FIRST-PERSON: How should we treat immigrants?
HARTFORD, Conn. (BP) -- One of the joys of living in a more urban area is the cultural diversity. Connecticut, where I serve as a church planting catalyst for the North American Mission Board, is particularly diverse. In the state, 12.9 percent of the population is foreign born -- and an additional 2.4 percent was born in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico.
Connecticut's foreign-born population has grown by 61 percent since 1990, one of the nation's highest growth rates. Though people have moved to Connecticut from all over the world, the three most common nations of origin are Poland, India and Jamaica. What an interesting mix of cultures this gives our state!
How should Christians deal with all these people from other places moving into homes down the street or apartments next door? Leviticus 19:33-34 reminds us that, "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." That seems pretty clear. Christians are to treat people from other nations as if they are natives to our own land. But are Christians following this Biblical principle?
Sunday morning remains one of the most segregated hours of the week across the land. Part of that is due to language barriers, and that is totally understandable. But since many immigrants from other countries have excellent English skills, the language barrier does not explain everything. Perhaps our Sunday morning worship remains segregated because in our hearts we are still not treating the foreign born as we would treat the person who has lived here all their lives.
Why is it important for Christians to treat those from other places like native-born Americans? When people go through hard times, they often turn to extended family or longtime friends for support. In times of sickness, childbirth, death, financial hardship and other personal tragedies, families and longtime friends become a safety net that sustains us until things get better.
People who move from other countries have no such safety net. Who better for them to turn to than followers of Christ? In some instances, their legal status may mean they are excluded from the social welfare system. I was recently blessed to be with a friend who purchased multiple baskets of groceries for an immigrant who cannot work because he only has a student visa. But the immigrant's family was in need, and as a Christian, my friend could not just walk away from that need without taking action. It is what Christ would have us do.
But helping a person from another country in their time of need is not the only reason to treat them as equals. We must remember that God loves everyone, regardless of their country of origin or the color of their skin or the language of their heart. Acts 10:34-35 reminds us that "Peter opened his mouth and said: Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him." If God has accepted those from other nations into His family, how can we do any less?
Think about the scene prophesied in Revelation 7:9-10. John's vision of the future records that, "After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!"
One day we will all stand before the Lord together, regardless of our nationality, and give praise to Him together. We might as well get used to the neighbors down the street looking a little different than us, because eventually we will live together for eternity in service to our King. Celebrate a little of heaven now, and reach out to a person from another country. Invite them to into your home. Invite them to worship at your church. Open your heart to being a true friend. Celebrate the diversity God has given us and practice for what eternity will be like.
Terry Dorsett is a church planting catalyst with the North American Mission Board based in Hartford, Conn., and the author of several books including "Mission Possible: Reaching the Next Generation through the Small Church."