Church & Immigration: You’re Not From Around Here

Church & Immigration: You’re Not From Around Here

October 24, 2011 by

My friend Ted tells the story of when he first moved with his family to Southern California. His wife and kids had gone to the grocery store and as they were walking out toward the parking lot, grocery bags in hand, they saw a gentleman in a very large vehicle park in the narrow spot immediately next to their car. As he opened his door, it slammed into their car. Realizing that his door had made a dent in their door, he looked up to see that what he did was just just witnessed by a woman and her children, and it was their car. Ted’s wife approached the vehicles and, thumbing the damage on her door, simply said, “Don’t worry about it, it’s just a car.” The man was was taken aback and, shaking his head, said, “You’re not from around here, are you?”

Indeed, none of us are from around here. This world is not our home and we are citizens of another kingdom. Yet how many of us act like this is our land, this is our place, this is our world? Worse, how many of us get territorial and assume that the borderlines on a map actually mean something to our sense of eternal identity and belonging? This is my country, my county, my community.

The Old Testament is packed with stories about how to welcome outsiders. From immigrants and aliens to strangers and wanderers, God had plenty to say about how we treat the outsider. The New Testament, however, mentions nothing about welcoming strangers, aliens or immigrants. Such language is absent. As my friend Ted points out, the reason is because the New Testament implies that we’re all aliens. All of us are outsiders and we are grafted into a new kingdom.

Countries all over the world deal with issues of immigration and welcoming—or not welcoming—outsiders. In the U.S., this has been an increasing issue of debate, especially over the past decade, as some states within the U.S. have begun to establish their own immigration laws. This will undoubtedly be another major issue facing churches when it comes to how we will uphold the law and serve our neighbor. When the two are in conflict, as a recent New York Times article points out, it doesn’t take much to understand the complexities.

This site is not the place to debate immigration laws or how right or wrong each side may be. My purpose for suggesting this subject here is because as church communicators, we must make sure our language lines up. We must be about welcoming the stranger and outsider because that is who we all are. None of us belong here and, for those of us who are on the Jesus way, we have been adopted as an undeserving outsider into a kingdom not our own. In all of our communication—promo, signage, architecture, language options and stories—we must always remember the outsiders. The ones who don’t belong.

It’s easy to to see who Jesus welcomed because he didn’t base it on race, citizenship, socioeconomic status, gender or what neighborhood they were from. We should do the same.

For more on this subject—especially as it relates to non-U.S. citizens, does a great job resourcing this topic. The book by Matthew Soerens and Jenny Hwang, Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion & Truth in the Immigration Debate is also a great resource. In addition, Ken Walker wrote an excellent series for the Foursquare denomination about how local churches throughout the U.S. are welcoming strangers. (Full disclosure: I work with Foursquare.)

May we all be listening for the encouraging accusation, “You’re not from around here, are you?”

Photo by UMWomen
Post By:

Brad Abare

Brad Abare is the founder of the Center for Church Communication. He consults with companies and organizations, helping them figure out why in the world they exist, why anyone should care and what to do about it.
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6 Responses to “Church & Immigration: You’re Not From Around Here”

  • Kevin D. Hendricks
    October 24, 2011

    One practical way this can come out is basics like the kinds of words you use to talk about your church. My church was debating some kind of new vision statement and language like ‘feeling at home’ or ‘a place to call home’ were suggested.

    My wife pointed out how loaded the term “home” can be for people who do feel like strangers, whether it’s immigrants, refugees or even people with past abuse or family troubles. The sentiment that the church is a safe place and can be their new home is a good one, but that may not be a message they’re ready for when they’re first introduced to your church.

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  • Michael Corral
    October 24, 2011

    This is an excellent post and I am so glad that you are trying to get this out to the church communicators. If I could add anything, it is this, the word pilgrimage. This is not our home and we are on a pilgrimage, together, to our true home.

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  • Marc Aune
    October 24, 2011

    I’m confused: Is this post about being welcoming to people from outside our churches? Is it about being welcoming to immigrants in particular? Or, is it just about having compassion on all those who don’t quite “fit in”?

    Is the author suggesting simplifying language used in church communication by avoiding “churchy” terminology? Or is the point that our message needs to be consistent and we should not act hypocritically?

    Framing this discussion with a politically charged issue like immigration (and using the “Jesus was a migrant” photo) serves to lose sight of the issue. When Kevin brought up the gay-affirming approach of some churches in a post recently, I could at least understand the point he was trying to make. Here, I am not sure of the purpose.

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  • Sarah
    October 25, 2011

    THANK YOU for posting this. It makes my heart smile really big. :)

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  • Steven Fogg
    October 31, 2011

    I just came across this a bit late. Illegal immigration is a very hot political topic at the moment in Australia. Particularly with people arriving by boat. Both parties here are seeing who can lean to the furthest right on the issue.

    Our church leaderships just stood against the popular sentiment of the broader population to say that children who are unaccompanied should not be held in detention centres or processed offshore back in Asia.

    We didn’t just give an alternative view but gave a solution by offering to house all of the
    unaccompanied children ourselves at no expense to the govt.

    I managed our media efforts that got national and local coverage in pretty much every medium. It was a very busy month developing a policy framework, learning more about the realities of the issue. It was a lesson for me that if as a church you are going to stick your neck out you have to have a very developed policy framework BEFORE you talk to the media. That was a good learn for us, although the brisk timing of the issue meant it wasn’t a reality to get all of the policy stuff worked out.

    Here is the media coverage and some lessons I learnt:

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