During my early teen years, my family hosted several refugees from Sudan for a period of three months. They had arrived through World Relief — a branch of the National Association for Evangelicals — from Kenyan refugee camps, where they had settled during the “Lost Boys of Sudan” phenomenon of the early 2000s (fmchr.ch/lostboyssudan).
During their stay, my family attempted to teach the six Sudanese young men in our care (in their early 20s by this time) everything we could about American culture. However, we could never reciprocate how much they taught us — the beauty of cultural diversity, the development of patience and perseverance, the art of brotherly love and the importance of family ties. This experience planted within me an intense love of racial diversity and cross-cultural relationships.
Years later, as I ventured off to complete an undergraduate degree and became exposed to the nature of the immigration process in the United States, those memories provided a face for the statistics and a very personal connection to the issue. I strongly believe that we as the U.S. church need to intentionally involve ourselves with the immigrant and refugee population to facilitate long-term community.
The second greatest commandment that Jesus left for us should be reason enough: “‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:39).
Passages throughout the Bible command God’s people to care for underprivileged people and immigrants:
“When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. 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” (Leviticus 19:33–34).
“This is what the Lord says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place” (Jeremiah 22:3).
“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2).
“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
Throughout the Old and New Testaments, God institutes a strong undertone of community that He wishes for His people, and He expresses His heart for people of other cultures and backgrounds, especially those who have met hardship. God repeatedly commands us to provide for those who need help, whether economical or otherwise.
In addition to biblical mandates, the church should increase its involvement with immigrant and refugee communities because these newcomers often experience more acute need than other demographic groups within the United States. The situations they fled often involved steeper poverty and harsher difficulties than most people native to the United States have ever experienced. Though there are countless people in the United States who need the church’s help and should not be ignored, the lives of immigrants and refugees are uniquely difficult, and they often have few sources to which they can turn for assistance.
Another reason the church should serve the immigrant and refugee community is because service benefits both the recipient and the provider. Supporting immigrants and refugees can be uniquely satisfying because of the multicultural experience and appreciation a person can gain from working with people from different cultures.
In “God’s Economy: Redefining the Health and Wealth Gospel” (fmchr.ch/jwheconomy), Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove comments on the dual benefits of service:
“What difference could it make to serve one person in a forgotten place? We are an increasingly rootless people, moving from place to place. … In a world where so many people are starving for community, this network of relationships that God makes possible through subversive service can be a light shining in the darkness for our homesick souls.”
According to Mark Akers, founder and executive director of Oasis International, immigrants and refugees are “some of the most grateful, thankful people you’ll ever meet.”
Finally, serving refugees and immigrants here in the United States has the potential to influence countless other individuals that we as American Christians might never be able to reach on our own. At the 2012 Urbana Student Missions Conference, Jenny Hwang Yang of World Relief emphasized that demonstrating the love of Christ to immigrants and refugees here in the United States allows the church to affect whole families and communities overseas.
For these reasons, the church should make a conscious and concentrated effort to enter and serve the immigrant and refugee communities in the United States. In Akers’ words, “God is sending the nations to us.”7