God has brought hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world into our communities in the last few decades. Many of these people come from places the Church has been unable to reach in substantial ways. Perhaps it is precisely because we have not been able to go to them, that God has brought them to us. They live in our neighborhoods, patronize the same marketplaces we do, and send their children to our schools.
I believe their presence and our response might just tell us more about the state of the American Church than any other issue we face.
Some might wonder why many of us keep beating this drum, so to speak. There are many reasons. Two of those reasons far outweigh any of the others, however.
First, immigrants and refugees are mentioned specifically throughout the Scriptures as my responsibility. The Evangelical Immigration Table has put together these helpful bookmarks, highlighting 40 days worth of verses to guide one’s study, prayer, and action regarding immigrants and refugees. For some specific comments on what the Bible says, you can also read here.
Second, the plight of the immigrant and refugee is at a more critical point right now than it has ever been before. More than 60 million people are displaced worldwide and on the move hoping to find a safe harbor for their families. Within our own country decisions are being made (and not being made) this year that will affect the safety and success for literally millions of children, teenagers, and young adults who have been raised in the United States. Now is the time to talk about these issues.
Now is the time to talk about these issues.
Listen, I understand all of this is crazy complicated. There are laws to follow, many of which have been bent and/or broken for decades. At the same time, there is so much misinformation, positioning, embellishing, and grandstanding on all sides that it is hard to know what can be trusted. Even our lawmakers who work most closely with immigration and national security feel this way.
The most reasonable voices in this discussion are not arguing for open borders or a lawless immigration system. On the contrary, they are in full agreement that there is an incredible need for immigration reform.
I have worked with immigrants for more than a decade, during which time both parties have held the Presidency and Congress. I have found the system to be incredibly frustrating to navigate, painfully slow, and largely dependent on who you know. And I am an American citizen, a native English-speaker, and have advanced degrees from the United States. Imagine trying to find success in our system as an outsider with limited English and little exposure to American culture.
Corruption also plays a major role in this difficulty, from the federal and state levels to the thousands of shysters posing as immigration lawyers who take large sums of money from immigrants and either leave them without resolution or deceive them into believing their status is legal and secure when it still is not.
This week we were blessed to have a personal visit from one of our United States senators, James Lankford (R, Oklahoma), who spent an hour at our church with a small group of immigrants from 4 continents who attend our ESL classes and Sunday Bible Study. The sole purpose of his visit was to talk about how we can all work together to advocate for change in immigration language and practice in ways that honor God, and His Word, without breaking the law.
Below are 10 different stories and questions that our immigrants shared with the senator, as well as others that were submitted by their classmates. I found these to be both sobering and inspiring. I am prayerful that you might read their perspectives, empathize with their plight, and consider what it looks like to live out Christ’s command to “welcome the stranger” in His name. Will you listen?
- My father is a Christian pastor and we fled to the United States as refugees from a communist regime. We are thankful every day that we have been able to live here for decades and worship Jesus with our brothers and sisters. We were not able to have the same level of jobs that we had in our home country, but we love America.
- I have been allowed to stay in the United States because my child has a terminal illness. Can you help us get permanent residency here?
- I did not see my husband for two years because our approval process was delayed with no explanation.
- My mother is dying of cancer in my home country. Even though I have residency here, I have been told that if I go to visit her before she dies I will likely not be let back into the country because I am from the Middle East.
- I have applied for citizenship, been fingerprinted, and interviewed. Even though I have been here as a Christian refugee fleeing persecution and my country is not on the travel ban list, my citizenship process seems to be on hold indefinitely.
- How do we handle the new forms of racism that seem to be appearing lately?
- I came here as a child and am part of the DACA program. I have never committed a crime and graduated from an Oklahoma High School. Will there ever be a path to citizenship for me?
- My visa allows me to work, but my wife’s visa does not allow her to work. Right now we are only allowed to work 20 hours/week at $7.25/hr. We have four children, all born in Oklahoma, yet we cannot support ourselves in this situation.
- How can you help immigrants, undocumented immigrants, and refugees better understand the laws? There is too much misleading information from the media, politics and businesses.
- How can we as immigrants help America to be a better place?
When I hear these stories and read these questions, I see both genuine need and genuine thankfulness. When the oppressed and vulnerable ask Jesus’ people to care and respond, how can we not? Is it possible that God is in fact using not only this issue, but these people, to revive many missing pieces of the American church? If so, let’s not resist it. Let’s get in the discussion with open hearts, minds, and ears to what God and the people He loves so much are saying to us.
Will we listen?
BONUS MATERIAL: LISTEN TO ALEX
I often hear stories from immigrants who live around us and are contributing in many positive ways to our community. As moving as it is to hear about God’s protection and provision, the most encouraging stories to me are those that involve a real encounter with Jesus.
Alex is a 20-year old “dreamer,” or DACA recipient, who was brought to the US as a toddler by a Roman Catholic family. Within a few years of arriving, Alex’s parents were able to enroll him in school and provide a modest living for their family. There came a time, however, when his parents realized he had no clear path to citizenship. They sat him down one evening, and essentially told him that all his hard work in school and planning for his future was likely going to be fruitless. From that moment on, Alex had to decide whether or not he would accept this fate or continue to “dream” like any boy or girl moving through adolescence.
Providentially, Alex soon met a young man who was a volunteer in the youth group of a local evangelical church. Alex began attending the youth group, and decided to take part in lots of the regular activities of the church. Within just a few months, Alex became convinced that Jesus was truly Son of God and Savior, and convicted that he needed to respond by confessing “Jesus is Lord.”
After that, the young man Alex had met began “discipling” him; teaching him how to believe and live as Jesus instructed. As Alex began to grow in his faith, he also began to share his faith and to serve others. Alex became a leader for Christ in his church, school, and community; and has blessed many people with his stories about God’s call on his life.
Alex came to the U.S. nearly two decades ago. He grew up as an American child, was educated in our schools, came to Christ in one of our churches, and now attends one of our universities. He speaks flawless English with no accent, and if he did not tell you he was a “dreamer” you would not know. And yet, as things stand currently, Alex cannot pursue citizenship and could soon lose the ability to finish school, work legally, or even stay here. He could be sent back to Mexico, a place he does not remember and where he has no family or community.
Will we listen to Alex, who is a brother in Christ to many of us?
For more on this topic, see: