We will post photos from participants in the Gallery section of this site (the link is on the left hand column) if you wish to share your favourite photos.

Here are some photos taken by our photographer, Henry VanderSpek (contact details below) including the group photo from our first morning together!  If you would like to share your photos here, please email them to Ann Chow:

1. Aug 16th morning Pt 1

2. Aug 16th morning Pt 2

3. Aug 16th evening

4. Best of overall

And for easy reference, the link to the group photo:

Henry VanderSpek
Award-winning Photography
Cross-cultural Training
Creative Communication
Twitter: @culture_snap

Whose head is this, and whose title?” (Matthew 22:15-22)

Migration, Human Dislocation, and the Good News:

Margins as the Center in Christian Mission

Presidential Address

IAMS 13th Quadrennial Conference

Toronto, August 15, 2012


Jonathan J. Bonk

On behalf of the entire IAMS Executive Committee for 2008–2012, I am honored to welcome you to the thirteenth conference of IAMS, focusing on the theme of “Migration, Human Dislocation, and the Good News: Margins as the Center in Christian Mission.”  I have been told that I have fifteen minutes. And I will try to adhere to that wise directive. My presidential address is entitled “Whose head is this, and whose title?”  I begin by reading a text from Matthew’s gospel:

 15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. 16So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, ‘Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. 17Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?’ 18But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, ‘Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? 19Show me the coin used for the tax.’ And they brought him a denarius. 20Then he said to them, ‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’ 21They answered, ‘The emperor’s.’ Then he said to them, ‘Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ 22When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away (Matthew 22:15–22 NRSV).

Current theories of human origins surmise that 200,000 years ago, every human being on earth was an African. Migrations from Africa to frost-free parts of Europe and Asia began about 60,000 years ago. Within 40,000 years, humans had inhabited virtually every ice-free part of the globe: Europe, Asia, North and South America, and Oceana.

Whatever one makes of prevailing scientific theories or religious doctrines concerning human origins, on one point all of us agree: every one of us came from somewhere else. If one goes back far enough, one soon discovers that the notion of territorial incumbancy—“homeland” fictions created and maintained through tribal and national myths and protected and expanded by laws and lethal force—is false.

At best, territorial incumbency is a fleeting affair. We or our descendents will eventualy move on, be moved out, or perhaps disappear.  Droughts, famines, conflicts, desperation and hope for a better life will make sure of that. “Throughout history,” the authors of a recent study of human migration mildly observed, “people have moved under conditions that are not typically of their own choosing.”[1]

The human population is now expanding at an estimated rate of 200,000 per day. More than 3 percent of the global population—in excess of 200 million people—live outside their country of birth, and many millions are the victims of forced dislocation within their countries.[2] “According to a recent Galllup World Poll, [an estimated] 1.1 billion people—one-quarter of the earth’s adults—want to move temporarily to another country in the hope of finding more profitable work. An additional 630 million people would like to move abroad permanently.”[3] Nearly half of all refugees are children under the age of 18. Some refugees have been in exile for more than thirty years.

 The UNHCR’s 2010 Global Trends reported that 43.7 million people are displaced worldwide This is more than the population of Canada. The figure is roughly the same as the populations of Colombia, South Korea, Spain, the Ukraine … or of Scandinavia and Sri Lanka combined. It is greater than the population of Kenya, Argentina or Poland and at least 208 other countries.[4]

The same report shows that the world's poorest countries host dispraportionately huge refugee populations, both in absolute terms and in relation to the size of their economies:

“Pakistan, Iran and Syria have the largest refugee populations at 1.9 million, 1.1 million and 1 million respectively. Pakistan also has the biggest economic impact with 710 refugees for each US dollar of its per capita GDP (Gross Domestic Product), followed by Democratic Republic of the Congo and Kenya with 475 and 247 refugees [per US dollar] respectively. By comparison, Germany, the industrialized country with the largest refugee population (594,000 people), has 17 refugees for each dollar of per capita GDP.”[5]

 By the same measure—using the latest Index Mundi figures[6]—the United States has 6.2 and Canada has 4.5 refugees for each per capita GDP dollar.[7] It must also be observed, painfully, that those countries with the largest Christian populations and the deepest Christian roots host the fewest refugees.

 According to the International Refugee Commission, one in six Iraqis (4.7 million people) fled or were forced from their homes following the U.S. led invasion in 2003, and most have not returned. Close to half are living in neighboring countries such as Jordan and Syria, while the rest remain uprooted within Iraq's borders. Many of those who've left their homes and communities remain mired in poverty, and continue to face an uncertain future.[8]

US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USIS) reports that as of March 31, 2012, 64,174  Iraqi refugees had arrived in the United States.[9] Judging from my direct and continuing involvment with several of these families—most of whom lived comfortable middle-class lives before the American invasion in 2003—they arrive surprised to discover themselves relegated to instant poverty and its attendant indignities.

