What Is Our Responsibility Toward the Immigrant?

How Immigrant Hope heeds the call to care for the poor and oppressed

“When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them.” — Leviticus 19:33

For many of us, it’s easy to forget that coming to America is rife with challenges.

Some challenges that immigrants face are part of the universal migration experience: navigating a new language and culture, facing separation from family and support structures, and struggling between assimilation and maintaining cultural heritage.

When we consider the ministry of Jesus and His apostles, disciplemaking and social action went hand-in-hand.

Other challenges are unique to U.S. society. Our immigration and criminal legal systems rest on very different principles. The immigration system is complex and unforgiving, with severe consequences for mistakes, yet most immigrants must face it alone. Many thousands lose status because they lack the knowledge to navigate complex U.S. laws and procedures. They may be imprisoned for years without a trial or basic amenities or summarily deported without a chance to see a lawyer or judge. Young children are regularly imprisoned alongside or, recently, separately from their parents. Some of these conditions are inadvertent, but there is also a segment within our society, government, and even the church that supports laws and policies because they make life worse for immigrants.

The effect is that immigrants in the U.S., with or without legal status, live with fear and alienation. Children are unsure if their parents will come home. Parents are afraid to send kids to school. Everyone avoids the police. Thus marginalized, many immigrants are prime targets for conmen and abusers and suffer from violent crime, wage theft, unsafe work, sex and labor trafficking, domestic violence, and fraud.

What is our responsibility toward immigrants?

When we consider the ministry of Jesus and His apostles, disciplemaking and social action went hand-in-hand. This dual mission for Christians is reflected in Point 8 of the EFCA Statement of Faith, which says: “God commands us to love Him supremely and others sacrificially, and to live out our faith with care for one another, compassion toward the poor and justice for the oppressed.”

Jesus preached about the coming Kingdom and He also healed the sick (Matthew 8:16-17). Paul planted churches and raised funds for the poor (Acts 11:29-30). James taught the gospel and demanded that those who love God serve others (James 2:14-17). Jesus lived and died so that we could be saved (Luke 19:10) and join Him to create a new kind of society (Luke 4:14-19).

To be faithful and fruitful disciplemakers, we must serve those in need.

Meeting people’s felt needs is often necessary for effective disciplemaking. Most understand that showing God’s love opens hearts to hear, especially when you are trying to cross a cultural, social or language barrier. The early church’s care for the poor and oppressed fueled its rapid spread.

A second reason to look after the needs of the marginalized and oppressed is perhaps less obvious: obedience. Isaiah 58 shows that God may block our attempts at spiritual revival if we do not live with justice, mercy and love. To be faithful and fruitful disciplemakers, we must serve those in need.

Obeying the call to care for the poor and oppressed

Providing affordable, reliable immigration legal advice is one way to extend God’s love to meet the real needs of vulnerable, suffering people.

Immigrant Hope is a network of churches that provide legal aid to immigrants in the United States, and it was established by the EFCA under the leadership of the late Bill Hamel, former EFCA president, as a tool to help its churches fulfill their God-given commission to love, serve and make disciples. Our mission is to equip churches to provide immigrants with the hope of the gospel, help finding a pathway to legal residency and a home in a church that cares for their needs.

An Immigrant Hope class for legal workers in Santa Barbara, California, in 2017.

We help local churches set up and run legal aid clinics as part of their outreach to immigrants in their community. By providing excellent legal services, churches can show their neighbors the love of God, build relationships based on trust, and open the door to share the gospel and make disciples.

Why legal aid?

The need for immigration representation is immense and critical, but it also represents an opportunity for the church to apply the hope of the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit.

I regularly meet with a young Somali man in the office of a church. He fled recruitment by an Islamist militia, crossed three continents alone, applied for asylum at the U.S. border, and spent a hellish year in a Texas detention facility waiting for a hearing.

His application was among the 10 percent approved in that particular court, and now our office is helping him transition to permanent status. God is using us to help this remarkable man find physical, emotional and spiritual peace and security. Through our work, he has a relationship with a church offering him new community, family and faith.

Immigrant Hope site directors meet in San Antonio, Texas, in 2018.

This story is repeated in each of our ministry’s seven churches. Through service to our 1,900 clients, we have become known as places of safety, care and welcome. Many of these clients would never otherwise have come through our doors or been touched by our ministries. Church members have grown in their discipleship, learning about God’s heart, His grace and the role He has given them.

We desire that all churches can be known in their communities as places of welcome and safety.

All the while, our workers seek opportunities for spiritual engagement with each client by praying, sharing the gospel, and connecting them to the church family. This is how we fulfill the Great Commission and bring God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

We desire that all churches can be known in their communities as places of welcome and safety. We pray that as believers, we’d sacrificially love our neighbors and enemies alike, for the sake of the grace of we’ve received. And we strive to embrace strangers in our midst, caring for them as family members, giving them wise and law-abiding counsel and introducing them to Jesus Christ and His eternal salvation.

Learn more and get involved

If God has moved your heart to the plight of immigrants in your community, I’d recommend the following resources.

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