The Immigration ‘Problem’

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Twenty years ago I was sitting in a pew when a Mexican man entered our church. He looked out of place in our small Caucasian congregation. The Church of God was his home back in Mexico, and he wanted to be part of our church. But he spoke only Spanish. Someone tried to teach him words in English, using signs to try to talk.

The awkwardness of the situation bothered me so much that I promised myself to learn Spanish. I eventually did. A few years later, I translated for his family at a Super Sabbath service. I’ve been active in the Spanish-speaking community ever since.

In recent months, the number of arrivals at our southern border has increased tremendously. Many have no family or friends in the US and are being sent to homeless shelters all over the country. I have visited many local churches, asking for volunteers to help with an organization that meets basic needs in the local immigrant community. Unfortunately, most churches in my area are not aware of the needs and are not interested in getting involved.

A pastor of a local Spanish-speaking congregation told me, “These immigrants are breaking our economy.” Many on the political Right fear migrants are stealing jobs and bringing crime. The political Left believes immigration is a humanitarian crisis caused by a breakdown in society and that everyone should be given welfare assistance. Both want more government intervention, just in different ways. But these generalizations don’t adequately address a complex issue.

Showing compassion

Border security is a legitimate job of the government, but it’s not the government’s job to show compassion; that’s our job as the church. As a citizen voter, I support the policy of securing the border and reforming immigration laws. But as a servant of God, I have volunteered giving food, water, and shelter to migrants at the border.

Throughout the Bible we are commanded to be generous to strangers, the poor, widows, and fatherless (Deuteronomy 24:14-21; Psalm 146:9; Jeremiah 22:3; Ezekiel 22:7; Matthew 25:38; 1 Timothy 5:10). It’s not productive to grumble about whether someone deserves to live in our country, to question their motives or critique their contributions to society. Nor is it our place to blame them for the complex problems affecting their countries of origin.

The poor in the Third World have an exaggerated admiration of the United States. It is thought to be a utopia where everyone is wealthy. Many who arrive here are surprised to find that life isn’t as easy as they expected. But the US has tremendous economic opportunities compared with most of the world.

This leads them to speculate, “Why is the US such a prosperous nation, while my homeland is in shambles?” They learn about our Constitution and the separation of powers and checks and balances of the judicial, executive, and legislative branches of government. Our Declaration of Independence appeals to God-given rights. We have the best military in the world. The US is not perfect, but superior to most.

Source of greatness

But is this where “American Greatness” comes from? Why is our country different from so many? Deuteronomy says:

“Observe [God’s decrees and laws] carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him? And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?” (4:6-8).

When the Queen of Sheba visited King Solomon in Israel, she was awestruck at the magnificence of a nation whose God was the Lord (1 Kings 10).

I pray that when Venezuelan and Haitian migrants arrive in this nation, they will be awestruck by our compassionate and loving church members who welcome them. I hope they will hear us proclaiming the gospel of Jesus and be convicted of sin. When they see In God We Trust on our currency, I hope they will know that we don’t serve money. Like the queen who was overwhelmed by the greatness of Solomon’s wisdom, I hope that our generosity will inspire the same.

I have friends who believe that the migration at the southern border is a national invasion. Even if this were true, as servants of God, we are to obey Jesus’ call to love our enemies and be generous to them, because “God is good, even to bad people” (Luke 6:35, paraphrase.)

Charge to the church

If I lived in a gang-controlled, impoverished third-world country, I would be doing everything in my power to get to a place like the US. It’s hypocritical of me to expect someone in the same situation to act differently. Can we blame them for coveting the abundance and security that we enjoy?

Yes, it’s wrong to intentionally break immigration laws, but it doesn’t change how we as a church should respond to immigrants. The church should welcome everyone, regardless of legal status. Moreover, how can it be called “illegal immigration” when our government is promoting it, financing it, and making it nearly impossible to follow a legal immigration process? Both political parties have failed to pass immigration reform, when they could have done so.

As I’m writing this, my city has opened a resource center for assisting migrants. There’s no easy solution to the immigration “problem,” but I think it’s unfortunate that government agencies are stepping up to meet needs that many churches aren’t even aware of. Instead of thinking of the poor as a “problem,” let’s be grateful for an opportunity to serve.

Robert Stephens
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Robert Stephens is a member of the Church of God (Seventh Day) living in San Antonio, TX, with his wife, Sheila, and their two children, Tori and Elliot. He is a nutritionist and health coach and works part time as an engineering technician. Robert volunteers with the Interfaith Welcome Coalition