Making disciples in a nation of immigrants

by Cris Alley
Monday, April 25, 2016 | 4 yrs old

I’ve heard it said that we’re a nation of immigrants. In many ways, this is true.

Roughly 1 in 8 U.S. residents today is an immigrant. Almost all of us are descendants of immigrants. In fact, U.S. history is a history of immigration.

Just after the birth of our nation, most citizens were recent immigrants from England, Ireland and Germany. In the 1800s, slavery forced many Africans out of their countries and into the United States. The Gold Rush attracted Chinese immigrants. Jews, Armenians and Mexicans fled war during the early 1900s. People from Southeast Asia fled war in the 1960s.

Today, war and famine displace record numbers of people while improvements in travel shrink the distance between their suffering and our shores. All indicators point to the probability that this trend will continue. What has been true in the past is true today — we’re a nation of immigrants.

Several years ago, I was discussing immigration with a professor friend of mine. He teaches political science at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. My friend said that he has never seen a more politically explosive issue than immigration.

The truth is, close contact with people unlike ourselves threatens our identity, challenging the very core of who we are. There are few things that will turn a good man to violence, and threatened identity is one of them.

In the past, some Americans have shown compassion, while others have responded in fear. But in all past waves of immigration, we eventually yielded to the better angels of our nature. In all honesty, it would be hypocritical for a nation of immigrants to do anything less.

But what about followers of Jesus? How does Jesus view the immigration issue?

I don’t presume to speak for Jesus, but I do desire to let Him speak for Himself. God created every human being in His image. But His people rebelled. We’ve been wandering this earth, looking for home ever since. From God’s point of view, we’re all immigrants.

Beginning in Genesis 3, God took up a mission to call us home. Followers of Jesus have been apprehended for this mission. Our part is to make disciples of all people, including all immigrants.

Sometimes God sends us to them. Sometimes God sends them to us. But Acts 17:26-28 makes it clear that at all times, God is the one in charge of the sending. Legal issues notwithstanding, our most fundamental response to immigration should be nothing less than the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. After all, “against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23).

So, what can we do? Here are several practical ideas to help in ministering to immigrants.

  • Discover and meet immediate needs. These needs include food, shelter, clothing, transportation, translation, medical/dental care, sound legal advice, recreation and friendship. Contact groups like World Relief to learn more.
  • Discover and meet long-term needs. Eventually, immigrants need education for their children, skill acquisition for employment, language skills, citizenship and a sense of belonging. Establish or partner with ministries that can meet these needs. For more information, contact Larry Phillips (lphillips@ncbaptist.org) or Antonio Santos (asantos@ncbaptist.org), immigration strategists at the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.
  • Pay particular attention to second-generation immigrants. The children of immigrants grow up in two cultures: the culture of their immigrant parents and the culture of their new home in America. This clash of cultures can create a great deal of tension in the home. Often, these children feel that they don’t fit into either culture. This loss of identity puts second-generation immigrants at risk for anti-social behavior.
  • Make global disciples. This idea comes from J. D. Payne’s book, Strangers Next Door. Make disciples locally who can make disciples globally. Partnerships with first and second-generation immigrants can accelerate our disciple-making outreach locally, nationally and internationally.

Ultimately, the immigrant is looking for home. May God grant His children in a nation of immigrants the grace to show them the way.