In mid-June I went to Quito, Ecuador, for a short-term mission trip. I hadn’t been there in 12 years, so I was eager to return. Much of Ecuador was just as I remembered it. The mountains were just as inspiring. The fruit was just as sweet. And the people were just as kind and generous.
But something was different. Everyone was wearing his or her backpack in the front. And most people had anxious looks on their faces, especially in crowded areas. What happened?
I wanted to know how it got so dangerous, so I asked. Some people said the government is at fault. They believe the new president is corrupt. But most others said, “Immigration is the problem.” They continued, “Venezuelan immigrants are bringing violence into our country.” (If you’ve been following the news, you might have heard that Venezuela is in financial freefall. The economy has tanked and corrupt leaders are abundant. So there is a mass exodus out of the country.)
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Haven’t you’ve heard US citizens say, “Immigrants from such and such are bringing problems into our country”?
Now I’m not writing this post to comment on immigration practices or border control. Nor am I writing to support a political party. I’m not a politician.
I’m a pastor. My job is NOT to debate legislation. My job is to care for souls. So I’m going to talk about the spiritual dangers swirling around immigration and what we can do about them.
1. Don’t dehumanize immigrants.
Ecuadorians are tempted to believe that all Venezuelans are trouble. Certainly, some Venezuelans are driven to violence, either by their empty stomachs, human nature, or the devil himself. But I spoke with many Venezuelans who are trying everything they can to find refuge from a malevolent government and a broken economy.
Similarly, in the US, there are people who look different than you and speak a language that you can’t understand. When you can’t communicate with a certain group of people, it can be tempting to dehumanize them by lumping them together into one homogenous unit. Finally, if you, someone you know, or somebody you saw on the news was hurt by an individual of this group, you might believe all people of that nationality are utterly evil.
But if you could break through the language barrier and talk with them, you would find that most people aren’t much different than you.
Christians have even more reason to see all humans as equals. Christians believe there is only one race, the human race. We are all descendants of Adam and Eve. We are all made in the image of God. We all inherited a sinful nature from our ancestors. And God loves all people of every culture in Jesus Christ.
As the Scriptures say: “There is no difference between Jew and Gentile (or any nationality), for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:22-24).
2. Don’t blame immigrants for all our problems.
In Ecuador we followed the custom of putting our backpacks in front, and we guarded our zippers. And for good reason. There was a man who tried to rob a woman from our missionary team.
When you experience that kind of crime, it might be easy to blame all our economic and societal problems on outsiders who want to take from us. But are all our problems from evil that is outside of us? Is there only wickedness in foreigners, or is there also an evil within each of us?
When we believe that all our problems are outside of us, that our problems only come from some foreigner, a seed of hatred begins to germinate. When it is full grown, it produces the same hatred that motivated history’s foulest dictators.
Worst of all, when we think our problems are only outside of us, then we have no hope for change. But when we see the real evil inside of us, then we can repent, receive the love of Jesus, and let the Holy Spirit change us from the inside out.
The laws and politics surrounding immigration are complicated. And I’m not here to suggest an answer for such issues. But the topic of immigration can lead to a spiritual and internal struggle in each of us. Humans from every country and every political persuasion are tempted to see evil only in other people of other parties or nationalities.
But once you take the scary journey to the depths of your own soul, you will see the great need for freedom from your own sin. And guess what? In Jesus, you’ve been liberated!
The blood of Jesus cleans us from the inside out. He sets us free and makes us new. He gives real safety and security. He gives us the passport to God’s presence.
And now, as citizens of heaven, we can have a whole new posture toward outsiders. We can see everyone as individuals who need spiritual rescue, and we can begin to treat them as our good God has treated us.