The Church and the Reality of the Immigration Crisis for the Strangers Who Come to US

I previously wrote about how the current immigration crisis in the US involves the Church on both sides of the border. Here, I will share the experience of John Garland, a San Antonio, TX pastor who juggles cooperation with the government authorities and Christ’s call to welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, and minister to those in need.

From Garland’s perspective, the Church (capital C””) is at the center of the immigration crisis. The Church is involved on both sides of the border, as most of the people attempting to enter the US are Christians. Meanwhile, the Church on this side of the border is torn about how to respond.

In the previous article, I discuss the three issues that characterize the public focus on immigration, and I address each of those narratives from a biblical, Christian perspective. In this article, I want to put a human face on the immigration crisis, as told by Garland, and invite the Church on this side of the border to wrestle with the immigration crisis from a biblical position.

Matt Soerens, who works with World Relief, reports that only twelve percent (12%) of evangelicals polled by World Relief have developed a view on immigration that is informed by Scripture. That figure is not speculation. It is the self-assessment of evangelicals who were polled on the subject.

For people of the Word of God, this is disheartening news. It suggests most that most Evangelical Christians’ views on immigration are shaped by the news media and politics, not by Scripture.

For this reason, I believe that Evangelicals have a critical need to ground their views on immigration in God’s Word, as Paul urges:

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)

In my previous article, I provided some quick Scriptural responses to the three concerns that characterize the public narratives (focusing on the law, lack of resources and resistance to change). I have already written extensively on immigration through a Scriptural lens, therefore, I am not going to try to restate or expand much on what I have already written.

Rather, I want to implore the church from the heart as I filter the immigration crisis through the eyes of John Garland on the front lines. I want to dig deeper into the Christian principle of rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar’s without failing to render unto God what is God’s.

I want to parse out what it means to give our priority attention to the weightier matters of the law, unlike the Pharisees who tithed their dill, comin and mint, but neglected to do justice and love mercy.


He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

This is the word of God through the prophet Micah (Micah 6:8)

Continue reading “The Church and the Reality of the Immigration Crisis for the Strangers Who Come to US”

Church: Caught in the Middle of the Immigration Crisis

The southern Mexican/American border at San Antonio, TX

Preston Sprinkle recently interviewed John Garland and Dr. Rebecca Poe Hays on the subject of immigration in episode #95 of Theology in the Raw. John Garland pastors a church in San Antonio Texas where he is immersed in ongoing immigration issues. Dr. Poe Hays is Assistant Professor of Christian Scriptures at Baylor University.

The San Antonio area is home to several immigration prisons. Being in San Antonio means the immigration crisis is a daily reality for Pastor Garland, and his church has embraced its position in the world. For that reason, the media often comes to him for stories they can publish on immigration.

When they interview him, he says, they usually are looking for a story that fits a particular narrative. Garland says that most people doing stories on immigration have already developed their narratives when they come to him for an interview. Thus, they are typically looking for a story that fits that narrative.

That characteristic of the media is true on both sides of the political fence. Because of the media focus on certain narratives, Garland estimates that only about 5% to 10% of what we read in the news on immigration describes an accurate picture of what is happening.

Most news stories on immigration are developed according to prefabricated narratives.

One story that the news media doesn’t tell is that it involves the Church. In Garland’s personal experience, the Church is on both sides of the immigration crisis, and the Church is caught in the middle.

When there is crisis, there is often confusion. Soldiers talk about the confusion in the “fog of war”. When we experience crisis in our personal lives, we often lack the clarity, need the clarity that comes from counseling from others who can provide us perspective.

That clarity often comes from people who “have been there” and have wrestled deeply with the struggles we experience. John Garland is someone who “has been there”.

We don’t see in most media reports that the majority of the people coming across the southern border are Christians. Garland speaks from personal experience when he says,

“[The immigrants] are our Christian brothers and sisters, and 85% of them over these last seven years are evangelical Christians…. They sing the same songs as we do.”

The people that Garland and his church serve at the border read Scripture with each other and pray together every night. They worship and serve God. They seek a better life for themselves and their families. They seek safety and freedom.

Garland says that the immigration crisis is very much a 21st century version of the exodus of freedom seekers to the New World.

“This is not a political story, really. That is happening on the news…. It’s a story of the pilgrim church and how we, as a church in America, are receiving the pilgrim church, a persecuted pilgrim church.”

