I have a neighborhood friend from Italy. He is married to a Singaporean. He teaches Mandarin! We meet quite often when we are out walking our dogs. He told me he has just sent in his application for permanent residency, and for the third or fourth time. He has no idea when he will be accepted. It is a prolonged wait.
He also works at the Italian Embassy and is acutely aware that his own country has a big challenge dealing with illegal immigrants from Africa. Globally, the local neighborhood is changing and newcomers show up in the most unexpected places.
Last Sunday, I also heard a bible message from the book of Ruth. Ruth’s story is a story about her move from Moab into Israel. It began before there was a king in Israel. The twelve tribes in Israel were then a loose confederation. Each tribe was self-governing, but periodically judges would arise to call them to act together against threats within their borders. It was a time when every man acted as they saw fit.
One such man was Elimelech. He took his wife, Naomi and two sons and travelled out of their hometown in Judah in search for food. A prolonged famine had emptied out their “house of bread” Bethlehem. They became economic migrants in search for “bread”. They entered Moab, a non-Israelite territory, a territory that used to be hostile to them in their wandering years. It was supposed to be a short-term stay but in those ten years – the family suffered the loss of all their breadwinners. Elimelech and the two sons all died!
Naomi survived together with her two local Moabite daughters-in-law. Her choice was clear. It was better to return to Bethlehem and die there in her own country. The natural option for her daughters-in-law was to stay and return to their own Moabite families. So Naomi urged them. She released them to return to their original homes. One did. But Ruth insisted on remaining with Naomi to share her fate.
But Ruth’s decision is not viewed just as an act of her self will. She expressed her decision as a confession of covenant faithfulness. As she clung to her mother-in-law she said, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried.” Her decision was not a practical, self-serving action. She acted faithfully, because she loved her aged mother-in-law. Naomi the widow was practically helpless when her husband and sons were all dead! A Moabite widow like Ruth would not stand much chance either in Israel!
But the decision and action of Ruth stood out because it was of a quality that befits Israel. Her action of commitment and compassion qualified her to stand out as a true Israelite! Her love for Naomi was consonant with the love of the God of Israel. This foreign Moabite woman’s story became Israel’s story. So, from this newcomer in the neighborhood, the first son of Israel King David was to come!
Today, many women are doing likewise in their adopted countries. In missions circle, many foreign women clung on by their love and faithfulness to become true members of their local neighborhood. As an international missions agency we have seen this extraordinary deliberate migration. Their lives and love certainly live up to Ruth’s model and will bring about the coming of the King! Please welcome the newcomer!