What should the Church’s response to immigration be? It’s tempting to look at what we have and think that we’ve earned it and have the right to enjoy it, that those who are struggling must have done something wrong and if they’ll just work harder they’ll do as well as we have. But the truth is that we all need to “quit acting like we have anything to do with the fact that we were lucky enough to have been born on third base, while millions are starving outside the stadium.” (Glennon Melton, on her blog Momastery)
Does the Bible actually talk about immigrants and refugees, and what does it say we should do with them? Let’s take a look.
Abram – Genesis 12:1-4 – Migrant
In Genesis 12, God called to Abram and told him to leave his home, his father’s house, everything that was familiar, and go. He didn’t even tell Abram where he was going. Abram was SEVENTY-FIVE YEARS OLD, and he packed his camel and his wife (who was still beautiful enough to tempt Pharaoh!) and left, all for the hope of a better land for descendants he didn’t even have yet. He wandered for years, living in tents all over Canaan and getting into all kinds of trouble. In fact, he never really had a stable home again. When his wife died, he had to beg Ephron the Hittite to sell him a cave so he could bury her. That burial site was the only piece of land Abram ever owned again. Does that make you look at migrants any differently? It should.
Jacob – Genesis 27:42-45 – Asylum Seeker
Jacob was a seeking asylum, fleeing for his life from his fratricidal brother. He ran to his mother’s brother and lived there until he had made the uncle (also his father-in-law at that point, since Jacob had married both his daughters) so frustrated with him that he decided to take his chances with his brother again. Jacob made his fortune by making a deal with his uncle and then using every shady trick he knew to increase his flocks. Nice guy. Even though he was kind of a jerk, he was still part of the genealogy of Jesus – you never know what the descendants of a person will become.
Joseph – Genesis 37:26-28 – Human Trafficking Victim
Joseph is a little different, because he was actually a victim of human trafficking. Joseph was sold by his own brothers into slavery and though his circumstances changed, he was never actually freed. He served Potiphar until he was thrown into prison, then he served the prison guards. After he was released from prison, he served Pharaoh for the rest of his life. Powerful, but never his own man – even his wife was chosen for him by Pharaoh. Human trafficking happens every day, in your town. Be careful how you judge the girls walking the streets – they may be in a worse situation than you could imagine.
Jacob & his family – Genesis 46:5-7 – Famine Refugees
Jacob, his sons, and their families – close to a hundred people – all fled to Egypt in search of food. There was a terrible famine in their country, and Joseph had invited them to come to Egypt. Because of Joseph’s position, the pharaoh gave them land and allowed them all to settle in Egypt, where their family remained for the next four centuries. Couldn’t we find room in our vast country for a family to make a new home?
Moses – Exodus 2:15 – Political Refugee
Moses was raised by Pharaoh’s daughter, but was always aware of his ethnic heritage. When he was a young man, his hormones got out of control when he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew and his intervention turned deadly. When he realized it couldn’t be kept secret he fled the country and found a home with a Midianite family. There are young men around the world needing homes right now, is yours open?
Israel – Exodus 14-Joshua 24 – A Nation of Refugees
The entire nation of Israel became refugees in Exodus 14, when God killed the firstborn of every family in Egypt and Pharaoh finally let them leave. For the next forty years, they wandered all over the place, finally taking the land of Canaan from its inhabitants and making it their own. They did the same thing again in 1948.
Joseph, Mary, and Jesus – Matthew 2:13-15 – Refugees
Herod’s fear for his throne resulted in his ordering the deaths of every child under the age of two in Bethlehem and all the surrounding area. Joseph was warned in a dream that Herod would be seeking Jesus’ life, so they fled in the middle of the night and found asylum in Egypt. A man, woman, and infant son walking hundreds of miles to find safety. Sound familiar? That’s because the same story is on the news every day.
The Disciples – Matthew 4:18-22 – Jobless Wanderers
Jesus told his disciples to give up their jobs and follow him. Many commentators believe the disciples were fairly young, which is backed up by the fact that there were several women traveling with them, including James and John’s mom. Their parents were bankrolling the whole operation, and even traveling with them whenever possible to help take care of them! What would your reaction be if your kids decided not to go to college, but to wander around the country telling people about Jesus instead?
Jesus – Matthew 8:20 – Homeless, Out-of-work, Political and Religious Agitator
That title may upset you, but if you look at Jesus from our American “pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps” mentality, that’s exactly what he was. He just decided to leave home one day and wander around the countryside. He never had a job, never paid for anything (when he owed taxes he got the money from a fish, for crying out loud!), never married or raised children, and was so inflammatory that everyone in the Jewish establishment wanted him dead. He might have looked more like a member of the Occupy group than a friend of the mayor.
The Bible is FULL of immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers. But does it specifically say what to do with them? Actually, yes.
Matthew 25:34-40 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
Jesus says that if we see anyone in need, no matter who it is, no matter what the need, and we help them, it is the same as doing it for him. Ever wish you could fix Jesus dinner? Go to your nearest food bank, and pick somebody from the line. Ever wanted to just hang out with him? There’s a whole prison full of Jesus downtown.
The other side of Jesus’ statement is absolutely terrifying.
Matthew 25:41-46 41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
If you DON’T feed the hungry, visit the sick or imprisoned, clothe the naked, Jesus says you are cursed and will not receive eternal life. It’s not a matter of whether it makes you comfortable or not, whether you enjoy it or not, whether it fits in your schedule or not. It’s not a request. Taking care of the needy is a direct order with clear consequences for disobedience.
For those who are suffering and in need, there is hope. A beautiful, amazing hope for those who reach heaven through great trial and tribulation. He does see your struggle, and he waits with open arms to hold you until your pain is only a distant memory.
Revelation 7:14b-17 “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
15 “Therefore they are before the throne of God,
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.
16 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
the sun shall not strike them,
nor any scorching heat.
17 For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”