God Welcomes Immigrants And So Should We
I was reared in the UK as a son of Greek immigrants in the lily-white suburbs of North London. It was a tough way to grow up.
I was, and always would be, a “bubble” — a play on the cockney rhyming slang of "bubble and squeak" for Greek. For every curious word about my ethnicity, 10 more were laced with menace. The message was loud and clear: "You don’t belong here."
In my early 20s, the opportunity to move to the U.S. seemed like a godsend — which it was, even though I didn’t know it until a decade later when I met Jesus in South Carolina.
The U.S. had a proud history as a nation friendly to immigrants. The mythic, almost fairytale landscapes I’d glimpsed on TV and in the movies, along with its relentlessly optimistic national character, made me dream of a perfect place where I could be anyone I wanted to be, judged for who I was, not who I wasn’t.
And yet belonging evaded me still. Sure, my swanky British accent spared me the overt racism endured by other ethnic types with darker skin. But instead, I felt like a carnival sideshow of British stereotypes.
Only in Jesus did I find my home.
God Loves Immigrants
It’s easy to think that mass immigration is a new thing, based on our world’s interconnected culture and economy. But mass migrations, forced by such things as famine and war, were a fact of life in both the Old and New Testaments.
Personal experience has sensitized me to the surprising number of Bible heroes, including Jesus Himself, whose stories have migration narratives at their center. Abraham moved to Canaan. Jacob and his family moved to Egypt, and all their descendants moved back to the foreign land of Canaan. Ruth left Moab for Bethlehem. Daniel went to Babylon in the exile. Jesus spent his childhood in Egypt before returning with his parents to Galilee.
Immigrants — called "strangers and sojourners" in the Bible — join widows, orphans and the poor in having a special claim on God’s love and deserving of a special admonition to His people:
"You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:34).
The clear message, echoing Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor as yourself,” is that God’s people should always identify as immigrants, even if they’re natural born to the U.S. or some other country.
As the political temperature around immigration in the U.S. and the world continues to heat up, there are at least three things God wants to teach us about adopting an immigrant mindset:
1. Love all people and give them dignity.
Whatever our disagreements on immigration policy, as Christians we cannot allow ourselves to be swept along in our culture’s bitter criticism of foreigners, as though they were enemies.
This is a blessed time! The gospel is for the nations, and the nations are coming to us, so we should make the most of the opportunity.
Our first responsibility is to treat everyone as a person made in the image of God, who needs to hear the Gospel. If political passions stir up prejudice and hate toward immigrants, we are hating ourselves. Anger and hate is a sinful response that can only be healed through confession and repentance (1 John 4:20).
2. Look to God as our true deliverer.
When God lumps sojourners in with the poor, the widows and orphans, He wants us to grasp the utter desperation that prompts people all over the world to cross borders to escape oppression or poverty. While God wants us individually to have mercy on them, He ultimately desires for us to understand that all striving is meaningless without Him.
Israel’s history — filled with land grabs from improbable military engagements and miraculous opportunities to exit and gain entry to foreign lands — is representative of a ceaseless searching for a dwelling place of freedom, peace and prosperity that exists in God alone. Humanity’s "promised land” is the new heavens and earth in Revelation, and our passports are stamped with the sin-forgiving blood of Jesus (Hebrews 11:13-16).
3. Remember that heaven is our home.
All immigrants experience the uneasiness of not belonging; of encountering customs and traditions that value different things; of never truly speaking the same language of the society they're living in.
The fact is that's exactly the experience of all who call on Jesus in faith. Our ways will always be strange to the culture of the world we live in. We will always be feared, mocked or rejected.
As with other immigrant communities, the church always faces the temptation to create an enclave of safety and security among our own. But God nonetheless calls us to bear the shame and live boldly different lives, so others “may see your good deeds and glorify God” (1 Peter 2:12).