"Don't abuse or take advantage of strangers; you, remember, were once strangers in Egypt” (Exodus 22: 21, Message)
The last weekend of August found Kristi and I worshipping with recent Congolese immigrants and political refugees. It was a highlight of our time in the United States. Our worship together was powerful and full of God’s Spirit. The desperation, hope, faith, and confidence-in-God of these recent arrivals was palpable. We were blessed and encouraged to visit First Presbyterian Church (FPC) of Champaign, Illinois, a church which has created a home for these Congolese families. Members of FPC Champaign have gone to great lengths to help these “strangers,” these Congolese foreigners find their footing in a new country. Members have extended their love by teaching them English, driving them to and from church, finding them furniture, helping them learn to drive, amongst manifold other services and acts of love and hospitality. Bob and Claudia Kirby, two recent retirees, spend countless hours each week helping these families. Kristi and I found ourselves inspired by the Kirbys and other members of FPC Champaign who are welcoming the ‘stranger’ in their midst. The Congolese families are now joining the church and are changing the ethos of the congregation in a very positive way. We praise God for this tangible example of welcoming the ‘stranger’ and caring for his/her needs.
The following week we visited college friends of Kristi’s who live in West Chicago. Matthew serves as Director of Puente de Pueblo, “Bridge of the People,” a ministry to Hispanic families and Iraqi refugees sponsored by Wheaton Bible Church. This ministry provides case management for families struggling as they adjust to living in a new place. It also provides after-school programs for children, along with English and Spanish language learning opportunities for adults. Matthew and his wife Catherine shared with us the multitudinous challenges the Hispanic families face. Matthew plainly shared how many families he works with are headed by undocumented workers. He shared the unfathomable injustices these men and women regularly confront. While the United States may be sending the message that we want their presence in our country because we value their economic contribution, at the same time our country does not provide a clear path towards citizenship and does not protect their rights. For instance, if a worker is hurt on a job, he/she will not receive any form of disability. Also, these workers pay into Social Security but will never see that money. The system seems altogether murky and polluted with political and economic self-interest. What I took away from this conversation isn’t altogether surprising, but nonetheless heartbreaking. Our nation is taking advantage of the ‘stranger’ in our midst, undocumented workers who are often publicly and privately maligned, but economically welcomed and exploited.
While questions of immigration reverberating in our coffee shops and halls of Congress often focus on politics and economics and can at times feel entirely xenophobic, I suppose Christians may want to inquire regarding what God says about these issues. First and foremost, there is the biblical injunction to not abuse or take advantage of the strangers among you (Ex 22: 21). This message was for the people of Israel, and indeed can be extrapolated for today. The psalmist writes how God watches over the alien (Psalm 146). Jesus talks about being a stranger and being invited in (Matthew 25). As Christians, we are called to be the salt and light of our culture. This would include advocating for the stranger in our midst, especially as they are being mistreated. I realize that this is a very touchy issue, but I am incredibly thankful for the example set by the Kirbys, FPC Champaign, and for Matthew and Catherine. May we, God’s people, find tangible ways to advocate and care for refugees, immigrants, and even undocumented workers.