It’s no secret that the United States is changing ethnically. Whether it is because people come on their own to seek a better life or are moved for political reasons, many of our communities have taken on a different look. What does that mean for Christians? GraceConnect asked Jay Bell, who for many years led the Internationals USA program, to take a look at immigration from a biblical perspective. He currently serves as mobilization pastor at the Winona Lake, Ind., Grace Brethren Church, where he passionate about reaching everyone for Jesus Christ. This is the first in a series of articles on this topic.
America, as we know it today, was built by marginalized people! Waves of immigrants who made a one-way trip to a place they had only heard about seeking religious and political freedom and a better opportunity in life.
When they arrived in the United States, most did not speak a lick of English, unless they emigrated from an English-speaking country. To survive, they settled into enclaves speaking their language. For example, guess who lived in Germantown, Pa.? Arriving with very few personal possessions, not speaking English and not knowing the cultural rules of their new home, they started out doing menial jobs. In other words, they were marginalized in terms of language and culture.
Lyndon Johnson, America’s 36th president, said it best, “America is not merely a nation, but a nation of nations.”
Neil Diamond sang about it, “On the boats and on the planes, they’re coming to America. Never looking back again, they’re coming to America.”
Ellis Island was the gateway for more than 12 million immigrants to the United States as the nation’s busiest immigration station from 1892 until 1954. Today, more than 100 million Anglo-Americans can trace their ancestry to those who first arrived in America at Ellis Island before dispersing to points all over the country. And, of course, hundreds of thousands came by boat from Africa, not in steerage class, but in chains.
Some describe America as a melting pot. And that’s reasonable when you consider the marriage between a McDonald and a Schultz, or between a Jones and a Gonzales. But a more accurate picture in the early years of immigration would be a tossed salad – distinguishable groups of people speaking English with heavy accents huddling together until felt secure enough to venture out “from sea to shining sea.”
America was built by often-ostracized people seeking religious, political, or financial freedom. But there is one other dynamic we must figure in – “But God.”
From Genesis to Revelation we see God moving people for his kingdom purposes – individuals, families, and nations. Paul alluded to this in Acts 17:26, “From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.” And for what reason? Paul continues in verse 27, “God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.”
And this movement continues today; around the world and into our country.
What should be our response as Christ-followers who desire to line up with God’s perspective revealed in His Word? Delegates to the 2013 national conference of the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches (FGBC) adopted a resolution on Immigration Reform. It’s been ratified by delegates each year since. Click here to read the FGBC Resolutions, including number 5, Immigration Reform.
What do you think? How have you shared Jesus with the nations right in our communities?