By Ed Stetzer
Nothing describes the state of global immigration better than the word “crisis.” More people are migrating today than at any other time in history. Migration occurs for many reasons. For some people, migration is a chance for new opportunities, education, or employment. For others, migration is driven by warfare or deep poverty. It would be foolish to think unrestricted immigration is always good. National borders exist to protect the integrity of a nation—including its security, culture, and its financial means.
We Can Debate Immigration Reform
I don’t know any fair-minded person who thinks it’s wrong or mean-spirited to ask the question: how does a nation maintain its security, culture, financial well-being, and its longevity in the face of an immigration wave?
The immigration crisis has people on both sides of the issue speaking winsomely and graciously, some calling for less, and some calling for more, immigration. These civil discussions have merit.
However, there’s no place for the dehumanization or degradation of immigrants. Irresponsible comments that broadly paint immigrants as terrorists, rapists, and murderers only breed anger at and fear of people who are trying either to escape persecution or to make a better life for their family.
If we’re talking specifically about Latino migration to the United States, an immigrant from Mexico or Latin America is more likely to be an evangelical pastor than a murderer.
But We Need to Be On Mission
In the midst of the much-needed discussion and debate, I want to remind all Christ-followers of a missiological opportunity and a Great Commission mandate.
Missiologists understand that one of the greatest opportunities for evangelistic impact is during great waves of migration. We’ve seen an awakening of this fact in the missiological literature of the 1950s, where people began to look at mass movements of people and how their receptivity to the gospel increased.
Immigration as an Opportunity
More recently, a study by Phillip Connor published in his book, Immigrant Faith, shows when people migrate they tend to become less religious rather than staying the same. Over time, however, they will become just as religious as the dominant culture around them. Connor calls this a “disruption in religiosity,” followed by an “adaptation in religiosity.”
This means that migration as a disruptive event allows us, the Church, to speak into people’s lives at a key time. We can be the hands and feet of Jesus, offering love in His name, showing and sharing the love of Jesus to immigrants.
But, later on, this can be more difficult. Over time, immigrants become generally more religious in their homeland’s religion if they are living in the southern U.S. (where the culture is more religiously active).
If they live in the northern or western U.S. (where the culture is relatively less religious), they generally become even less religious. Either way, religious patterns start to seep in over time, and the opportunity to share the gospel and minister to felt needs starts to lessen.
If both of these things are true—migration is a missiological opportunity and immigrants tend to shift in their religiosity when they migrate—we must seize the opportunity before us to care and share.
A Great Commission Opportunity
Regardless of whether you’re pro immigration reform, pro border control, or anti-immigration, every follower of Jesus must be passionate about the Great Commission for those who are here and see this as an opportunity to be seized.
Thus, let’s vote for those we think will do the best job handling the immigration crisis. But let’s simultaneously ask the question in our churches: how can we minister to immigrants who are living among us?
LifeWay Research found 79 percent of pastors believe Christians have a responsibility to assist immigrants, even if they are in the country illegally. However, only 47 percent say their church is personally involved at the local level in assisting immigrants. Another LifeWay Research study found evangelicals’ beliefs about immigration are more influenced by the media than the Bible or their church. Few churches talk about immigration or take action.
As Christian leaders, we have work to do.
Yes, there are real and complicated political issues to be discussed, but at the same time people need to be reached with the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
This is not just an immigration crisis; it is a Great Commandment and a Great Commission opportunity. May we seize it so the name of Jesus would be more widely known and would be on the lips of people on the move all around the world.
This article appeared in our Winter 2016 issue. You can subscribe to our print edition to receive the Spring 2016 issue delivered to your home or church for free.