What can such numbers mean, practically?  Not much. Getting on with everyday life requires more than simple awareness of numbers. Each of “us”, and each of “them”, is more than simply a cipher buried in a statistic! The American with a broken leg derives little consolation from the fact that in a given year some 6.8 million of her fellow countrymen suffer from fractures or broken bones. Such information does not fix my or anyone else’s bone; nor does such knowledge animate the physician who tends to my personal plight.

Similarly, each refugee, each immigrant, each dislocated person is in and of himself or herself a special, particular case, worthy of our close, practical and sustained attention. It is telling, at least to me, that God incarnate chose to live life as an utterly parochial person, at the beck and call of insignificant people, in an occupied back eddy of the Roman empire—as despotic and militaristic a regime as can be imagined. Jesus the Christ did not come as an influential wielder of political or economic power, but as a dusty-footed itinerant teacher—a “three-mile-an-hour God,” the late Kosuke Koyama put it.[10] Today, an itinerant healer trudging by foot from village to village in an occupied, violence-ridden country—say Afghanistan—might serve as a contemporary analogue. Such a person would have nothing to say to us, even if our profit-driven media were to arrange for us to hear his finest speech.

There can be no meaningful mission without costly incarnation. This means that unless we become intimately and personally involved in the complex challenges of one or two dislocated persons, all of our fine talk about migration and human dislocation in the thousands or the millions can quickly degenerate into academic cant. We cannot be content to cite impressivly marshalled and organized statistics, and then stride virtuously away as though we had actually accomplished something! When we get involved in the real world of dislocated persons, we quickly discover both what we can do and how little we can do. Incarnational engagement is ever that way.

Allow me to relate a somewhat personal story that is opening my eyes to the challenges of migration and to the limits of my ability to offer solutions on any grand scale.

When Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005, it occurred to me that the organization of which I was director—an organization that promotes itself as a center for hospitality—had never really welcomed genuine strangers. Since its founding in 1922, the OMSC had earned a reputation for welcoming members of the diverse family called “Christian” from all over the world and from across the ecclesiastical and theological spectrums.

Following communication with the Integrated Religious and Immigration Service (IRIS)  in New Haven, it was not longer than a week before we were able to welcome our strangers. The young family who arrived on our doorsteps were as bewildered as we were. Unmarried, with a three-year-old daughter from another relationship, sporting tatoos and smelling of marijuana, the young couple had never been in a church. To be suddenly thrust into the midst of a community of professionally pious men and women from around the world—so religious that they made their living from it—must have been as unnerving to them as it was bewildering to us! All of us benefited from this experience. Before returning to New Orleans, the young woman wrote: “Everyone is so happy here and you have been so helpful to us…. You know, I think it is because you have God in your lives.”[11]

Since then several Iraqi Sunni refugee families have embarked on their American journey in our community. Our current refugee residents—a  middle-aged widow and her bomb-injured adult son who arrived in June 2009—have been laboring mightily to develop minimal language and occupational skills that will enable them to live dignified and reasonably secure lives  in New Haven.

 It has been slow going. Finding work is difficult at the best of times. Illiteracy in both English and their mother tongue makes the obstacles they face seem well nigh insurmountable. Yet after three years, both now speak some English. The mother has become one of the best housekeepers around, and her son is willing to put his hand to anything—especially painting. From their meagre earnings—Ala’a found work with Mossberg & Sons, a manufacturer of guns!—they support the younger son, his wife, and two pre-school children who are still refugees in Jordan. They are hanging on by a thread, and OMSC is holding the other end.

These valued members of our community serve as a reality check on the statistics to which people of my ilk tend to be in such thrall. They remind us that behind each digit is a real, living human being whose story of loss, injury, dislocation and relocation is epic. The OMSC community has learned just a little about what it is like to be a poor stranger—a refugee—in the United States. We are humbled and therefore the better for it.

Conclusion. I return to the title of my speech: Whose head is this, and whose title?” Jesus asked when queried about what Caesar could legitimately claim as his due.

We understand from our scriptures that men and women are stamped with God’s imprint, carry God’s DNA, reveal God’s face. No “Caesar”—whether national or tribal—can legitimately make such a claim, although many come perilously close when they declare outsiders as “illegal.”  To depict any human being as “illegal” pits Caesar against God. Rendering to Caesar what can belong only to God is idolatry.

