3 Lessons Learned from Ministry to Immigrants
Over the past ten years, Redemption Church has learned a few lessons we believe can help those who like us are wrestling with the challenges and opportunities of immigration.
1. It is essential to maintain the connection between Romans 12 and Romans 13.
Our movement toward global neighbors has forced us to ask all kinds of questions about justice, law, and righteousness. This has pushed us deeper into the Scriptures. We now have a stronger view of government and its role to establish "justice for all." It is amazing that God's teaching on the role of government arises from a discourse on love (Romans 12-13).
It's important to understand Romans 13, the chapter that tells us government is given by God to foster a just society by punishing the wrongdoer and promoting the common good, within the context of Romans 12, the chapter that calls the church to be shaped by God's mercy into a community marked by self-giving love. This love is expressed through hospitality, generosity, blessing, humility, prayerful dependence, empathy, and even seeks to overcome evil by pursuing good and feeding enemies (Romans 12:9-21).
The call to love isn't limited to the immigrant community---we need to love all the actors in this complex issue. We seek to honor and respect those who enforce and uphold the law, often putting themselves in danger for our safety. It's also important to respect the government as those whose authority is instituted by God for the sake of the common good (Romans 13:1-7). We realize that our politicians have challenging jobs, and are frequently viewed as the enemy rather than image-bearers of God appointed for an important role in God's world.
We believe our words shouldn't add another nasty voice in an ocean of vitriolic public discourse. Our words should be reserved for civil discourse, and more importantly, set apart for prayer to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. We need to be peaceful in our speech, working to weave a fabric of friendship across cultural boundaries, and to bring peace against discord.
If Romans 12 and Romans 13 are ever separated in our minds, we risk turning these precious words into cheap, self-righteous slogans like, "What part of illegal don't you understand?" If we exclude Romans 12, we're in danger of becoming passive people who don't embrace the church's role of bearing witness through self-giving love. If we exclude Romans 13, we're in danger of becoming angry and confused people who lack proper respect for the role of government and the rule of law.
2. We have much to learn from our new neighbors.
The media often portray immigrants as dangerous people who are a drain on society. Yes, a small number of people within these communities are involved in abhorrent activities like drug smuggling, murder, and human trafficking. But most immigrants are not. It's important to view them through the lens of Scripture, rather than the sensationalistic, fear-mongering lens of a news crew's camera. They are made in God's image, and have incredible potential to help our city flourish. They can enrich our community through contributions to the economy, culinary culture, arts, recreation, and education. One group of Muslim refugees has started more than 11 businesses in six years, saying they embraced entrepreneurship because they often heard that America needs more job creators.
Furthermore, many of them are brothers and sisters in Christ. What if God is bringing immigrants here to preach the gospel and make disciples? What if the Spirit uses the witness of a young child from Mexico trying to cross the border today to show the beauty of the gospel to our children?
We're a Reformed church that treasures the writings of people like John Calvin. When we read the Institutes, we appreciate the fact that we're learning from a man who was once an immigrant. Calvin was looked upon with suspicion and disdain. What if God is bringing the next brilliant theologian to our country as an immigrant? Could the next John Calvin, Abraham Kuyper, or Tim Keller be sitting in one of our English classes?
3. Love and fear are incompatible. Choose love.
We live in a challenging and complex world, always faced with the temptation to be ruled by fear. But we know that fear drains our love, and love expels fear. When it comes to our relationships with our neighbors, fear and love are completely incompatible.
Choosing love over fear doesn't mean we're ignorant of the real dangers and complexities of welcoming an immigrant population to our community. It simply means that we've entrusted our lives to God. The fear of God is the only legitimate form of fear, and should lead us to heed the words of John:
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother (1 John 4:18-21).
This is, perhaps, the most significant lesson that we've learned on this journey---the absolute impotency of fear and the inexhaustible power of love.