I was born and raised in a church predominantly made up foreign-born individuals, specifically coming from Hispanic America. Although my family originally comes from the island of Puerto Rico, a Spanish-speaking U.S. territory, I identify myself with the rest of Hispanic America. My proximity to so many individuals and families who came to this country illegally allowed me to see their struggles and hear their stories in a very intimate way. Doing so has enabled me to come to the conclusion that their cause is a valid one. However, the concern that many in the public arena have regarding this issue is valid as well. I don’t suppose to have the solution to our nation’s dilemma with immigration, nor do I think that one will be made that will satisfy everyone. However, I do think that there are some positive things that the church can do in the meantime.
1. Embrace them.
Welcome foreigners as you would anyone else; with love and acceptance. They are people who need Jesus too. Ruth found herself working on a field in a land that was not her own, looking to take home what was left over from the harvest. When Boaz heard of the things she had done for her mother-in-law, he extended to her protection and the assurance that she would be provided for. Shocked, she replied “What have I done to deserve such kindness? I am only a foreigner” (Ruth. 2:10). God had long desired that Israel would be a place where all kinds of people would feel welcomed and greeted as fellow sojourners. He commanded that “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God” (Lev. 19:34).
2. Listen to them.
These are people with stories of suffering, pain, perseverance, and survival. Some have overcome the greatest of odds in their pursuit of the American Dream, while others are still wrestling with crippling circumstances. I believe that if we took the opportunity to listen to the stories of the many foreigners amongst us, we would be enabled to see beyond politics and national policies and be moved to act compassionately, no matter how we align ourselves politically. Consider what God said to Moses at the burning bush about the Israelites: “I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows. So I have come down to deliver them…” (Ex. 3:7, 8). It is said that true compassion is a deep awareness of the suffering of others that is fused with a desire to relieve it. God made Himself aware of the plight of Israel and therefore acted to their benefit. I believe that if we were to be exposed to the struggle that many immigrants in this country go through, we would be inspired to do the same. One of my favorite Bible passages in Scripture says “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened that it cannot save; nor His ear heavy that it cannot hear” (Is. 59:1). I like to see it in this way; God saves because He listens.
3. Defend and help them.
In order to defend we have to recognize that the current political rhetoric towards foreigners is unhealthy and not demonstrative of Christian values. Understanding this puts us in a better position to provide defense and help. Esther leveraged her influence for the sake of the disadvantaged. But the question is why should SDA’s feel morally obligated to do the same? Seventh-day Adventism, more than any other denomination, has a special relationship with regards to immigrants. One of our foundational beliefs as a church is the Sabbath. The Sabbath commandment to rest is not a privilege that is solely enjoyed by citizens but it is divinely extended to the “foreigner within your gates” (Ex. 20:10). Are we truly honoring the Sabbath when we exclude immigrants? God envisioned that they would need rest too. Rest from underpaid work. Rest from discrimination. Rest from politicians that desire to make them a scapegoat for our society’s woes. Rest from the many obstacles placed on their path towards citizenship. Rest from their journey to a better life.
What can our local churches do to ensure this rest is available to everyone, especially to those living on the margins? We’d love to hear your thoughts below!