migration with hospitality

Bishop Anthony Poggo’s speech at Virginia Theological Seminary follows below in full.

Bishop Anthony Poggo  |  24 Apr 2023

Reframing migration: bringing hospitality to a hostile world

A Lecture by the Right Reverend Anthony Poggo

Secretary General of the Anglican Communion


The Albert T Mollegen Forum

The Center for Anglican Communion Studies at Virginia Theological Seminary

Alexandria, Virginia, United States of America

19 April 2023

Good evening. It is an honour for me to be with you all, those you in the room and online, and to have the opportunity to address such an important topic in our world today. I would like to thank Dean Markham and Dr Catherine Grieb for inviting us to be here.

I would like to focus on three things this evening, firstly the reality of migration in our world today, secondly the biblical narrative of people on the move, and lastly what this means for us today.

As a migrant myself, I’ve been displaced three times. One of those times was as a refugee in Uganda, and as you can imagine this is therefore a subject that is very, very close to my heart. My father, an Anglican priest, and my mother fled to Uganda when I was barely one year old; this was during the first Sudanese Civil War. As a family, we only moved back to South Sudan when I was nine years old in 1972, at the end of the first civil war. 

I lived in South Sudan from 1972 to 1992. I then went to Nairobi in Kenya for my theological training. After this, I returned to Uganda, as you heard earlier, to minister to Sudanese refugees who were in exile there. I could not return to South Sudan – or Sudan, then – at the end of my studies as the second civil war had intensified. This was my second displacement.

In February 2017, the people of Kajo-Keji, where I was Bishop, were forced to leave Kajo-Keji within a matter of few days. They left in such a hurry and could not take many of their belongings or food stuff. They crossed the border into Uganda and became refugees – many for the third time in their lives. I would have been one of them had I not relocated to the UK a year before. Fortunately, my mother and many other relatives had left a few weeks before this terrible event. I remember going back to Kajo-Keji a year later and found my own house vandalised, the solar panels removed, my books, files and papers scattered on the floor. I had no home to return to. I had now been displaced for the third time.

Sadly, my story is not uncommon. The economic and environmental crises of our time are resulting in mass migration of peoples across the regions of the world. You may have heard some of the statistics, and they can feel overwhelming. An estimated 280 million people are now on the move. Of these 100 million are refugees, the first time in history this threshold has been crossed. Half of this figure are female, and an estimated 38 million are migrant children.

Furthermore, many migrants face sharp challenges from exploitation, xenophobia and racism. Today, there are many people on the move, both within and between countries. Often, the movement is forced – by conflict, persecution, poverty, climate change, lack of food or jobs, or human trafficking. Many other people migrate voluntarily in search of a better life.

The 2018 Global Slavery Index estimates that 40.3 million people are oppressed in modern slavery in almost every party of the world. This growing global evil exploits the vulnerability of the migrants and their aspirations, often in poorer countries and communities.

Migrants believe that a better life awaits them in unknown countries, although, on the way, many fall prey to smugglers, traffickers and armed groups. The push factor is almost always poverty that makes these victims so vulnerable to trafficking.

Some of my colleagues at the Anglican Communion Office attended USPG’s recent International Consultation in February entitled “Set my People Free: The Call of the Church against Human Trafficking”. We will all recognise this verse from Exodus 5:1 - “I have seen the suffering of my people, Let my people go…”.

Around the world today, the stories of people displaced from their homes and forced to become refugees is something we hear far too often. From Ukraine to South Sudan; and as we have seen this week, Sudan itself where many people have been displaced from their own homes. We see governmental policies that merely confirm the concept of a hostile world. It is not uncommon to hear heart-breaking stories of migrants who die tragically locked inside trucks attempting to cross borders.

What does the Bible say on migration? In the Bible we can find hope amidst this complex and often painful picture of a hostile world.

I have heard it said that the Bible was written by migrants for migrants. Judaism and Christianity are no strangers to migration. It is part and parcel of the Bible, from Abraham’s journey from Haran to the Exodus of the people of Israel, through to the formative episode of the exile in Babylon and restoration in Judea. 

