What does the Bible say about immigrants? A lot, actually. And much of it’s in the Old Testament. So why is that?
If you want to make some generalized statements (which are usually bad but they serve a purpose here), you could say that the New Testament says a lot about personal faith, and the Old Testament says a lot about communal faith. That’s not true across the board, but you can see a focus in the New Testament on our individual spirituality (how we should act as a person), and a focus in the Old Testament on our community spirituality (how we should act as a group).
That’s because a lot of the instruction and prophecy in the Old Testament was meant to either establish the Israelites as God’s holy community, or sustain them in doing so. (They got off track a lot.)
So in the New Testament we get Jesus’ message to love everyone, serve everyone, and give to everyone, no matter who they are. No need for specifics as far as race, height, gender, nationality. If they’re hungry, feed them. If you don’t know them, get to know them (see Matthew 25:35 and Hebrews 13:2). “Love everyone” means everyone.
In the Old Testament, since it’s focused on this one big community/people (the Israelites), it does mention specifics. Like, how do you treat someone who’s not from this community/people? Good question.
God says repeatedly that faithful people should welcome and care for the foreigners among them, even treat them as one of their own: see Exodus 22:21; 23:9; Leviticus 19:10, 33-34; and Deuteronomy 24:21; 27:19. Also, God repeatedly uses foreigners to play key roles in accomplishing divine missions and purposes: see Joshua 2:1-21 and Ruth 4:16-17.
When you read Bible verses in the Old Testament about foreigners, you’ll come across different terms for them. The Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew, and today, different people use different Bible translations. The various English words used to translate the Hebrew word are: alien, sojourner, stranger, foreigner, and immigrant. Usually it described a foreigner who had settled in the community/country and now has no land or family support network. They are, literally, alienated.
So it begs the question: Since there are many people who have settled in our community/country today, do we treat them like the Bible says to treat them? If so, that involves welcoming them, treating them like a local, and helping them connect with the community.
Most of us don’t know the hardship that’s involved in immigration. A Hispanic ministry coordinator for West Virginia Baptists named Juan Aragón described it this way:
“Immigrants live in the shadows of reality. They come to live in a land where their labor is desired and needed, yet they are unwanted and unwelcome. They live half-lives in what, for them, is a strange culture in which they cannot fully integrate their lives into the life of the community. They live in constant fear. They live alienated lives…. Immigration is a highly emotional experience with heartbreaking consequences, not only for the individual migrating but also for the families, relatives, and communities left behind.”
One of the many things I love about our church is that we do a good job of welcoming people, no matter where they’re from: Vietnam, Mexico, New York, Tennessee, Virginia, Indiana, and even Wake County. 😀 I’m glad that we follow God’s instructions in the Bible about how to treat people who weren’t from around here, but they are now. They were foreigners, but now they’re neighbors. And as Ephesians 2:19 tells us, when someone joins our church, they are no longer strangers, they’re family.