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Developing a solid biblical foundation on the issue of multicultural ministry is essential if we are to have any meaningful discussion on how best to respond to undocumented workers. If God desires to bring to Himself a multiethnic community that will best reflect His glory, then we should be doing everything we can until then to be part of that work.

Remember Your Past

A critical aspect in developing our convictions is knowing where we came from to understand better where we’re going. God would continually remind His people how to deal with those ‘others’ within their community in the Old Testament. Often referred to as ‘sojourners’, those ‘non-Jewish’ individuals within the community of Israel were to be treated with care, respect, and love. The standard for caring for sojourners was made in remembrance that at one time, the nation of Israel was also once a sojourner in a foreign land: “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God” (Lev. 19:33-34). The nation of Israel would be encouraged to remember their time as slaves within the land of Egypt, and to note that their time as sojourners in that land was not a pleasant or encouraging time. God calls on Israel to remember the difficulty they had in Egypt as a reminder to not recreate that hardship on others that may be sojourners within their land. If Israel didn’t like it happening to them, then they shouldn’t do it to others.

The Apostle Paul will echo this line of reasoning to the Church in Ephesus, not in light of their political or national origins, but in light of their spiritual origins: “remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12a). What a grim situation for those in Ephesus, and for us today! But even though they (and we) were “alienated from God and were enemies” towards God (Col. 1:21), we “consequently are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizen with God’s people and also members of His household” (Eph. 2:12b). What good news! We once were on the outside, but now, because of God’s grace through Jesus Christ, we are on the inside!

These verses are not meant to be a direct answer on how to deal with the issue of undocumented workers. No, these verses have little to do with “them” and everything to do with “us.” These verses, both for the nation of Israel and the Church in Ephesus, are attempts to remind God’s people that we are to be quick to recognize that we all start as “strangers” to God and that we should develop a heart of compassion and empathy for anyone that finds themselves as ‘strangers’ to any situation…including undocumented workers. Does this “fix” the immense problems of undocumented workers in this nation? Probably not, but like any issue, the first step is not to look at the problem of “them,” but to ask God to change the heart of “us” so we can adequately respond to them.

Show Concern for the Vulnerable

While much can be said about some undocumented workers coming into our country to cause problems, the vast majority of individuals that come into America are coming out of a sense of great need, not out of a sense of great excess. Many undocumented workers are just that, workers. They come seeking jobs that will provide them the opportunity to work and pay bills, support their families, and escape situations that are causing them harm and injury. Much debate is often focused on whether these undocumented workers are “stealing” jobs away from Americans. While this is an important debate in the economic and employment opportunities of our citizens, the reality for most undocumented workers is that they are trying to make a living and are in a situation of dire need.1

God’s Word has much to say to God’s people regarding how we should be responding to individuals that are in such need: “He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing” (Deut. 10:18). The heart of God is constantly advocating for those that are the most marginalized and should compel Christians to be a voice for those that don’t have a voice of their own. But while God’s heart is to care for the vulnerable, His expectation is that this care is executed through His people: “When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not strip it afterward. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless and the widow” (Deut. 24:19021). How does God execute care for the most vulnerable? He does it through His people being intentional in caring for the most vulnerable in their communities. These include the fatherless, the widows, and the sojourners.

New Testament writers only confirm this heart of God and expectation for God’s people to care and minister to the most marginalized in our communities: “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction” (James 1:27).

While there is much debate regarding the legality of undocumented workers in this country, one thing that is often overshadowed is just how vulnerable and needy these individuals are. There is no one easy answer in how to care for all these marginalized individuals. Still, the consistent appeal from God to His people throughout scripture is that we are moved to be a voice for the voiceless and provide care and compassion to those most in need. That may not solve the border problem, but we don’t have to solve that issue to show love to those that need it most.

Practice ‘Real’ Hospitality

Suppose you asked most Christians what comes to mind when you say the word “hospitality.” In many cases, it’s common to hear people talk about Sunday lunch after Church, setting a beautiful table with the good plates and silverware, and the enjoyment of a home filled with family and friends. While this description is not incorrect in terms of hospitality, it needs to be expanded and, perhaps, challenged by a deeper and more robust biblical definition.

