A group of us from my church gathered one Wednesday night to talk about what God has to say about immigration. Unlike the debates we are hearing on TV and the Radio in the build up to the election, this was not a moment to talk about our different political views but to have a discussion about what unites us by learning about God’s heart for the stranger among us. And God gives a surprising amount of instruction about this!
When I think about vulnerable people, those that need to be protected, I think of the poor, the widow, and the orphan. However, when God talks about caring for the vulnerable in the Bible, there is a fourth category – the foreigner. Throughout the Old Testament God reminds the Israelites “do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt” (Exodus 22:21). If he mentions it so many times, it makes me think I should be paying a little more attention – is the immigrant more vulnerable than the average citizen? Do they have the same access to justice, services, and wealth? There must be a reason why God says that he “watches over the alien” (Psalm 146:9), that he needs to be their protector.
Jesus was keenly aware of the needs of the immigrant, having himself lived as a foreigner in Egypt when a child. In Matthew 25 he makes clear that it is those who feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and invite the stranger in who will inherit the kingdom of God. But what does all this mean for us today?
It is not easy to respond to the needs of the foreigners around us, not least because these aren’t necessarily people that we see everyday. For many of us these people are not our friends or neighbors. But as we discussed on that night, perhaps we need to be a little more intentional about reaching out. This doesn’t have to mean moving into a different neighborhood (although for some people in our congregation that is exactly what they’ve decided to do) but may simply mean making the effort with foreigners you do meet, whether in your workplace or in the supermarket. Research from the Billy Graham Center has found that less than 1 in ten immigrants will ever be welcomed into the home of an American, to say nothing of a Christian. Maybe this is an area where we could start to make a change.
As one of the people at that night’s study so beautifully put it, this is a wonderful opportunity for us to participate in God’s generosity. In Acts 17 it says, “From one man He made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.” So it may be that God has brought people to live alongside us so they can reach out for Him and find Him. How wonderful if we could set aside our own fears and anxieties to join these people in this most divine journey.
Sarah Beaumont moved from the UK to the US with her husband in 2011, and started volunteering with Casa Chirilagua – a faith based organisation working in a Latino immigrant community in Alexandria, VA. In March 2012 she started work as their Development Director. Before coming to the United States Sarah spent 7 years working in the UK Government and Parliament, as a policy adviser (including work on immigration issues) and project manager, and prior to that spent 2 years working in Thailand on children’s projects for displaced people from Burma.
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