“I was a stranger and you invited me in.” -- Matthew 25:35b NIV
As stated in my previous article, there are now 42 million immigrants in the United States. The migration of people is a worldwide event referred to as the Diasporas. It is having a profound effect on Missions. What is on God’s mind and in his heart for the Evangelical Church’s response to this movement, particularly in the United States?
As God’s people manifesting His incarnational presence in our communities, our role is to reflect Christ to these newest neighbors. It has always been a challenge to reach out to people who look and talk like us, so to make connections with people who look and speak differently than us might be somewhat uncomfortable. That’s natural, initially. So we must accept that this Mission will require intentional efforts to be made, and that God will supply the grace needed to meet this opportunity.
Scripture reveals God’s compassion for the strangers among us. “‘When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” -- Leviticus 19: 33-34 NIV.
And He exhorts us to act with compassion. “He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. Fear the Lord your God and serve him. Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name.” -- Deuteronomy 10:18-19 NIV.
The Israelites, like us, had fears about national safety, cultural identity, and resourcing the needs of impoverished newcomers. Yet God directs them to trust Him and act compassionately. As Evangelicals, we can promote strong borders while being respectful of immigrants, the vast majority of whom entered our country legally. And we can take the time required to meet needs and develop relationships.
Here are some very practical things that you can do as individuals. Take a moment to greet the people who serve you as you shop, dine out, get gas, and as you see them at school and work. Take a moment to make eye contact and offer a handshake where appropriate. Ask questions of people and try to learn their story. Have refreshments or a meal together. Begin to build a bridge of friendship. As time goes on you will determine where they are at in their relationship with Christ, and sharing what He means to you.
As churches, we should consider welcoming new people to our communities and fellowships. Meeting the needs of impoverished people no matter their background is also important although not every new group is impoverished. Whether that takes the form of a food pantry or a clothes closet, it is a good thing to do. Many churches have developed strong relationships with congregations of other cultures as they host them in their buildings. Some have joined services together or at least fellowship times together. Others offer ESL classes.
In the Wesleyan denomination, churches even give assistance to solve immigration issues. The evangelical community at large (represented by the National Association of Evangelicals), has largely agreed on several points regarding immigrants. Our response to immigrants should be one that:
Respects the God-given dignity of every person.
Protects the unity of the immediate family.
Respects the rule of law.
Guarantees secure national borders.
Ensures fairness to taxpayers.
And as you know, there continues to be considerable debate about establishing a path toward legal status and/or citizenship for those who qualify and wish to become permanent residents.
This is challenging. During this election cycle it can be overwhelming and a source of great tension and disagreement. We are, in fact, a nation made up of immigrants except for native brothers. My Canadian-born father entered the U.S. when he was five years old after the death of his father, an Irish immigrant. Our forefathers were strangers in a strange land once. Not all were well-received. It has been said that we, as a nation, hate immigrants before we love them. Most of us are made up of many ethnic and cultural groups. Although I am 100% Irish, my newest granddaughter is Irish, German, English, Scots, Persian and Iroquois. The beginnings of our denomination in the United States were focused on reaching German immigrants.
We cannot ignore the issue of immigrants among us for God has brought to us an unprecedented opportunity. We must trust Him and rise to the challenge that the Lord has put before us to reach this new newest mission field in our own communities. This begins by cultivating our hearts to be open to immigrants.
There are many resources to help us. Here are a few web sites that are helpful: