Some Thoughts on Immigrants
I enjoyed the post from Dallas Willard's site “Blessed are the Undocumented?” (https://www.elca.org/JLE/Articles/240 included in the comment below) and the whole topic of immigration in general. It’s something that affects us all, a thread that runs through our whole life at a deep level, even though it’s not always apparent. As has been pointed out, the children of Israel were instructed to be kind to the stranger within their gate very early on in their nationhood, and the point was driven home by reminding them that they had been strangers themselves in Egypt. (Exo_23:9 Also thou shalt not oppress a stranger: for ye know the heart of a stranger, seeing ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.) Even the most well-rooted and established among us, if they look far enough back in their history, will probably find that they too were newcomers at one time. Ever since Adam and Eve had to leave Paradise (the one place where they were truly at home), men and women have had to carve their place in the sun out of an environment that was hostile in one way or another. The Church was addressed as pilgrims and strangers (1Pe_1:1, 2:11), believers encouraged not to be dismayed if the world hated them (Joh_15:19), reminded that the Lord Himself was treated despitefully by His own (Joh_1:11 He came unto his own, and his own received him not.) and He even said in so many words “I was a stranger” (Mat_25:35).
In the first months after the reboot I was corresponding fairly regularly with a old friend who was in the process of morphing from a veteran missionary and longtime defender of the faith to a disgruntled ex-member, characteristically fond of the victim persona. He gave what I guess was to him a well-founded review of how his years in the family had basically bankrupted him and had not yielded him anything of value. I remember responding to him that while from a certain perspective it might be true that being in the family had not enhanced one’s status in the world, something I considered a value added to my life was that very fact of having lived all those years as an outsider, coming to know in my bones what it is like to be a stranger in a strange land, to be a have not, an undesirable. If I had not dropped out and experienced that, I may have had those things that money can buy and would have lived a significantly different kind of life, but I think it would have been to my ultimate impoverishment. I’m thankful that I managed to secure footing of a fashion “in the world” after the reboot, even to the point that now I’m a citizen of the country where I’d been a resident alien for several years, and I consider that pure grace. I’m thankful to have a place where I feel relatively “at home” after having been a rolling stone for so many years. But I don’t think I will ever stop feeling like a stranger and pilgrim here, sort of like those Jews in the concentration camps who had their prisoner number tattooed on their arm, even if for all practical purposes I seem to have put down roots. (Php_3:20 For our conversation [abstractly, citizenship] is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ).
To move from the way I feel personally about immigration and immigrants, how it affects me directly, to giving an opinion on a national policy on it is very tricky, and it’s hard to be general. I like the way Andy Stanley addressed the matter. Dina told me about a talk of his she listened to in which he related the way he and his wife naturally felt moved with compassion and impotent at the same time when they realized the magnitude of the issue. Not being King Solomon or Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos, they were not in a position to do anything on a large scale, but he said they “did for the one what they would like to do for the many.” They helped someone who was “within their gates,” so to speak, in as significant a way as they could—nothing compared to what they would have liked to do but real help, nonetheless. That’s what Dina and I do—what we can, and then we do sincerely pray for those the Lord lays on our hearts.
Another thought on the matter is that the “stranger within our gates” is not necessarily the immigrant, the undocumented foreigner within the borders of my country. In our globalized actuality, we have to realize that just because someone lives on the other side of the world, that doesn’t keep mean our lives are not interconnected. Nearly every article of clothing and home appliance I own is made in China, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Philippines etc. etc. etc. by someone I will never face but who more than likely is living in not very nice conditions and earning a pittance for exhausting work. There mere fact that I live in a reasonably developed country with access to imported goods makes me a “have” whether that is something in my routine consciousness or not. Matthew 25 on the final judgment is a very unsettling bit of text, and I’m thankful that it is, because I guess that means I still have a conscience. But it’s so easy to let the voice of that conscious get drowned out. For me, one way to sort of side step the issue is to relegate it to discussions of national policy or of theological speculation, particularly now when I’m ensconced in my lockdown and just theorizing. But every time I run into someone begging or entertaining or selling peanuts at an intersection, or see them elsewhere and have to look them in the eye, it’s the final judgment all over again. For that matter, all the appeals that cross my computer screen. I know I can’t help everybody, but I have to constantly keep from letting that truth become an excuse for not doing what I can, whatever that might be. It keeps my prayer embers stirred up, that is for sure.