As I look around the Twin Cities here, I realize what a melting pot this metropolitan area is. There are many different ethnicities represented, and for the larger ethnic groups, it seems so odd how they ended up here in Minnesota. How is it that they came from hot, humid, tropical, or desert places, but they ended up in the “frozen tundra” that we have here among all of the states? Regardless of who decided what and when, the bottom line is that by God’s providence, that is, by His choice, they are here in the Twin Cities (and so am I). As a personal confession, I realize that my own political opinions have often hindered me from seeing these immigrants as people for whom I ought to be concerned. Selfishly, I allowed myself for too long to have an “us versus them” mentality. But our Lord told us that in heaven, there would be believers from every nation, and all tribes and peoples and tongues (Revelation 7:9). If Jesus our Lord has a heart for them, then shouldn’t I as well? Then I started thinking about how the Scriptures call me to relate to others for the sake of the gospel, and that begins by being all things to all people (1 Corinthians 9:22). The Scriptures teach this radical idea, that as Christians in this world, God calls us to identify as an immigrant people. Consider God’s instructions to His people Israel: “You shall not oppress a stranger, since you yourselves know the feelings of a stranger, for you also were strangers in the land of Egypt.”—Exodus 23:9. Stated as a positive requirement: “The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God.”—Leviticus 19:34.
Notice the important role of the immigrant status for God’s people of the past (as aliens in Egypt, and then as aliens in the land of Canaan) with their duty towards foreigners; their firsthand knowledge of being the strangers in a land should bring them to empathy for aliens in their land. In other words, never ever treat people the way that you despised being treated. Their long experience (400 years) as strangers and slaves was an essential aspect to obeying God’s commands. Some might respond, “but that’s Israel and I’m a Gentile.” Then consider for a moment your life before Christ, “remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”—Ephesians 2:12-13. You were once outsiders, and Christ has brought you by His sovereign hand into His heavenly kingdom, of which you are now citizens (Philippians 3:20). Being citizens of heaven, like Abraham, our hope is not set on any physical land, on any geo-political entity that will love us as her own, but on heaven itself (Hebrews 11:10, 16). We are pilgrims passing through this world.
Having identified as an immigrant or pilgrim people, this should prime us towards empathy with the foreigners in our land. God has not called the church to defensively insulate ourselves from the world. Rather, in the Great Commission Christ Jesus our Lord commands us to take an offensive position (“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…”); we must by prayer and in faith seek to gain ground. With immigration, there is not even the need for us to emigrate in order to make disciples; they have come to our doorstep! But our witness is not limited to the immigrant per se (they just tend to be easily overlooked), but extends to all the unchurched (strangers). Jesus spoke about the specific ways that our love towards Him ought to be manifested: “I was a stranger, and you invited Me in…”-Matthew 25:35. What greater love can be shown than to bear witness of the good news of the gospel, by being all things to all people, as we welcome them into Christ’s church and into our homes!