Garland has experienced this reality on both sides of the border. He has spent time in Central America where he watched Christian leaders being driven out by violence and persecution.

In San Antonio, his church is receiving pastors, social workers and Christian community leaders escaping the dangerous and volatile environments they have left behind as a last resort. Garland says,

“This story doesn’t fit into any of the prescribed political narratives that you are generally going to get from the news.”

In the remainder of this blog piece, I will relate the narratives that Garland has categorized in his dealings with the media. He says they boil down to three categories that are reflected in the questions he is asked over and over again.

Continue reading “Church: Caught in the Middle of the Immigration Crisis”

God’s Plans Are Bigger than We Often Perceive, and He is Working Them Out Sometimes Despite Us

God promised Abraham, “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed”.

In the service this morning, the message was about Joseph. As often happens, I saw something I hadn’t seen before. The depth and nuance and intricate tapestry that is Scripture often works that way.

I will get to the point, but first, I need to build the backstory. Most readers know of Joseph, so I will be brief. Joseph was the youngest of the 12 sons of Jacob. Jacob was the son of Isaac, the famous son of Abraham. Abraham was the man of faith to whom God gave the following promise:

Go from your country [land] and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen. 12:1-3 ESV)

I added the emphasis and will come back to it. In the meantime, we need to recall that Joseph was betrayed by his brothers, who were jealous of him. They plotted to kill him and left him for dead in the bottom of a well.  He was “rescued” by a passing caravan that sold him into slavery in Egypt.

We could say much about the story of Joseph, but I want to fast forward. Joseph’s life teetered on the edge of utter desperation. He experienced a series of very high highs and very low lows. God ultimately blessed Joseph and elevated him to the second most powerful position in Egypt because of Joseph’s faithful use of the gifts and wisdom God gave him.

Many years after his brothers left him for dead, Joseph superintended a massive grain storage plan for Egypt that positioned his “adoptive” country to weather a long, severe famine and provide food for all its people and other nations besides. That same famine prompted his brothers to travel to Egypt when they were on the verge starvation and desperation.

When they arrived and got inline to buy grain, they had no idea they were appearing before their brother, Joseph, but Joseph recognized them and asked them to go back to Canaan and bring his father, Jacob, back down to Egypt with them.

Joseph’s brothers, his father and the whole tribe returned to Egypt. When they returned and finally realized the powerful man who sent them for their father was Joseph, they were ashamed. They also feared retribution against them for their betrayal, but Joseph was gracious and gave them favorable living conditions until Jacob died.

This is the point of the story that was addressed in the service today. Joseph’s brothers were fearful, still, that he held a grudge after Jacob died and would pay them back for their betrayal. (Gen. 50: 15) They didn’t immediately go to Joseph. Instead, they sent a message to Joseph containing instructions their father, Jacob, gave them to say to Joseph: “’I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’” (Gen. 50: 17)

Much could be said about the fact that they sent their father’s instructions to them, rather than their own, delivering own, heartfelt message to their brother, Joseph, but this story isn’t about them. It’s about Joseph.

“Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” (Gen. 50:19-21 ESV) (Emphasis added)

Continue reading “God’s Plans Are Bigger than We Often Perceive, and He is Working Them Out Sometimes Despite Us”

Immigration History and Confusion in the Church

Polls suggest that just 12% of evangelical Christians say that they think of immigration primarily through the lens of the Bible.

We have a somewhat romanticized view of immigration in the US. All of us in the United States reading this article are the benefactors of immigration, unless your ancestors were all Native American. Thus, the vast majority of us have benefitted from the various waves of immigration to the US in the past.

My ancestors immigrated at various times from England, Wales, Germany, Switzerland and France. It’s no wonder, then, that I view our history of immigration with some appreciation and sentimentality, and I believe most people with European ancestry feel like I do in that respect unless.

If you have much Native American or African ancestry, then, your view might be a bit different. If you have Chinese ancestry, you might feel differently. If you had German ancestry in 1750’s, you also might feel differently, but I will get to that.

We also tend to view our immigrant ancestors as hard-working, honest, and lawful people checking off the right boxes, jumping through the right hoops and diligently observing the protocols demanded of them to enter the country. We have earned the right to be citizens through their noble and respectful efforts.

Most of us, me included in years past, don’t really know the history of immigration to the United States other than the generalized and romanticized notions we carry from the US history we learned s children.

