Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Love the Foreigner - Ministry to Immigrants

Immigrants arrive at Ellis Island, New York
For the Lord your God is the God of gods and Lord of lords. He is the great God, the mighty and awesome God, who shows no partiality and cannot be bribed. He ensures that orphans and widows receive justice. He shows love to the foreigners living among you and gives them food and clothing. So you, too, must show love to foreigners, for you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:17-19)

I am an immigrant.

For the first time in my life, I am residing in a new country, one so close to my childhood home, yet a completely different way of living and being. In a way, all things are new.

Years ago, I volunteered to help my best friend Brian as part of a refugee resettlement program in Portland, OR. He was responsible for furnishing the new American housing for incoming refugees from all over the world--Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq, and many other places. Often he was the first American these families would meet. It was an honor to meet these families as they embarked on a journey to a new land. They rarely spoke English, but they clearly communicated both their gratitude and their awe at being in a new place.

In many of the passages in Scripture centered on God's justice, there are the usual suspects. The poor and impoverished. Widows and orphans. The marginalized and outcast. There is also mention of immigrants. Sojourners. Foreigners. Strangers in a strange land. They are included as examples of people who don't often experience justice, people who may find themselves in the margins of society, forgotten and alone to navigate a new land.

I understood the poverty and orphan thing, but had never fully grasped God's justice for the foreigner until now. Immigrating to a new country has been complex and stressful. There are so many unknowns, so many forms and fees and procedures that are both unclear and urgent. I am inherently the outsider, the one who is new to the place. Thankfully, I have a supportive new church family to come alongside me and my family. They have been an incredible blessing in this season of transition.

But what about the foreigners who don't have a church family yet? How can the local church execute justice in the name of the sojourner?

In Arizona, immigration reform is one of the biggest issues every year in the political realm. It was the state that found itself in a heated public legal battle with the government over immigration laws and practices, and still has an underlying tone of racism and division between Hispanics and Whites. In the Vancouver metro area, there is huge percentage of Asian immigrants, with over 30% of the population having Asian origins (China, Korea, India, Philippines, etc.). Immigration isn't just for large urban settings either; it is expanding more to the suburbs and rural areas all over North America.

God reminds the people of Israel to love the foreigner because they were once foreigners in a land that was not their home. As citizens of the kingdom of God, we are reminded that we are foreigners and pilgrims awaiting the coming kingdom and striving to live out the ethics and values of the King here and now. In the kingdom, there will be every tribe and tongue and nation gathered together under the name of Jesus.

Our King seems to care a lot about immigrants. Regardless of your stance on the political side of immigration laws and reforms, immigrants are people, and Jesus loves people, so we as the church need to love them too.

What is your youth ministry doing to love the foreigners, immigrants, and travelers in your community? There are likely thousands of young people living in your community who are from another land. What could our ministries do to embrace them, welcome them, love them in the name of Jesus? I'm no expert, but here are some initial thoughts:

  • Have your church host a free class or program specifically for filing out and understanding immigration paperwork. Hire an immigration lawyer, and foot the bill. Most immigrant families have no idea what questions or forms they even need to be asking, so any help navigating the process would be beneficial.
  • Research the demographics of your local neighborhood and community. Start with your local high school. Does your youth group accurately reflect the social climate of the surrounding community, or does it lean towards a certain ethnicity or status?
  • Learn about the cultures, values, and practices of the immigrants' countries of origin. Learn a few phrases in their language. Pronounce names correctly.
What could our ministries and churches do to love the foreigners in our midst? Share an idea in the comments.

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