In the past year, immigration has regularly been at the top of the headlines. Much of the news coverage has focused on various social problems that some folks associate with immigration, and particularly with illegal immigration: crime, unemployment, governmental fiscal crises, disease, etc.  Beyond the negative headlines, though, many evangelical leaders have recognized that immigration is gradually breathing new life into churches across the country; in the process, they’re also finding that many of the media-driven stereotypes about undocumented immigrants are inconsistent with the realities in their congregations.

Many evangelical leaders have spoken out in the past year, challenging Christ-followers to extend hospitality to the immigrants arriving in their communities, and encouraging our government to put into place policies that balance a respect for the rule of law with compassion for undocumented immigrants.

While many evangelical leaders have thoughtfully studied the issue and made bold pronouncements, though, it is not necessarily trickling down to the pews.  Sadly, according to recent research by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, just 12% of white evangelicals in the U.S. say that their views on immigration are informed primarily by their faith.  This statistic is confirmed by my personal experience: as I speak about the immigration issue in churches throughout the U.S., I find that most Christians have thought about immigration as a political, economic, and social issue, but few have considered it from a biblical perspective—even though Scripture has much to say in relation to how the “alien” in the land should be treated.

I believe this lack of critical, biblical thinking around the immigration issue—and around immigrants themselves, especially undocumented immigrants—is a tragedy, because immigration presents an enormous missional opportunity for the Church.  Jesus’ Great Commission is to “go and make disciples of all nations.”  Through immigration, the nations show up at our doorstep.  These immigrants, as missiologists will tell you, are amongst the most receptive groups of people to the gospel—but, unfortunately, most immigrants are not being welcomed at present.  If non-immigrant believers are not challenged to welcome and reach out to immigrants, we risk missing a divinely-appointed mission on our doorstep.

Your role in g92.org is crucial for its effectiveness. First, we’d love for you to use the resources were creating to further educate yourself and prayerfully consider the direction you lead your church.  Secondly, share your learnings with those on your church staff and begin an open conversation about the issue.  Thirdly, we’d love for you to share the coming films with your congregation.  Together, we can become a Church living out Scripture and influence the way America views immigrants.

In Christ,

Matthew Soerens

US Church Training Specialist, World Relief

Coauthor, Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion & Truth in the Immigration Debate

 

3 Responses to A Letter to Pastors and Church Leaders

  1. Matt, thanks for taking a leadership role in what is certainly one of the most important issues facing the church today. I’m praying for you, and also buying copies of your book for family and friends.

  2. Paul Witte says:

    Dear Matthew,
    I hear your perspective with great interest. I am happy to see evangelical Christians reaching out to undocumented immigrants. I want to share my perspective. I am an evangelical Catholic. I am a missionary. I minister to undocumented immigrants. I am involved with Catholic churches whose primary concern is justice — particularly for the poorest, most disadvantaged and discriminated-against immigrants.I see them as a focus of mission, but I have come to understand mission in a different way over the years. It is not just ‘me’, as a follower of Christ, proclaiming gospel salvation to the unevangelized. It is also receiving from the materially poor spiritual gifts that enrich me, a Christian.of a wealthy society. For me the focus is not so much on poor immigrants in need of the hope of the gospel as it is on me and my church and associates in mission in need of reaching out and discovering Christ ourselves. Mission is two way and it has less and less to do with what church, or congregation we belong to — or what church, or congregation, we want the objects of our missionary approach to become members of. It is about encountering Christ in the littlest and most humble — and about becoming one of the littlest and most humble.

    • Matthew Soerens says:

      Paul,

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment; I completely agree. We need to think missionally about the topic of immigration–and I am concerned because I think we have a long way to go within North American evangelical churches–but our missional approach should not be a one-way street, rather a mutually beneficial pursuit of knowing Christ better in the context of community. While there are immigrants who encounter Christ for the first time in the US–an exciting possibility that I celebrate as one who believes that there is nothing more valuable than a redemptive relationship with Jesus–it’s also true that I have encountered Christ in new ways as I interact with my immigrant neighbors (Matt. 25:35-45) and have been immeasurably blessed in the process.

      Immigration is an enormous opportunity for the Church, I believe, but not merely to expand our numbers: we have much to learn from those whom God is providentially bringing into our land. Our hope with this project is to challenge evangelicals–many of whom are viewing immigration primarily through a political or economic lens–to see immigrants as a blessing and an opportunity. We want to challenge the church to extend hospitality, and I expect that if we do we just may find that some of those “strangers” whom we begin to obediently love are actually angels in disguise (Hebrews 13:2).

      Please keep watching, as I think you’ll appreciate the video and other resources we’re preparing to launch on January 17.

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