Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Immigration and the Great Commission

“On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria . . . Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.” Acts 8:1, 4 (NIV)

Politicians, grassroots activists, religious leaders, vigilantes, talk show hosts, and newspaper columnists have all weighed in on what promises to be a crucial issue in this year’s elections: immigration. While this is hardly a new issue in American politics, it was catapulted into public visibility anew when hundreds of thousands of immigrants took to the streets on May 1, 2006 to advocate for immigration reform. This event, in part, has led to a backlash in anti-immigration sentiment, ranging from renewed efforts to pass new state and federal legislation to the more dubious activities of vigilante groups like the Minutemen Project. And, predictably, Christians have often jumped into the fray, attempting to use the moral weight of Scripture to tip the scales in favor of one side of the debate or the other.

While it is important for the church to theologically engage the political and social consequences of immigration, I am afraid that in the midst of our eagerness to do so, we have overlooked an important question: What are the implications of immigration for preaching the Gospel?

In the eighth chapter of Acts, we observe that persecution forced the early Christians to leave their homes in Jerusalem and flee to the nearby regions of Judea and Samaria (v. 4). Undoubtedly, many of the inhabitants of these areas were less than enthused about the influx of Jewish Christian refugees invading their territory. But Luke wasn’t interested in that aspect of the story. Instead, he shares how these persecuted Christians preached the word wherever they went and, a mere eight verses later, we learn that the people of Samaria “believed the good news of the kingdom of God” (v. 12). Theologically, this is a significant turning point in the book of Acts because for the very first time we see the early believers doing what Jesus’ commanded them in Acts 1:8—that they would be his witnesses “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” This brief account from the book of Acts is just one of many examples throughout scripture and Christian history where migrating peoples became a major conduit for carrying out the Great Commission.

Unlike the early Christians who were forced to flee Jerusalem, most immigrants coming to the United States nowadays do so for reasons other than religious persecution. More frequently, they come in pursuit of economic opportunity. Some come seeking political asylum. And others simply wish to be reunited with their families. But regardless of why they come, the real issue is how God is using these immigrants to further the preaching of the Gospel message. The answer to that question is exciting, multifaceted, and deserves a detailed and nuanced answer—something that I cannot possibly offer here. Thus, for purposes of this reflection, I will focus on just one aspect of how: spiritual renewal.

Operation World reports that the spiritual heritage of the United States is eroding and the Christian Church no longer influences American life as it once did. In many respects, this spiritual decline signals that the United States is following in the footsteps of post-Christian Europe. Yet, at the same time, Operation World informs us of another important dynamic at work that we cannot ignore. Some of the fastest growing churches in America can be found amongst Hispanics, Koreans, Chinese, Filipinos, Arabs, and Iranians. Even as many of our churches are withering and dying, it seems that God is using the current influx of immigrants—many of whom are devout believers—to bring renewal and revival to the American church.

Prayer: God, please forgive us for failing to recognize your work amongst the foreigners in our midst. Help us to befriend, support, and nurture the congregations of our immigrant neighbors. Open our hearts and minds so that we can learn from them. Let our faith be renewed and revitalized as a result of their presence amongst us. Amen.

This item was previously published by the American Baptist Churches of the Rocky Mountains.

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At Thursday, February 28, 2008 at 10:37:00 AM EST , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Provocative post!

At Wednesday, March 12, 2008 at 11:10:00 AM EST , Anonymous Anonymous said...


I thought I would refer you to this breaking news:

"Arrest near church confines terrified Haitians to homes"


At Friday, March 14, 2008 at 6:07:00 PM EST , Blogger haitianministries said...

Thanks, Lou! We have this problem here in the Bahamas too. Sorry to hear that it's happening in the States as well.


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