What if every immigrant to Alabama encountered a local church, heard the gospel of Jesus Christ in a way that made sense to them, and knew that they were loved and welcomed by Christians in the state?
With over 40 million first generation immigrants in the United States today, we face challenging opportunities in our communities for revitalization, development, growth, and a renewal of culture. Unfortunately, we are also seeing the opportunity for conflict and animosity to grow. CDI is working with Southern Baptists in Alabama through the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions (ALSBOM) and multiple Baptist associations such as the Montgomery Baptist Association (MBA) to help churches navigate the demographic, ethnic, and cultural changes that are upon us. With over 165,000 first generation immigrants in Alabama, the opportunity for integration and welcoming is right in front of us. How we respond now will influence what Alabama is like for the next generation.
Global Impact Alabama is an initiative of ALSBOM that takes the Biblical commands to “love your neighbor” and “welcome the stranger” and places it in the context of immigrants who have come to Alabama from all over the world. Instead of seeing immigrants and refugees as threats or people to avoid, the Global Impact Alabama initiative exists to awaken and equip churches for the opportunity before us identify, engage, and minster to and advocate for the immigrants in our midst.
“You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” - Exodus 22:21
“You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” - Exodus 23:9
“You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.” - Leviticus 19:34
“Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” - Deuteronomy 10:19
The current context in America socially and politically has become difficult for immigrants and refugees and those who minister to them. Amid shouts of “Build a wall!” and calls to limit immigration as well as fears of terrorism and foreigners taking jobs from Americans, the discussion around immigrants and refugees has sometimes taken a dark turn. Rising nativist sentiment can easily slip into xenophobic anger as immigrants and refugees begin to be blamed for problems plaguing the average American. On the heels of racial division and unrest exposed in places like Ferguson and Baltimore, the rise of anti-immigrant rhetoric among some has helped to create a toxic environment of fear and anger toward those perceived as “other.” Instead of giving in to this growing sentiment and playing along with people’s fears and reactions, Alabama Baptists have an incredible opportunity to speak with gospel witness into this environment and “tell a better story.”
What Is God Doing In All Of This?
Over and over again in Scripture we see the commands to welcome the stranger, treat the immigrant/sojourner well, love him as yourself, and apply to him the same laws and protections that you have for your own native born. The Hebrew people are told that when foreign people in need come to them with a desire to live among them and contribute, then they are to be welcomed and cared for. This is a recurring command is one of the most prominent of the Torah. America is not Israel, but the church is to be salt and light in every culture and witness to the Biblical ideal of justice, mercy, and humility before God (Micah 6:8).
But, something else emerges here that is noteworthy. The commands to care for the sojourner are often accompanied with the reminder, “for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” In reminding Israel their former slavery and oppression in Egypt, he was also reminding them of their deliverance. The Apostle Paul does the same thing when he talks about the types of people who will not inherit the Kingdom of God and then he says, “and such were some of you. but you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:9-11). When we sing “Amazing Grace,” we tap into this same idea: “I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.”
“For you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” The message here is that how you treat those who are where you once were is directly proportional to how you have come to understand what God did for you. In Deuteronomy 26:5-13 when the treatment of the sojourner is tied directly to the tithe and worship, we see clearly that the Hebrew who does not treat the sojourner well fails to understand God’s grace and kindness toward him.
The Orthodox Jewish Rabbi Jonathan Sacks says,
“It is no coincidence that Judaism was born in two journeys away from the two greatest civilizations of the ancient world: Abraham’s from Mesopotamia, Moses’ and the Israelites’ from Pharaonic Egypt …To be a Jew is to be a stranger. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that this is why Abraham is commanded to leave land, home and father’s house; why, long before Joseph was born, Abraham was already told that his descendants would be “strangers in a land not their own”; why Moses had to suffer personal exile before assuming leadership of the people; why the Israelites underwent persecution before inheriting their own land; and why the Torah is so insistent that this experience – the retelling of the story on Pesach [Passover], along with the never-forgotten taste of the bread of affliction and the bitter herbs of slavery – should become a permanent part of their collective memory.”
Tell a Better Story
When we love, minister to, and advocate for the immigrant/refugee/sojourner, we are not just doing good works. We are not being political in a partisan sense. We are actually witnessing to the reality of the Kingdom of God, our own salvation in Christ, the nature of the church, the final destination of nations around the Throne of God, and God’s own character. In a world that seeks to protect, promote, and defend its own way of life over and above others, loving the immigrant is a significant way to give prophetic witness to the reality of the gospel and God’s character. America is not Israel, but the Church is the embassy of Heaven and through ministering to and advocating for immigrants who come to us from different cultures and lands, we are able to tell a better story in this culture - the gospel story.
What if the current context of controversy and fear is exactly what God has allowed for our churches to love and minister to immigrants/refugees in ways that will cause us to shine like stars in a world full of fear and anger? What if the sojourner among us has been sent by God to draw out the love and mercy of the church so the world can see the heart of God and the sojourner himself can experience His kindness? Global Impact Alabama exists to aid in that purpose so immigrants to our state will be able to know that God is good, that He loves them, and that salvation is available to them through faith in Jesus Christ.