According to POEA – Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, the total number of OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers) at the end of 2017 was estimated at 2.3 million. This statistics does not include the Filipinos who migrated abroad, and changed their citizenship. In one way or another all of us have a family member or a friend that is working abroad.
What does the Bible tells us about people working in a strange land? We can learn from the story of Jacob who worked for his father in law, Laban. Let me share 3 lessons from this story found in Genesis 31.
First, there should be a covenant or a contract to protect the workers.
Genesis 31:44 says, “Come now, let’s make a covenant, you and I, and let it serve as a witness between us.”
The experience of Jacob with Laban as his employer is like that of our OFWs. There are a lot of undocumented workers as a result of fly by night agencies. If there is no contract, then a worker becomes unprotected.
This was the situation of Jacob as he narrated it in Genesis 31:40 “The heat consumed me in the daytime and the cold at night, and sleep fled from my eyes.”
Laban was an unjust employer. So what happened when Jacob cried for injustice, God heard him. God rebuked Laban. It was because of this Laban was forced to make a covenant, or a contract in modern terminology. The Bible is teaching us of the value of a contract which protects the workers.
Second, in the midst of injustices and abuses, God is listening to our prayers.
Genesis 31:42 narrates the conversation of Laban and Jacob. Jacob said, “If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been with me, you would surely have sent me away empty-handed. But God has seen my hardship and the toil of my hands, and last night he rebuked you.” In the story, Jacob cried to God in prayer. He was praying for 20 years, and in God’s appointed time, the prayer of Jacob was answered.
This teaches us that we should pray when we are in trouble and those who are in trouble. Let us pray also that trouble will not come to us. We must remember our brothers and sisters who are working abroad. We are assured that God listens to our prayers.
Third, God watches over us when we are away from one another.
The hardest thing in the life of an OFW is to leave behind their families. Before, it would take days to have a telegram or make a call. Now with the birth of the Internet and social media, it is a lot easier to connect with your family and friends. But nonetheless it is very difficult to leave your loved ones.
God assures us that He is watching us and our families. But we need to completely trust in God. Before we part with our loved ones who will be working abroad, let us remember the word Mizpah. In Genesis 31:49 Jacob called the place where they made a covenant as Mizpah which means “May the LORD keep watch between you and me when we are away from each other.”
To all of you, Mizpah!
Rev. Francis Neil G. Jalando-on
Office of Communications
Central Philippine University