As Matthew Soerens, Director of Church Mobilization at World Relief reminds us:
"Many of the most prominent heroes of our faith -- Abraham, Joseph, Ruth, David, even Jesus -- crossed borders into another country at some point. Furthermore, the Hebrew word that most closely describes immigrants (ger, in the singular form) appears 92 times in the Old Testament, often mentioned alongside orphans and widows as uniquely vulnerable groups whom God expressly loves and commands his people to love as well (see, for example, Deuteronomy 10:17-19, Deuteronomy 24:19, Psalm 146:9, Zechariah 7:9-10). In the New Testament, hospitality -- from the Greek philoxenia (literally, “the love of strangers”) -- is mandated for Christ followers."
At St. Paul's, we have a unique experience of the stranger in our midst. Many of us have met the Iraqi family who live across the street from us. Mr. A. served the US Military in Iraq for six years. He was jailed and tortured for his service to our country. Thanks be to God, he and his family were able to receive asylum in the United States and begin a new life. Immigrants from Southeast Asia, Africa and the Middle East have made new homes in Carondelet. What a privilege to be able to meet and welcome them.
In the United States, immigrant visas are strictly limited to four categories:
- Individuals sponsored by close family (a spouse, parent, child or sibling who is a U.S. citizen, or a spouse or parent who is a “lawful permanent resident”)
- Individuals sponsored by employers (with a requirement in almost all cases that the immigrant be highly skilled, with a graduate degree or “exceptional ability”)
- Individuals motivated by a well-founded fear of persecution in their country of origin (with an annual cap on admissions -- only a fraction of 1 percent of the world’s refugees)
- Individuals fortunate enough to win an online lottery (which people from Mexico, India and several other countries are ineligible even to enter)
Christians can debate whether or not breaking U.S. immigration law is biblically justified by particular circumstances, such as fleeing violence or extreme poverty. But knowing the facts about immigration at least helps us understand why so many people decide to immigrate or to overstay a visa illegally. So often, their choice is not between immigrating legally or illegally but between immigrating illegally or staying put in challenging, even brutal, circumstances that none of us would willingly endure.
These are only the most basic facts about immigration. Many resources -- including statistics, suggested books and a church leader’s guide to immigration -- are readily available online and can be invaluable in helping church members understand the fuller story. I know that the more I learned, the faster my misconceptions melted away."
As we move deeper into relationships with our sisters and brothers in Carondelet, let's continue to have conversations about what it means to welcome - and let's not forget the strangers in our midst.
--- Pastor Rebecca