While hospitality can include opening your home to friends and family, the way scripture often presents the idea of hospitality is not usually to those you know, but more often towards those you don’t know. The actual etymology of the word “hospitality” means “love of strangers” and is rooted in the idea of showing care and goodness to those outside of your everyday relationships.2

We see examples of this in scripture when Jesus Himself equates the care and welcome extended to strangers as a means of showing the love of Jesus: “For I was hungry, and you gave me food. I was thirsty, and you gave me drink, I was a stranger, and you welcomed me” (Matthew 25:35). The author of Hebrews expects that this type of love and care will characterize followers of Jesus to strangers, recognizing that those strangers may be heavenly visitors: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Hebrews 13:2).

If genuine biblical hospitality is not just providing a meal to those that we know but is more plainly followed when we show love to those that we don’t know, then showing love and care to undocumented workers would seem to be a natural and clear opportunity for Christians to be ‘biblical’ in their hospitality. The command for Christians to love strangers like undocumented workers should not be conditioned on the legality of their immigration status. Rather, the call of hospitality is rooted in showing the love of Christ to those that are on the fringes of society and  often considered strangers.

Take Care of Your Own

While Christians should seek out those strangers in society to show Christ’s love, we are also called to love those within our own’ family of faith and care for those we call our fellow brothers and sisters.

In his book, Welcoming the Stranger, Matthew Soerens cites research that highlights an interesting fact about the Church in America: “the fastest growing evangelical churches are independent immigrant churches” (Pg. 165), which means that immigration issues are not an issue out there, but something we have to face with the church.

This news is both incredibly encouraging and necessarily convicting for us today. Encouraging in seeing that one of the greatest sources of evangelistic growth is with those that are coming to this country seeking a better life for themselves and their family. Not only are immigrants finding freedom from state persecution, but they are also finding freedom in Christ.  Not only are immigrants finding a means of employment and financial security, but they are also finding personal meaning and spiritual security in Jesus. This fact truly is good news!

But this truth is also very convicting for the Church in America. Immigrants are not only coming into our country but also becoming part of our churches. Christians need to realize that this issue is not just the constant debates regarding the legal status of undocumented workers, but of priority, how we care for our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. When the Apostle Paul encourages the Christians in Rome to “Share with the Lord’s people who are in need” (Romans 12:13), we should not first check their immigration status to see if we can care for them. Instead, we should rejoice that God is bringing men and women into faith and should look forward to sharing our blessings with our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. If we first (and sometimes only) look at undocumented workers as those ‘illegals’ we may find it challenging to show Christ’s love and miss out on the joy of sharing with those that have “called upon the name of the Lord” (Romans 10:13).

First Christian, then American

On Wednesday, November 21st, 2018, I, along with dozens of other immigrants, had the joy and privilege of standing in a room together, and with our right hands raised, repeated an oath to become an American citizen. Part of that oath declared the following: “I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty…” I happily said those words and, with thanksgiving, was given the right to call myself an American citizen.  But even as I recall that day and type those words out into this article, I see myself holding my right hand up before all but holding my other hand behind my back with ‘crossed fingers.’ I’m happy to “renounce” all allegiance to any foreign prince in this world, but I will not, and I cannot renounce my allegiance to my Heavenly King. Even as I joyfully recited those words that day, I still recognize that my ultimate allegiance is not to the Stars and Stripes but to the Lamb that was slain. That means that I view my convictions, affections, and behaviors through the priority of my faith that is brought under the authority of God’s Word. This doesn’t mean I can forget or dismiss the laws of our land, but rather, it means that the Laws of God and His Word must be considered first.

Too often, the debate of undocumented workers has fallen into the polarization of political debates related to immigration status, economic issues, or concerns of criminal activity. As mentioned before, these are all important aspects in the debate on undocumented workers, but as Christians, our first allegiance is not to the legal issues of the state but to the gospel issues of God’s Word. To properly engage with all the various facets of the debate, Christians need to take a step back from the political debate and examine our hearts to ensure we are first responding out of God’s truth. Perhaps we can be known not as what we’re against, but what we’re for, and be known as people that can love the stranger just as Christ loved us.

Footnotes

  1. Maria E. Enchautegui, “Immigrant and Native Workers Compete for Different Low-Skilled Jobs,” Urban Institute, 2015 Available online.
  2. “NT Hospitality”, by C.D. Pohl, pages 562-563, in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology. InterVarsity Press. Edited by Alexander, T. D. & Rosner, B. S. (2000).

Ben Mathew

Ben Mathew (Ph.D.) is the Chair of the Behavioral & Health Sciences Department at Emmaus Bible College, and in private practice as a therapist in Dubuque, Iowa.

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