Sometimes, you need more than a blog post to figure something out. So in the next two posts, here are two books that can really help you on your journey of digging deeper into what it means to welcome the stranger, and how you can do it practically. Both of these books are from a Christian perspective, and focus on Hispanic immigration in the USA, but South Africans and others can still glean something from them about welcoming immigrants and refugees (especially this first book, Christians at the Border, which focuses less on the nuts and bolts of the issue, and more on the heart behind it).
Christians at the Border: Immigration, the Church, and the Bible by M. Daniel Carroll R.
Carroll is an Old Testament scholar, and the majority of this book is focused on how as Christians we can form a biblical framework for viewing immigration issues in the USA. He shows us what the Bible has to say, and then he links it to specific issues regarding Hispanic immigration. He doesn’t spend much time talking about nuts and bolts policy reform, or how we should be voting—but he provides a crucial foundation for how we should think about these issues. And how we think about them will affect what kind of immigration reform we vote for. This book is readable, but it’s a tad-bit more “college textbook feel” (especially at the beginning) than the other book I read. This book was updated and revised in 2013, so the picture he paints of the current immigration situation in the USA is still pretty relevant.
The messy history of immigration: He starts by giving a brief history of US immigration and Hispanic immigration, showing it’s a complex history of encouraging immigration from some groups, and shutting out others. The same year the statue of Liberty with it’s quote “give me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses” was placed near Ellis Island, the US passed it’s extremely racist anti-Chinese immigration laws. We need to let go of the idea that all previous immigration to the US was neat, clean, and legal. There were no such thing as visas back when our Irish, Italian, English and French ancestors came over. The US forced the migration of black slaves from Africa, and when they annexed Texas and many of the Western states from Mexico, many Hispanic people became American at the stroke of a pen.
A Biblical view of immigrants: Jesus followers should be people-focused when it comes to immigration. “Immigration should not be argued in the abstract because it is about immigrants”. Carroll shows how in both Old Testament law (which was given as a picture of how to live as people of God) and in Old Testament stories (from Abraham, to Moses, to Ruth, to Daniel) show the importance of caring for “foreigners” and immigrants. Go read Ruth, but pretend she is from El Salvador and moving to the US. The complexities of moving for economic reasons, for family ties, the struggles of fitting in and scraping by… these are all things relevant to immigration today. The fact that immigrant-Ruth is included in the lineage of the Messiah shows God’s heart for the immigrant.
A call for majority-culture Christians: Carroll addresses both Hispanic immigrant Christians and majority culture Christians in his book. I want to talk to majority culture Christians, because that’s the category I fit into in the USA.
Carrol says: “To be hospitable is to imitate God.” Life is busy, and it’s hard enough to connect with our own families, let alone people who are different. “Nevertheless, to cling to a chosen lifestyle and schedule, define the permitted parameters of a neighborhood, and monopolize time just for oneself and one’s family to the exclusion of the stranger—any stranger—might be rebellion against God and an ignoring of something dear to him.”
We need to welcome our Hispanic neighbors, many of whom are our brothers and sisters in Christ. We need to invite them into our hearts and lives (whether they have documentation or not), and even beyond that, we need to advocate for just laws that will provide legal ways for people to immigrate so they do not resort to entering the country without visas.
Carrol goes on to say that, “Laws, especially as they pertain to the vulnerable, (widows, orphans, poor, the physically and mentally challenged, and the immigrant) can be a window to a country’s soul. What do they say about us and the depth and breadth of our compassion?” Indeed.
I’ll end my two book reviews with a post that has many practical ideas, but here are two points to get you thinking:
- It has been exciting to see the amount of support that people have shown for the we welcome refugees campaign. YAY! To learn about how you and your church can petition government and sign up to host Syrian refugees, visit this website.
- This is Hispanic Heritage month, and a chance to welcome and celebrate the contributions of Americans who have Hispanic heritage. One way we can celebrate that is to continue welcoming Hispanic immigrants in our communities and advocating just as hard for them as we have for our Syrian brothers and sisters. We don’t have to advocate for open borders, but as the system stands, it is almost impossible for a poor person from South America to enter our country legally. I’ll be writing more on this later…but let’s not be accused of having a double-standard when it comes to how we view immigration. Let’s not welcome immigrants from afar and close our hearts to those who live nearby.
PS: Want to buy the book “Christians at the Border”? Clicking on any link in this post gets it from Amazon through my affiliate link and helps support this blog. 🙂