Much of the Old Testament was written in exile, two key moments being Mount Sinai and the exile of the Israelites, where they grew in faith. Migration is therefore integral to God’s mission embodied by his people from Abraham to Jesus and to the birth and spread of the Church.

The Bible tells the stories of a number of refugees. Abraham migrated to Egypt when there was famine in Canaan as we read in Genesis 12. Joseph, the son of Jacob, was a refugee in Egypt, after initially being trafficked there. The children of Israel were then refugees in Egypt for 300 years. They were badly treated by the host population, as many refugees are today. Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus also fled to Egypt, this means that Jesus himself was a migrant. It is here that we first see the theory of hospitality and what we can be learning from.

On a personal note, Nehemiah, a refugee himself, was my model throughout my time as Bishop, in Chapter 1 we are introduced to him as an exile desperate to hear news of the situation back home. One of the most difficult things about being a refugee is being away from your home. Most refugees are eager to hear about home, and they know better than most the meaning of the saying “East or West, home is best”.

This leads me to a question for us all: how do we incorporate hospitality into our daily lives and our own contexts? Not just hospitality with our neighbours, in our communities, where it is easy. But hospitality to those outside of our comfort zone, when there may even be a cost. Are we as people who live in the so called Western world, adverse to adversity?

Should churches resist or encourage migration, which many predict will dramatically increase in the coming century because of global warming? Time is not a luxury: migration due to climate change and conflict is already happening and risks driving this for future generations at a rate we cannot imagine today. Perhaps tenfold more.

I believe that the Church has a responsibility to respond to the needs of migrants and to advocate for their rights and dignity. This perspective is rooted in the Christian understanding of God's love for all people, and the belief that all human beings are created in God's image and deserving of respect and care.

The Church can use its moral authority to challenge the cultural and governmental context in which it exists, particularly when that context is hostile to migrants or contributing to their mistreatment.

Across the Anglican Communion, churches are responding in many ways: welcoming and supporting migrants and refugees; advocating to protect their rights; supporting survivors of human trafficking and working to prevent it; tackling the root causes of poverty and conflict that make people vulnerable to exploitation.

The Anglican Alliance has been working with churches, ecumenical partners and partner organisations across the Communion and beyond to mobilise, equip and support the Anglican Communion to help tackle the evil of human trafficking and promote safe migration.

How can Churches continue to respond? Out of the USPG consultation on Human Trafficking that I referenced earlier a communiqué was issued to ensure continuing momentum in this field, and also to highlight our responsibility as Churches and leaders to take things forward. One of the key themes was on the importance of collaboration. A resolution on Safe Migration was passed at the recent Anglican Consultative Council which met in Accra, Ghana, an example of this global collaboration.

The Church can provide practical and emotional support to migrants, including food, shelter, counselling, and advocacy for their legal rights. However, we must be aware of current contexts. What is the role of the Church in difficult situations?

Most of us here live in countries where the cultural and governmental context is often responsible for the root cause of migration, and then hostile to migrants when they arrive. Any attempt to make change is likely to meet opposition – especially when it challenges vested interests. When we participate in the work of God, we can expect even more opposition. What if we played our part in advocating for action on climate change, campaigning against war. Even our own individual contribution is important in not exacerbating the root causes of forced migration. 

Going back to our current political contexts, you may have heard about the United Kingdom asylum agreement, a scheme that would see some people claiming asylum being flown to Rwanda for their claims to be assessed by the authorities there. As you can imagine, it has been met with a great deal of controversy in the United Kingdom.

The Archbishop of Canterbury addressed this issue in the House of Lords, stating that the recognition of human dignity is the first principle which must underpin our asylum policy. The destination country of Rwanda is not the issue, the problem is the UK’s failure to recognise that it has its own share of the global responsibility.

Conversely, the Church in Rwanda understood the basic need for hospitality and did not find fault with the UK policy. This is a prime example of Anglican Christians, or the Anglican Communion, differing on their perspectives on a given issue.

