Why Christians Care About Immigration
People are on the move. In 2017, approximately 258 million people, or 3.4% of the world’s population, live outside their country of origin. Migrants include legal and illegal immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers, guest workers, missionaries, international students and expatriate businessmen.
According to the United Nations 49.8 million migrants reside in the United States. Saudi Arabia, Germany and Russia host around 12 million each while the U.K. hosts about 9 million. In 2017 India had 17 million native born persons living abroad followed by Mexico with 13 million. Other countries with substantial migrant populations living abroad include Russia (11 million), China (10 million), Bangladesh (7 million), Syria (7 million), Pakistan (6 million) and Ukraine (6 million).
Despite the small percentage of people involved worldwide, immigration is a contentious topic. Citizens in wealthy nations, where 2/3 of migrants end up, sometimes feel threatened by an influx of people who bring different values and customs to their land. Some fear immigrants will take their jobs. Resentment that tax dollars go to support immigrants heightens when stories of lawlessness on the part of immigrants surface.
Most of us have heard arguments for and against current U.S. immigration policy. But how closely have we examined migration from a biblical perspective? Do we have confidence that our words about immigration and that our actions toward immigrants conform to God’s will?
Two Christian Views on Immigration
Within the past two weeks I have heard on Christian radio two disparate views on migration.
One program1 featured a talk given by a former U. S. congresswoman in which she portrayed migration as a threat to the survival of Western civilization. She cited as evidence numerous accounts of attacks on western women by immigrant Muslim men. She asserted that many Muslim refugees do not intend to assimilate into Western society, preferring to live in enclaves where sharia law supersedes the law of their host nation. The goal of Muslim immigrants, she claimed, is to establish an Islamic state in their host nation. Furthermore, she says demographics will make such a takeover possible because the Western world has decided to stop having children.
The congresswoman quoted Deuteronomy 32:8 to support her position that moving one nation into another goes against Scripture. She said that God called Abraham out of mankind’s rebellion at Babel to bless the nations by forming a blessed nation (Israel) that other nations must bless rather than curse (Genesis 12:3). She pointed to Matthew 25:31-38 and Joel 3:1-2; 12-14 as evidence that the nations will be judged on how they treat the nation of Israel.
The other radio program2 featured a seminary professor who described migration as part of the human DNA, saying that every country has been built on migration starting with God’s command to go and fill the earth (Genesis 1:28). God was the catalyst for worldwide migration in Genesis 11. (Of course, problems arise when people migrate to a place where other people already live.)
He said, “migration is a metaphor for the Christian life” citing 1 Peter 2:11. He made the point that not only should we be a blessing to migrants, but also that migrants bring blessing with them. Migrants can actively bless their new community (Jeremiah 29:4-7). Also, he reminded the audience that immigrants are made in the image of God and that Jesus died for them. They too can rule the earth and they can bring something to their host country.
The professor noted that the Great Commission is a call to migration.
Migration and the Spread of the Gospel
This last observation reminded me of one of the lessons in a course called Perspectives on the World Christian Movement. (For those who aren’t familiar with Perspectives, it is a class to help Christians gain biblical, historical, cultural and strategic perspective on Christian mission and become more involved. Some mission organizations require the course.) The lesson shows that historically, the gospel spread both by voluntary and involuntary migration and by migration of Christians and non-Christians.
For example, missionaries, in obedience to the Great Commission, voluntarily migrate to lands where Jesus is not known. Ruth voluntarily migrated to Israel to follow their God. Daniel involuntarily migrated to Babylon where he had significant impact. The Celts and Goths voluntarily migrated to the Roman Empire for spoil and were evangelized. The Vikings took Christian monks as slaves and Christian girls as wives back to their homeland (involuntary migration) where their captives, over time, evangelized them. African slaves involuntarily migrated to North America where many became Christians.
As the above examples demonstrate, man’s wickedness cannot thwart God’s purpose. Christians need not remain passive in sharing the gospel with migrants while we debate whether or not they should migrate.
As you can see, Christians care about immigration for different reasons. This post is an invitation to start a discussion about immigration. I hope readers will share their perspective and experiences so that we, as Christians, can better understand and better formulate our personal response to the migration phenomenon encompassing the globe.
To start the discussion, I have shared some of my thoughts and experiences in a comment on this post. Please share yours.
Why do you care about immigration?
- What is God Saying to the Nations? https://www.oneplace.com/ministries/understanding-the-times/
- Christians at the Border, https://discovertheword.org/series/christians-at-the-border/
I have spent about a year in foreign lands, mostly on short-term mission trips and work assignments. Some places (like Tunisia) were different enough from my native U.S. that had I been there long enough, I’m sure I would have felt like a stranger in a strange land. Other places (like the Netherlands) broadened my perspective, but were not sufficiently different for me to experience any significant degree of culture shock. I met with Tunisians on three occasions, twice in a small group, another time in a large gathering. I always felt welcomed. During my work experience in the Hague, Netherlands, I often enjoyed outings and parties with Dutch friends and sometimes traveled with them. They even invited me and others to their homes for special occasions and to their farm for a three day weekend. I felt very welcome in a country that supposedly reserves such times for family only.
On the other side of the coin, I have interacted with refugees from three countries: Georgia, Somalia and Burma. Welcoming them to the United States, teaching ESL one on one and helping them adjust to a new culture were the main ways that I got to know them. Befriending international students from local colleges has been both fun and enlightening. I am fortunate to have met some wonderful people from around the world.
Here are a few observations I remember from my interactions with refugees while in Denver. The Meskhetian Turks from Georgia and the Burmese were very hospital people who always had a fairly elaborate meal prepared for us when we came to teach ESL. A number of the people I met from Burma and Somalia had spent ten to fifteen years in a refugee camp. Though the U.S. government expected them to obtain jobs within six months of arrival, their lack of English skills made this difficult, thus limiting many to jobs like maids at hotels. Older parents often depended on their children to navigate society because they picked up language skills more quickly. Naturally they brought their culture and religion with them, as we would expect.