To be a Christian entails recognizing and resisting the terrible reductionisms of all self-serving nationalisms, tribalisms, and racisms—and their ever attendant legalisms—that undervalue or even dismiss the stranger, the refugee, or the immigrant, or the enemy. When we cooperate in such systemic reductionism subvert our own identities as men and women created in the image of God, since we yield to Caesar something to which Caesar has no ultimate claim—human beings, including ourselves. Legality, for Christians, can never be an acceptable substitute for justice.

The challenge for Christians has always been how to follow their Lord faithfully while participating in human systems so evidently and unapologetically habituated to self-interest. Put another way, one might say that in applying a Biblical plumline to our  theology—which is inseparable from praxis—we Christians must work back from the questions set for the final judgment as described by Jesus in Matthew 25. From these we deduce what the outcome of any God-honoring faith—explicitly “Christian” or directionally salvific (even if called by another name or by no name at all)—must be.

The end of the age will not see idealogues of various stripes, between the poles of “socialism” and “capitalism”, divvying up the new creation among themselves, but Jesus as sole Judge separating sheep from goats on the basis of how the socially disenfranchised, politically marginalized, and economically destitute figured in their priorities. There will be no questions about doctrines, or about the legalities employed to rationalize complicity in injustice. Religious and non-religious alike will be surprised to learn that ordinary human decency, kindness and justice turn out to have been more important than tidy proprietary religious systems that insinuate or even claim a monopoly on goodness, and that support the self-serving and self-preserving agendas of some political entity.

Both family resemblance and proof of affinity lie in one’s concrete relationship to the socially marginalized neighbor: the destitute, the imprisoned, the orphaned, the homeless, the alien, and the enemy. If compassion is not the outcome of one’s faith, that faith is ultimately useless both now and in the life to come. The margins are the center for all authentically Christian mission.

Let me read from C. S. Lewis’s famous sermon, “The Weight of Glory”, preached originally as a sermon in the Church of St Mary the Virgin, Oxford, on June 8, 1942, just a little over seventy years ago:

It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbour. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbour’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.  There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat—the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.[12]

I conclude as I began, with a reading from scripture, this time from the Torah:

You shall not oppress a resident alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be a resident alien, for you were resident aliens in the land of Egypt (Exodus 23:9).


You shall not oppress a resident alien, for you were resident aliens in the land of Egypt (Exodus 22:21).


When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress him. The alien who resides with you shall be [treated] as the native among you; you shall love him as yourself, for you were resident aliens in the Land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God (Leviticus 19:33-34).


There shall be one law for you, [and] it shall apply to both the resident alien and the native-born. I am the Lord your God (Leviticus 24:22).


You shall not pervert the justice [due to] a resident alien or orphan; and you shall not take a widow’s garment as a pledge. Remember that you were a slave in Erypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you from there; that is why I am commanding you to do this  (Deuteronomy 24:17-18).


For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who does not show partiality and does not accept a bribe. He sees justice done for orphans and widows; and loves resident aliens, giving them food and clothing. You also shall love resident aliens, for you were resident aliens in the land of Egypt (Deuteronomy 10:17-19).

What possible role can be played by IAMS or by similarly-minded individuals and organizations when it comes to the plight of “the world’s refugees”? More importantly, what is the responsibility of each IAMS member to the refugee next door? How pro-active are we, and how pro-active should we be, in seeking their wellbeing? How many of our churches, seminaries or missiological training centers explicitly identify kindness to refugees as the paramount sacred calling for those who call “Lord” one who was never satisfied with passive detachment from the plight of neighbors and strangers? What role should churches play in pressuring their governments at all levels—local, regional and national—to welcome refugees? How can we learn to be decidedly and constructively disobedient to our beloved Caesar’s when they deny the legality of the strangers in our midst and demand of us what belongs to God alone?

Our answers to these and related questions, wherever we are in the world, must in some measure be influenced by our understanding the difference between Caesar’s imprint on a coin and God’s imprint on human beings. 20Then he said to them, ‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’ 21They answered, ‘The emperor’s.’ Then he said to them, ‘Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’

Select Bibliography.

Kathleen R. Arnold. American Immigration after 1996: The Shifting Ground of Political Inclusion. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2011.

David L. Baker. Tight Fists or Open Hands? Wealth and Poverty in Old Testament Law. Grand Rapids, MI / Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009.

Christopher Bryan. Render to Caesar: Jesus, the Early Church, and the Roman Superpower. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Jonathan Glover. Humanity: A moral History of the Twentieth Century. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000.

