Welcoming the Stranger
Updated: Jun 15, 2022
(This is the second in a series of reflections on books read by the Creekside Book Club)
I thought I knew how the immigration system worked in the United States.
I grew up with immigrants – undocumented, refugees and legal residents – in my community in Southern Idaho. Here in Washington, I work every day with people who have immigrated or are immigrating from many countries. I even have some extended family members who are immigrants. I assumed there was a way for anyone to immigrate legally to the US and that it was as simple as “following the rules”.
However, with all the information and misinformation being shared over the past few years, and the impact I have seen on people around me, I realized I should learn more. When the Creekside Book Club was looking to select a new book, I expressed interest in one that focused on immigration and how we could engage with the issue as Christ followers.
After evaluating a few options, the group selected Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion and Truth in the Immigration Debate by Matthew Soerens and Jenny Yang.
It turned out there was a lot to learn about immigration in the United States.
Welcoming the Stranger covered in detail the history of immigration, current immigration policy (as of the 2018 publication date – 2nd edition) and the varied experiences of people in the United States with different statuses – such as refugees, permanent legal residents, naturalized citizens, and those who are undocumented. While the authors have worked in this area for many years and are clearly advocates for immigration, the issue coverage was fairly well-balanced. Arguments both for and against immigration restriction were covered as well as real concerns from native born citizens and established immigrant communities about numbers and types of immigrants allowed in the country.
The authors made the issues real through the stories of immigrants they have known. They shared statistics and covered economic and societal impacts from immigration, both positive and negative. They also shared a biblical perspective on immigration, impacts on the church in the US, how churches are involved with immigrants and, most importantly, how we as Christ-followers can live out our call to love our (immigrant) neighbors.
One major insight for me is that there actually is no legal path for many people to immigrate to the US. Also, the system is designed to favor the wealthy and highly educated. It is not just about “following the rules”! The authors also explained that immigration reform is not just about allowing unlimited immigration. There are valid reasons why the system exists, and likewise outdated and unhelpful features needing reform.
What does it mean to love the foreigner residing among us, according to the Mosaic law referenced above? It means to treat them as you would native born people. That’s a very high standard! “Love them as yourself.” As people of God, we are, in fact, called to have special concern for immigrants! Jesus told his disciples that when they welcomed and cared for the stranger, they welcomed and cared for Him (Matthew 25:31-46).
So, how can we do that? Soerens and Yang shared stories of how churches are answering that call and provide information on what we can do as Christ followers to actively engage with immigrants and immigration policy. There are resources in the appendices of the book for discussion and learning more about US immigration and advocacy. Our group is learning more and listening to immigrants in our midst to find out what is needed. Will you join us?
Matthew is the US director of church mobilization for World Relief and the national coordinator of the Evangelical Immigration Table. Jenny is senior vice president of advocacy and policy for World Relief. Both have extensive Christian backgrounds and have been working in the church with immigrant communities for the majority of their careers.