One thing I have noticed living in the UK is that the West often specify quotas, the governments only pledge to accommodate a certain number of people. However a migrant running away from insecurity or even danger does not care about these quotas.

These governmental quotas may themselves be fed by a narrative of fear. Yet as a Church we can see beyond this and we should help alleviate these fear messages wherever we can.

What if the position of global power was used as service, what might that look like in relation to migration? Could we mirror Jesus’ use of power, to characterise it as service, sacrifice, power through love. Sometimes even the simplest of actions can have the greatest significance.

There are many people who even in a personal capacity do a fantastic job with what they can offer individually. In the United Kingdom more than 150,000 people signed up to host Ukrainian refugees under the sponsor scheme.

The Church here in this country [the United States] has been consistently supportive of migrants, and I commend the work that you do. The fact that the Episcopal Church has its own Migration Department gives me hope for change.

The Church globally has been known for stepping into the gap where society fails. Despite so many different experiences and opinions, can we seek to find a way of holding differences together, to find a theology that shows how different responses form complementary parts of one body, as they tell good news stories about how Churches are responding to inspire the next generation of leaders.

The Anglican Church of Canada has pledged refugee sponsorship since the 1970’s. The Anglican Church of Cyprus has pledged to “welcome the stranger”. The Church of Uganda has offered hospitality to approximately one million people from South Sudan. I could go on with further examples but let me stay with Uganda for just a moment.

After a decade of conflict in South Sudan, many Church leaders and bishops have crossed into the Province of Uganda. In 2017, one of the Ugandan bishops, in the Diocese of Madi & West Nile, authorised the South Sudanese displaced bishops to take care of the refugees within their own diocese and to be able to perform their episcopal ministry freely. Through this small act, he has created a home away from home for them, where they can carry on their ministry and calling. 

In other areas of the Communion, diaspora communities have been embraced and had a positive impact on the host community. The Diocese of Perth in Australia constructed a purpose built Church in Malaga where they had a service in Bari and Dinka, two South Sudanese languages, where 150 people attend every Sunday, and more than 500 gather for special occasions. This is Anglicanism at its best. 

I have heard from the Reverend Oran Warder the wonderful story of how St Paul’s Church here in Alexandria started up a long-term mission partnership with the Church in South Sudan but also a worshipping diaspora community as an integral part of their parish. He said that this has enriched and continues to enrich the entire parish, and that through conflicts and divisions they remain focused on the Gospel work they are doing together and on the relationships and trust that has been built over the years. 

Reverend Oran shared a quote with me from the South Sudanese community when talking about the Church in Virginia that says, “we are part of them and they are a part of us – we are one community”.  

There are so many more examples of these encouraging stories, where Christian communities from Asia, Africa and beyond have a positive impact on Christianity in their receiving countries. What wonderful opportunities these situations present to the local Churches to show hospitality in their own contexts.

This is all positive, yet I do think these situations can sometimes pose a question about provincial boundaries. Is it an issue that the sending Province of these communities may view them as “their people” however the receiving and host Province also consider them to be “their people”. If this becomes an issue then how do we relate to that? Can the migrants be both?

We may need to find a way of involving the “sending province” with their community’s ministries on the ground in their new, receiving host province, without infringing on provincial boundaries.

Moving back to a more global view, I would like to invite you to reflect on what the narratives are that can feed and fuel our own personal perspectives. Are there limits to our own generosity? When can hospitality be too much?

Much of the public and political debate on migration is driven by fear, linked to change and loss of control. This can become a barrier to the right support and approach being in place. 

As I conclude, I would like us to think about how we can we respond as individuals. 

As Christians, of course we see the image and likeness of God in all people, this goes without saying. As Anglicans, we are called in our Marks of Mission to “respond to human need by loving service” and to “transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation.” 

Personal hospitality is just as important as structural and governmental changes. The Bible encourages us to be hospitable and when this is our conviction, it influences our lives in all that we do. In Hebrews 13: 12, it says “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it” (NRSV). 

Let us be a people that brings hospitality to this hostile world.