“You shall also love the stranger,
for you were strangers in the land of Egypt
(Deuteronomy 10:19 NRS).
“I was a father to the needy,
and I championed the cause of the stranger”
(Job 29:16 NRS).
“I was a stranger and you welcomed me” -Jesus
(Matthew 25:35 NRS).
(Image courtesy of welcomestrangerband.bandcamp.com)
As my country continues its centuries long struggle with immigration, a hot topic that sprung up as soon as the first European set foot on its shores, I was thrust once more into considering what our response should be as the Church upon reading this article: Church Groups Ship Illegals Deeper into US. Having been born and raised in the United States, I am sincerely grateful for all the joy I have experienced within its borders, and all the liberty I have enjoyed in its freedoms. I cannot fault others for wanting to live here, nor can I totally disagree with those that want to ensure that there is order and safety preserved. As a Christian, I struggle with how to find the right path between two warring sides of the immigration debate. As one who openly accepts the call of Christ to love all people, I re-read the above Scripture passages, and found myself feeling the conviction to welcome the stranger.
Repeatedly, and in far more than the three passages I cited above, the Bible commands us to welcome the stranger. Who is a stranger? Anyone who is not me, my family, or my current neighbor is easily definable as a stranger. As Scripture urges us to recall a time when we were strangers, even if that is not us personally and literally, but as the spiritual descendants of a people who were strangers in a strange land, wandered lost in the wilderness, and then sent into the Promised Land where they were strangers once more. If that is my spiritual heritage, then I cannot dismiss the plight of the stranger, the very same person modern political discourse labels “immigrant,” and the more pejorative term “illegal.” I wrestle with how to offer hospitality without incapacitating the recipient. I want to support programs that emphasize education and accountability, because Christ calls his disciples to teach and equip others. Much debate centers around giving up what we have at the expense of those who are already here, and I used to be very concerned about that. Then I stopped to consider how much I have, and how much we have as a nation, and I think we can afford to be generous, but not blind. I believe that we can welcome and help people to find their place in our country, just as we welcome people and help them find their place in our churches.
Hot button issues like immigration always seem to cultivate deep divides among people. There is passion on both sides, and truth spoken there, too. I could spend the rest of my life bouncing back and forth between the polarized positions, but how will that ever bring real relief to those who suffer because of this issue? How will I ever stand before the one who declared himself to be a stranger and honestly say that I welcomed the stranger, if I refuse to act on this which is so much more than an abstract issue, but about real people and their struggle to survive? I can start small, close to home, and refuse to take advantage of their day labor. I can support those community initiatives that teach English to those who are not fluent speakers. I can refuse to persecute those who are not card carrying immigrants and citizens, but offer them acts of kindness and mercy. I can stop looking at them as enemies, and start looking at them like they are Christ come to receive my hospitality, because that is exactly what he says to do in the Gospel of Matthew. When someone takes exception to my words and my actions, I can stand tall and say that I am following the call of my Savior, and I have no shame in that.
Christ, my compass and guide,
Help me to navigate the ways of this world.
I long to be a means of your grace for others,
But I find myself frightened by the possible backlash for doing so.
I know I have nothing to fear,
So I place myself and all my trust in you.
I will speak your words to the stranger.
I will welcome them as you have welcomed me back into your fold.
I will love as I have
been loved, despite my willful disobedience.
been loved, despite my willful disobedience.
May I be a spark shining in the darkness of this discourse,
That calls us to see the people, not the issue.
May I serve and love like you,
And may this bring honor and glory to your name,
Always and forevermore.