Ian Goldman, Geoffrey Cameron and Meera Balarajan. Exceptional People: How Migration Shaped Our World and Will Define Our Future. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012.

Darrell Jackson and Alessia Passarelli. Mapping Migration. Mapping Churches’ Responses: European Study. Brussels: Churches Commission for Migrants in Europe, World Council of Churches, 2008.

Tony Judt. Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945. New York, NY: Penguin, 2006.

Russell King. People on the Move: An Atlas of Migration. Santa Barbara, CA: University of California Press,  2010.

C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory. Preached originally as a sermon in the Church of St Mary the Virgin, Oxford, on June 8, 1942: published in THEOLOGY, November, 1941,and by the S.P.C.K, 1942.

Samantha Power. A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide. New York, NY: Harper, 2007.

Howard Thurman. Jesus and The Disinherited . Boston, MA: Beacon, 1996.

*Robert Wuthnow and Stephen Offutt, “Transnational Religious Connections,” in Dennis R. Hoover and Douglas M. Johnston, Editors, Religion and Foreign Affairs: Essential Readings. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2012: 337–352.

 [1] Ian Goldman, Geoffrey Cameron and Meera Balarajan, Exceptional People: How Migration Shaped Our World and Will Define Our Future (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012), P. 3.

[2] See the Collector’s Edition of National Geographic, EarthPulse.  A Visual Almanac. State of the Earth 2010.

[3] Susan J. Matt, “The New Globalist Is Homesick,” in The New York Times (March 21, 2012). URL:

[5] accessed August 11, 2012.

[7] Accessed August 11, 2012.

[10] Kosuke Koyama, Three Mile an Hour God: Biblical Reflections (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1982).

[11] “OMSC Residents and Staff 2005–2006,” community directory.

[12] C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory. Preached originally as a sermon in the Church of St Mary the Virgin, Oxford, on June 8, 1942: published in THEOLOGY, November, 1941,and by the S.P.C.K, 1942.



The IAMS 2012 Toronto Assembly, August 15-20, will explore the profound missiological dimensions of human migration and dislocation, past, present, and future. We will attend especially to the many repercussions of widespread contemporary human movement for the theory and practice of Christian mission.

The Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, reflecting the lives of God’s people who were uprooted, exiled, and scattered, feature epic experiences of human mobility like the call to a new land, exodus and resettlement, and the scattering of the early Christians. The last half-millennium has seen the Gospel span the globe, often accompanied by the disenfranchisement and sometimes obliteration of other peoples. Dislocation, compelled and voluntary, continues to characterize our contemporary human story as people cross state boundaries or move within their own countries in search of safety or well-being. Christian mission, often a feature of large-scale movements of peoples, must continue to attend responsibly to these historic global realities.

We welcome papers on mission and diverse aspects of human mobility from across the disciplines. These can touch upon a range of themes including ethnicity, race, gender, human rights, violence, poverty, nationalism, other religions, and ecclesiastical tradition. We urge IAMS members to prepare papers and share research, especially as these relate to this Assembly’s migration theme.

We gratefully acknowledge the generosity of both Wycliffe and Knox Colleges, both members of the Toronto School of Theology at the University of Toronto as they host IAMS 2012 this August.

Recent Announcements

  • Press Release Did you know that the Canadian host committee was hard at work writing and sending a press release out to the Christian media in the Toronto area on behalf of ...
    Posted Sep 21, 2012, 10:41 PM by Ann Chow
  • Toronto Tourism Here is a link on what to do, where to eat, etc. while you're in Toronto.  There is also a tab for Deals. This section will have coupon offers ...
    Posted Aug 7, 2012, 11:30 AM by Ann Chow
  • Arrival Shuttles: Please Read August 15 shuttles will depart at 1, 4 and 7 PM from Pearson International Airport, terminals 1 and 3. Please check in at the IAMS 2012 welcome booths in the ...
    Posted Aug 7, 2012, 1:36 PM by Ann Chow
  • Arrival Registration and Check-In are located at St. Michael's College: 81 St. Mary's Street, Toronto, Ontario.  Arrive the afternoon of August 15 at the latest, as registration opens ...
    Posted Aug 7, 2012, 1:37 PM by Ann Chow
  • A Call for Research Posters Want to spread information on your research project in Toronto IAMS assembly?There is a poster wall available for project posters in Toronto IAMS assembly to facilitate a better visibility ...
    Posted Jul 16, 2012, 8:42 AM by Ann Chow
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