Hmm…What to do on a slow December day? Make popcorn? Watch Downton Abbey for the zillionth time? Oh, I know, let’s blog about a ‘hot button’ issue; I choose…Immigration. After all, I can tell from my Facebook and Twitter feeds that almost everyone has an opinion, whether the subject is illegal immigration (particularly) from South of the border, or accepting Syrian (Muslim) refugees. Now, that should warm things up on a cold winter’s day.
Here’s the catch, though, I don’t want to discuss the political or national debate/implications, I wish to examine how I believe the Church should respond, and some reasons why I believe as I do.
This post will be especially hard to swallow for those of us from a more politically conservative ideology. The things I’m about to propose may feel counterintuitive to that demographic, because we have so mingled our faith commitment and our patriotic commitment that sometimes they have become identical in our thinking and are difficult to separate.
What happens, then, when situations arise that create a conflict between the Great Commandment, the Great Commission, and our American Patriotic commitment to our understanding of the Constitution? In such an event, which side will we come down on?
I have found myself in just such a predicament as a result of our current immigration debates. I have some strongly held political views which I will not discuss here. I will however, make a couple of observations related to our immigration situation, and make some suggestions as to how I believe the Church should respond.
We have somewhere between 12 million and 20 million illegal immigrants in the country right now, with many more on the way. Most, but by no means all, are from Spanish speaking countries, arriving by way of our border with Mexico.
Our Government has decided to offer political refugee status to a large number of individuals and families from the war torn Middle East. We are expecting many thousands more in 2016. The vast majority of these refugees are Muslims and many appear to have militant ties.
Politically, these two situations are true hot potatoes and will likely play a major role in next year’s general election. For the Church, however, they may present and unprecedented opportunity.
Allow me to explain:
The two great driving forces of the Christian Faith are what we call ‘The Great Commandment’ and ‘The Great Commission’.
The Great Commandment is, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and, Love your neighbor as you love yourself’ (Matthew 22:36-40). Interestingly, in the parable of the ‘Good Samaritan’ (Luke 10:25-37), Jesus equated the command ‘love your enemies’, with loving neighbor as self.
The Great Commission, found in all four Gospels and the book of Acts, is the command to take the good news of Jesus to every person on earth. Probably the best known account is Matthew 28:18-20.
Both the command and the commission have been the catalyst for the Christian missionary movement since the Church was born on a Spring Sunday morning circa A.D. 30. They drive our efforts at charity and service as well as our desire to evangelize.
In recent years, for a variety of reasons, mission activity has been curtailed, with the number of missionaries falling rapidly and the number of places welcoming Christian missionaries on the decrease.
Some of the reasons for the decline are financial, some are due to priority juggling, many are certainly political, and there others I have neither the time nor space to catalog.
God’s desire for the salvation of the human race, however, has not diminished, so since we have curtailed our international activities, He has, in His providence, brought the world to us.
Perhaps He brought them to us because in some cases we WOULD not go. As I mentioned, on the whole, our missionary presence around the world has been on the decline for 2 generations. Back in the late 70s when I was first planning to go to the field, one statistic being tossed around was that for every 10 missionaries retiring or leaving the field, only one was being raised up to replace them. The situation has not improved in the last 40 years.
Resources to fund full time missions are drying up. The Southern Baptist Mission Board, for example, announced major cutbacks earlier this year, including human resources, due to financial challenges they face. Most other denominations and fellowships have similar, if less public, stories to tell.
It is my opinion that a large percentage of the financial problems are priority based, both on the individual and congregational levels. For the sake of time, I will save those opinions for another day. Feel free to ask me what I mean.
In some cases, perhaps He brought them here because we COULD not go. The majority of Muslim immigrants (refugees), for example, are from places that were long ago closed to evangelistic activities. It is extremely difficult and not safe to serve in those places. (I pray regularly for the few who have risked much to go to these places in Jesus’ name.)
Similarly, our Universities and corporations are home to many thousands of bright young men and women from places like China (among others), where overt mission activity is difficult.
The glorious truth is, whether we WOULD not, or COULD not go, millions of previously unreached souls are HERE. They are in our communities, our schools, our workplaces. What an opportunity! And we don’t even need a passport to reach out.
Look at all the money we save by reaching out to internationals living among us. We already have access to good nutrition and health care. We have clean water, we have Church buildings and literature and transportation. The open door for reaching these millions of souls is incredible.
As regards those from ‘closed’ countries, it is much safer for them to be exposed to the Gospel here, than in their home countries. And it is certainly safer for those who respond to the message.
For that matter, it is safer for us to share with immigrants that it would be if we travelled to their homelands. We’re not going to be arrested and tortured for proselytizing. That has to be a blessing.
I’m not suggesting that the ‘results’ will be any greater among people hostile to Christianity if we reach out to them here, but the odds are, it’s a whole lot safer all around. Besides, our job is to Go and Tell. God handles the results.
Over the years, those of us from Evangelical traditions, have at one time or another had our heart strings tugged by a presentation about people from exotic places around the world who received medical attention, got an education, had access to good food and clean water and/or heard about Jesus because someone went to them and we heard their stories. We rejoiced at the news.
21st Century America is like waking up tonsil deep in missionary opportunities. Regardless of our political views on the cause, we should rejoice at what God has brought our way. And we should respond by doing all we can to fulfill the Great Commandment and Great Commission to the millions of lonely, confused, and yes, even criminal souls among us. I want to finish this post with some action steps to get started taking advantage of the doors God has opened.
- Begin praying for the immigrants and refugees in your community.
- Contact Bible Societies and Scripture distribution ministries for getting Bibles and other literature in the languages of the newcomers to your area.
- Reach out to Missionary agencies that already have ministries to the various countries from which your immigrants have come. They could be a valuable resource in finding ways to serve and assimilate your new residents.
- Gather your local Church outreach teams, leaders and prayer warriors to pray and brainstorm on what you can do to serve and reach the immigrants and refugees already among you.
- Befriend and serve the foreigners among you. Think about how you would feel if you suddenly found yourself far from home, in a strange land, with strange customs and maybe even a language you don’t understand.
- Keep in mind, not all immigrants are alike. For example: Mexicans, Nicaraguans and El Salvadorans all speak Spanish, but have different dialects/accents, different cultures and even different political and social viewpoints. Similarly, those from Islamic countries are not a single culture or even religious viewpoint. An example would be that a Shiite from Iran, a Sunni from Saudi Arabia and an Achmadiyya from Pakistan will have major differing views on the Quran.
- Pastors and Small Group leaders, should preach and teach on being open hearted, open handed, service oriented and evangelistically focused.
- Ask yourself, with all sincerity, ‘What would Jesus do?’
As I close, I want to remind you of some words from the Apostles John and Peter, and some words of Jesus as quoted by Matthew. John wrote, “For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in Him, should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Peter reminds us, “God is not willing that any should perish, but that everyone should come to repentance 2 Peter 3:9).” And Matthew records these words of Jesus, “Come to me all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)”.
I love discussion, so please offer your thoughts in the comments section. And, if you, your congregation, or your small group, would like specific suggestions for your area, please email me or use the contact form on the website.