How many times have you moved in your lifetime? Remember how it felt to be new? Ugh.
Our “foremothers” knew how that felt. Eve got sent east of Eden. Sarai followed her husband out of Ur. Hagar was cast out into the desert. And Rachel and Leah eventually moved far from their father, Laban. That’s just in Genesis.
Experts estimate that about one in every thirty-five persons, or three percent of the world’s population, live as immigrants. Imagine it. That’s 192 million people who know how it feels to talk funny or dress funny or in some way feel like an outsider. For those of us living in North America, unless we have Native American blood, somebody in our gene pool left a homeland to come to the Land of Opportunity. I imagine that, like me, you probably have ancestors who sailed on the Mayflower. Or arrived at Ellis Island. Or drove across a border. Maybe you’re the one who moved. Perhaps you’ve changed locations in the past month.
If you’ve ever wandered to a place where no one speaks your language, you know how scary that is. You hand over money hoping the cashier will give you the right change, because you don’t yet know shekels from rubles from nickels. You try to pronounce a word and hope what you said doesn’t come out as an insult—like my friend who meant to ask how old a child was, but instead asked how many anuses she had.
Throughout the Old Testament we find God’s attitude toward such vulnerable people. Here’s an example from Leviticus: “When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 19:33–34).
Less directly, Matthew 25:31–46 suggests that to mistreat the “alien” is to mistreat Christ. He takes it personally when we treat others unkindly. Or ignore them. And He has a special place in his heart for the powerless ones unable to speak for themselves.
I hear many Christians discussing immigration, and often they seem more interested in siding with a political party than in thinking biblically, let alone adding a biblical perspective to the discussion. How misguided can we be?
Yes, eventually Paul in Rome sent the illegally-transplanted Onesimus back to his master in Colossae. But first Paul shared the gospel with him. And discipled him. And covered his expenses with a letter of commendation to Philemon. To reach out is not to condone. But first things first.
Our God ranks the “alien” up there with widows and orphans (see Exo. 22:21–22). Do our attitudes and actions reflect that value system? Will the “outsiders” who come to us encounter His heart through our care? Or will they eventually return home hating us and all we believe?
Lots of people are on the move. International students. Illegal aliens. Small business owners. They come to us from across the world. And as my friend Wayne says, “You don’t have to have a passport to do missions.” Will we show them the door? Or will we show them the Door?