“Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.” (Exodus 23:9 NIV)
When I was growing up, I heard plenty of inspiring stories about missionaries who went to exotic and dangerous places. I admired their hearts for God, their willingness to say “Send me,” but secretly, I worried that God would call me to Africa or someplace else that I didn’t want to go.
This past Sunday, Pastor Claudio presented the Biblical case for helping immigrants. He pointed out something that, to my embarrassment, I had never thought of before: immigrants are like the Great Commission coming to you. The Great Commission is Jesus’s final words to his disciples before ascending into Heaven:
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28:18b-20 NIV, emphasis added)
Though I still don’t feel called to Africa, I’ve learned a few things since my early days of worrying. One is that if God calls you somewhere, really calls you, you’ll want to go. It might still be scary or difficult, but you’ll be excited about going. Another thing I’ve learned is that I don’t have to worry in secret — I know for sure that God is calling me somewhere I don’t want to go: outside of my comfort zone. His instructions to all believers include plenty of clear commands that make me uncomfortable, regardless of where my specific Call might take me.
For example, Claudio reminded us that we’re supposed to take strangers and the needy into our homes (Hebrews 13:2, 1 Peter 4:9). That’s almost as uncomfortable for me as moving my home to them would be. Of course, we should always be thinking about how to minister and witness to the people around us in our daily lives, but I’ve been so afraid of being sent to an unfamiliar mission field that I never paused to notice the mission field coming to me.
Immigrants in our communities allow us to include “all nations” in those daily interactions. Whether or not we’re dealing with people who look like us, the local mission field isn’t necessarily less frightening or daunting than the ones we might travel to (although at least the plane tickets are cheaper). Obeying God is counter-cultural, so it’s sometimes going to be uncomfortable.
Claudio also pointed out that, in addition to plenty of commands in both the Old and New Testament, God wove immigration into the very story of his people. Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Ruth, David, Daniel, Nehemiah, and Jesus himself all immigrated to or sought refuge in a country foreign to them, at least for a time. Hence, the command of Exodus 23:9 (above), which tells the Israelites, and by extension Christians, not to oppress foreigners because we (as a people) know what it feels like to be foreigners.
As Claudio emphasized, immigration is about much more than politics, and the contentiousness of immigration is hardly limited to America. Yet I think Christians everywhere would approach immigration politics much differently if they came with a missionary heart.
Abigail can be reached by email here.