I am not a big fan of the new approach to American history that downplays the great positives that characterize the birth of our nation and its unique place in the world as a leader in many facets of human existence from governance to industry, science, and technology, medicine and human rights and in many other ways. At the same time, I think we should be honest about our history.

Immigration in the New World was relatively open, with exceptions, before 1882. Benjamin Franklin advocated in 1751 to exclude Germans and Africans from settling in the New World because he was “partial to the complexion of my country”.[1] Alexander Hamilton “warned of the dangers of absorbing and especially naturalizing too many foreigners”.[2] In fact, it seems that fear of immigrants is (at least) as old as the New World itself.[3]

People like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington opposed those views at the time, though Jefferson’s opinion may have been motived by a perception that German immigrants were more apt to support him politically. Some things don’t change!

I am not going to recount all the history of immigration in the United States. I am sure I don’t know the half of it, but a few noteworthy historical markers might be instructive in these times.

My interest here is the evangelical church in the United States, of which I am a member. How should we as a church orient ourselves to the immigration issues in our time in light of Scripture?

Continue reading “Immigration History and Confusion in the Church”

Loving the Sojourner Because God Loves the Sojourner

The terms, aliens, strangers and sojourners, were found throughout Scripture, and the Bible has a lot to say about them.

During the second half of the Obama administration and leading up to and through much of the Trump administration, immigrants were much in the news. The country was divided over how immigrants should be handled: whether we should build a wall and be more restrictive at the borders; how strictly we should enforce the laws; whether the laws should be changed; whether immigrants from certain countries should be restricted or prohibited; and so on.

Much of the public “discussion” was inflamed with political rhetoric. The tone was angry on both “sides”. It seemed that most people were talking past each other. People took extreme positions. The issues were couched in all or nothing language, as if the choices were to open the borders wide or shut them down completely.

As I talked with people privately on both “sides”, though, the tenor and tone was different. I didn’t speak with anyone who advocated open borders with no security or regulations. I didn’t speak with anyone who wanted to close the borders and keep everyone out. Most people really fell in the middle; it was the inflamed rhetoric that created the appearance that people were amassed at the polar extremes, like angry mobs with pitchforks in their hands.

The heat of the immigration discussion has died down, but the issues haven’t gone away. President Biden has undone most or all of the executive orders issued by President Trump to tighten up border security and other immigration controls, but the laws haven’t changed.

We can expect less and enforcement and efforts to , but the laws haven’t changed. The issues haven’t been resolved. Our immigration system is still not very workable, and issues are bound to boil to the surface again and demand attention.

I first seriously dug into the “issue” of immigration in the Obama administration. I was buffeted by the opposing winds of the political rhetoric, but I wanted to know how Christians should view immigration… if there was a definitive Christian position to be taken. Most Christians knew were well-versed in the political rhetoric, but I wasn’t hearing a biblically focused critique of the subject.

The Syrian refugee crisis was flooding the news and my conscience. I had to confess that I didn’t know where God stood. I didn’t know what the Bible said on immigration, if anything. I wanted to step back from the political fray and do my own searching of Scripture and meditation to let God speak to me on the issue.


I spent a weekend searching the Scriptures. I discovered that the Bible has much to say on the subject. The terms, aliens, strangers and sojourners, were found throughout Scripture from the Old Testament to the New Testament, and those terms permeated everything from start to finish.

I found that Scripture speaks very clearly and directly on subject and left me little room to wonder how we ought to respond to immigration issues in our current day. I wrote about it for the first time in November 12, 2014 in the article, Immigration: the Strangers Among Us.

God’s “view” of immigrants is closely aligned with how God relationship with Abraham and his descendants. We might forget that told Abraham his descendants “would be foreigners in a strange land, and that they would be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years”. (Gen. 15:13; and Acts 7:6) Thus, Abraham’s faith prompted him to live “like a stranger in a foreign country” (as did Isaac and Jacob) (Heb. 11:9)

“For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”

Hebrews 11:10

In fact, this status of being an alien and a stranger on the earth applies to all people of faith in the past:

“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.”

Hebrews 11:13-16

The status of God’s people as aliens and strangers was built into the very fabric of the their relationship with God and emphasized by centuries of living with that status.

Continue reading “Loving the Sojourner Because God Loves the Sojourner”