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FIRST-PERSON: Immigration & the church

TIGERVILLE, S.C. (BP) — The world’s population is on the move. Unprecedented numbers of men, women and children are immigrating to countries beyond the bounders of their ancestors. Many are doing what immigrants have always done: fleeing persecution, disease and hardship.

Like all good mothers and fathers, they long for a better life for their children and grandchildren, and the United States is the destination of many of these peoples. In the milieu of harsh debate on immigration fomented by the media, what should be the response of people of faith?

First, the church should respond with compassion.

Displaying compassion does not mean you need to change your stance on immigration. We can separate our public policy positions concerning the larger geo-political issues from the persons and families living in our communities. The wider debate on immigration and the person standing in front of you require two very different responses. Compassion requires kindness and assistance toward those who are sojourners, exiles and immigrants among us. We should be reminded that Jesus Christ Himself was an immigrant in Egypt after His birth.

Second, people of faith should respond with loving communication.

Using language that is disparaging and hurtful to men, women and children is never appropriate. In marriage, at work and in political debate our word choice should always be loving. When I hear of someone who consistently vilipends anyone who speaks with an accent or has a shade to their skin tone, I wonder, “Do they not realize their Savior is in that group?”

Third, people of faith should respond with understanding.

Can you imagine how difficult it is to leave all that is familiar to you and move to a place where you have no friends or relatives and do not speak the language? Recently, I met an immigrant from China. She works 10 hours a day, six days a week, yet she does not make enough money to care for her new baby. After giving birth to her first child, a little girl, the immigrant and her husband had to send the child to China to be cared for by grandparents, because they did not make enough money to pay for childcare. I asked, “When will you see the baby again?” She said, “Maybe in three years.” I immediately thought of my own children and how devastating it would be to send them away for three years. Let us seek to understand the lives of the immigrants we are debating.

Fourth, people of faith should respond relationally.

In a conversation with another immigrant last year, I learned that this immigrant’s family has been living in the United States for 20 years, yet they did not have a single white American friend or relationship. Some who talk in church about how they want the world to “know Jesus” refuse to even speak or seek a relationship with the world living beside them. Churches raise thousands of dollars to send missionaries to other countries to share the Gospel, yet the people giving the money will not do the simple act of getting to know their Muslim neighbor. Isn’t that hypocrisy?

There is no sound more beautiful to a person than the sound of their own name. Yet, most immigrants develop a one- or two-syllable American name derived from their own because Americans are too disinterested to learn to pronounce their actual name.

Whatever your position on the larger debate about immigration, Christ demands that you speak kindly, reach out in love, learn to pronounce their names, invite them into your homes and build a relationship with them.

    About the Author

  • Frankie J. Melton Jr.

    Frankie J. Melton Jr. is assistant professor of Christian studies at North Greenville University in Tigerville, S.C.

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