My neighbor, the immigrant

I am an immigrant. I was born and raised in Canada but a religious worker visa allows me to currently live and work in the United States. My visa expires later this year so my family is working on becoming permanent residents of this great country.

My parents are immigrants. With their parents (my grandparents) they left the war-torn Netherlands soon after the end of World War II. My grandparents arrived in Canada with only a suitcase or two of belongings and began working for the farmers who sponsored them.

Perhaps it is because I am an immigrant and a son of immigrants that I watch with interest news that has to do with immigration, whether it has to do with deporting people who are here without proper documentation or creating barriers (literal and ideological) to keep foreigners out. I realize that not everyone advocating for these measures holds to a Christian worldview as I do; however, removing foreigners and turning away people who need our help should dismay those who follow Jesus and take the Bible seriously.

The Bible says, “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born.” In the New Testament, much of Jesus’ ministry is with “foreigners” – Samaritans and others rejected by the society of his day. And it is Jesus who says that when we feed the hungry, give those who are thirsting something to drink, and welcome in the stranger, it is as though we are doing these things to Jesus: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

I realize that immigration is a complex issue. I cannot condone breaking the law and it is prudent for a country to have secure borders. However, I believe it is possible for immigration laws to be both just and merciful, characterized by both common sense and compassion. More fundamentally, I believe that as a Christian, while I can recognize immigration as an issue, I am compelled to see immigrants themselves as my neighbors – people God has given me to love and perhaps whom he will use to bless me.

Immigration graphic found via Google

It turns out that in God’s eyes we are all immigrants regardless of the name of the country on our passports. According to God’s law, my sin should have expelled me from God’s presence. However, in Christ, God welcomes me into his family and makes me a citizen of a Kingdom that knows no geographical or political boundaries. Many of the Bible’s commands to help the fatherless, the widow, and foreigner have attached to them the reminder that God’s people were once foreigners – foreigners in Egypt, foreigners cut off by sin. But by grace, I am welcomed into God’s family and Kingdom. If I really “get” this, I will have a similar posture, one of hospitality and kindness, whether it’s toward my family or coworkers, my neighbor who has always lived down the street or the one who recently moved into town from another country.


This was my column in last week’s
Rock Valley Bee.
Websites and articles I’ve found helpful in thinking about this topic:
justice.crcna.org ::
evangelicalimmigrationtable.com ::
Think Christian: “A Theology of Immigration” ::
The Banner: “What Does It Mean to Love Your Neighbor?” ::
Relevant: “We Are Called to Serve Immigrants” ::

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My neighbor, the refugee

by Fred Wilgenburg
Director & Pastor,
New Roots Ministry

“In late November of 1847, the steamship Phoenix went down into the icy waters of Lake Michigan, just off the shore from Sheboygan, Wisconsin. A host of passengers died – probably over 200. No one knows for sure because ship owners didn’t care – after all, they were just immigrants, nothing more.
Just a bunch of Dutch immigrants.”

…As recorded by James Schaap,
author and emeritus professor of English
at Dordt College, in a Facebook post.

I opened with the previous paragraph because many of you readers
are of Dutch heritage, as I am. As well, our world presently has a refugee crisis, and our country – the United States – has often been a new home to immigrants, including refugees, though right now the Executive branch of the government is seeking to pause and to “get a better grip” on who is coming in. In response to these attempts within our increasingly polarized country, some are pleased and would probably also encourage moving up in the schedule of executive decisions, the building of a wall between the U.S. and Mexico. Others are strongly opposed, citing Jesus’ words in Matthew 25 to clothe the needy, to feed the hungry, and to welcome the stranger.

Leviticus 19:33‐34 is also cited: “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native‐born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”

Could the case be made that many of us are like the foreigners in that passage? Personally, I am not far from it. My parents immigrated to the U.S. from The Netherlands, a country that was struggling after World War II. They were not classified as refugees fleeing from a tyrannical dictator or from religious persecution, but if they had to stay in The Netherlands much longer, their lives would have been worse off.

As a believer in God, if I would have lived during the time referred to in the Leviticus passage, I would have been that “foreigner in Egypt.” Further, for me personally, I am a foreigner who has been received into the family of God – God is holy and I am not holy on my own; still, He forgives me of my sins and receives me into His family. My colleague, Rich Merkouris, recently tweeted these words: “As Christians, we can disagree on how to care for refugees. We cannot disagree that we must care for the refugees.” He’s right. Leviticus 19 states, “Do not mistreat them… [they] must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself… I am the Lord your God.”

Refugee graphic found via Google

As I and others of New Roots Ministry often work with immigrants, including refugees – through workplace chaplaincy, encouraging and equipping pastors of immigrant congregations, special seminars which we co‐lead with immigrants, hanging out with refugees, and co‐leading ministries together – I have learned that they are easy to love. In most cases, they have a strong work ethic, they want the best for their families, they have life‐experiences and cultures which they are willing to share with me and which enrich me, and they have a sense of compassion for others throughout the world. By “treating [them] as [our] native born, and lov[ing] them as [ourselves],” as God commands, our lives are enhanced; we are blessed.


We regularly hear from the New Roots Ministry in Sioux Falls when Classis Iakota meets. After I read Fred’s reflections in the latest New Roots newsletter, I asked him for and he graciously gave me permission to post it here. In a few days I’ll add some of my thoughts on the subject, too.