Is the church for immigrants?
I’ve been thinking about the issue of immigration. After kicking around some ideas as a response to the State of the Union Address, I took a look at what the Bible says about the issue. The next question I’m asking flows from that biblical perspective: What is the Church’s role – and the role of individual believers?
Churches in America are uniquely positioned to minister to the immigrants in their communities.
Wouldn’t it be great if your church came to be known as the church for immigrants? How might this happen?
How to become the church for immigrants
Here are a few simple suggestions.
1. Establish language learning groups.
Can you imagine having to uproot your family, move across a border and try to survive in a land full of strangers who speak an entirely different language? It takes loads of courage and more than a little creativity and resourcefulness. It also takes a mammoth amount of work.
Christians should be first in line to help out. Most churches have the space. And, most churches have the people: Spanish teachers, English speaking former immigrants, or high school students who have acquired enough language to help them make an initial connection. A little bit of advertising, a little word of mouth, and a language learning group could be up and running.
And, notice, I didn’t just say these should be English classes. No! I think they should be discussion groups where English speakers teach and learn and non-English speakers teach and learn. The reciprocity would set the stage for great learning and relationships.
2. Offer guidance.
Let’s be honest. It’s difficult for born-and-bred Americans to navigate most of the administrative or legal processes we come upon. When is the last time you signed a contract? Took out a loan? Renewed your driver’s license? Applied for a job? It’s a real hassle. Now, imagine trying to do that in a second language. Yikes!
The church could be on the front lines, guiding immigrants through any number of processes: enrolling their children in school, getting drivers’ licenses, filling out medical paperwork, writing resumes, opening bank accounts, applying for insurance, finding affordable housing. The list could go on and on. Imagine the relief it would be for immigrants to know they’re being patiently and skillfully guided. What a huge ministry!
3. Meet physical needs.
Immigrants often arrive in America with so little. They have only a few of the things they really need. Poverty can become a grind. And, unchecked, it can wear out immigrants and their families, leaving them hopeless and desperate.
Conversely, Christians in America have so much. We have a surplus. And, with a compelling vision and a simple process, churches with hearts for immigrants could stockpile huge amounts of products to share with immigrants in their communities. There is an ample supply of the things you typically think to donate: clothes, shoes, coats, kitchen supplies, toiletries and more. But, when challenged, it’s amazing the big things people will donate: appliances, furniture, vehicles, living space. I’ve learned to never underestimate the generosity of Christians who are shown a need and then challenged to meet it.
Can you imagine how lonely you’d be if you moved from your home to a foreign land? Can you imagine being on your own without your family or friends? It would be miserable.
I understand the struggle of some well-intentioned Christians, feeling incapable of making a difference. The large gaps we perceive can leave us feeling unable to help. But, I’ve found that although many immigrants can be shy—they perceive the gap too—they are extremely grateful when others take the initiative to move toward them, to extend an offer of friendship. Immigrants crave the same things we do: love, acceptance, identification, friendship. The next time you have the opportunity, reach out, even if you’re unable to use words. Make a move and see what happens through your act of kindness.
There are literally hundreds of ways churches could minister to the immigrant populations in their communities. They’re only limited by the limits of their creativity.
How awesome would it be if your church—if my church—were to be known as the church for immigrants!