I have a friend named Tyler, who pastors in Arizona. Amid the massive influx of immigrants into his community (many of whom are illegal) and surrounded by the milieu of legislative discussions in his state, Tyler and the church he leads have decided to engage this issue with gospel perspective and to serve these people with gospel compassion.
Together they began providing food and clothing to migrant workers through a variety of different ministries. These ministries paved the way for personal relationships to develop with migrant men, women and children, opening other doors for members of the church not just to love but to learn from these workers and their families.
This has obviously involved more time and resources, but in Tyler’s words, “It wasn’t long before our people began donating more than food—they started to donate their lives.”
This eventually led to the construction of a community center in a Latino neighborhood that is now filled weekly with English classes, after-school programs, life-skills training and Bible studies. In addition, the church Tyler pastors began partnering with a Latino church to start a center that protects people who in the past would end up either abused by employers or working without compensation.
The church’s work among Latinos then carried over into an awareness of Somali Bantu and Uzbek refugees living in the surrounding community. Consequently, hundreds of church members now serve these refugees, welcoming them at the airport, tutoring them, teaching life and business skills and organizing ways to financially support refugee-owned restaurants.
In all of this, Tyler says, “We have enjoyed hundreds of opportunities to engage in conversations about Jesus … and we’ve seen God change lives.”
But it hasn’t been easy. Tyler comments, “Our work has been affirmed by many but has also been met with criticism from both inside and outside the church … Because of our support of these communities, we’ve been accused of contributing to the breakdown of an economic drain on our educations and medical systems, and even to violent crimes like rape and murder by undocumented immigrants.”
One of the things I appreciate most about Tyler is his willingness to both listen to and learn from such criticism. In his words, “We’ve found that it’s important to pause and listen to the critiques of respectable people with legitimate concerns. We especially need to listen to those who challenge us on the grounds that our work counteracts the common good. If their concern is valid, we should respond and adjust accordingly. If, however, they are misguided, we should clarify our intentions and continue the work to which we have been called.”
No one can expect to engage in ministry like this in our culture and experience anything less than challenges like these. What I admire most about Tyler and his church is the way they are not afraid to step off the sidelines, at great cost and in the face of certain criticism, to apply the gospel to this pressing social need in our day.
The members of this church are clearly not perfect in their response to immigration. At the same time, multitudes of men, women, and children made in the image of God are grateful that the members of this church aren’t passive, either.
A Better Country
In the end, we are all immigrants ourselves. I’m not merely referring to our ancestors who may have migrated to America many years ago. I’m referencing the very essence of what it means to be a Christian. The Bible calls believers in Christ “sojourners and exiles” who “desire a better country” and are “seeking a homeland,” a “city that is to come” (1 Peter 2:11; Hebrews 11:13-14,16; 13:14).
In other words, Christians are migrants on this earth, and the more we get involved in the lives of immigrants, the better we will understand the gospel.
Unfortunately, throughout history Christians have failed to understand how the gospel affects the way we view and love people of different ethnicities. My hope and prayer is that this would not be what historians write concerning the church in our day. The body of Christ is a multicultural citizenry of an otherworldly kingdom, and this alters the way we live in this ever-changing country. By the sheer grace of God in the gospel, we are called to counter selfish pride and ethnic prejudice both in our hearts and our culture.
For after all, this is not the culture to which we ultimately belong. Instead, we are looking forward to a day when “a great multitude that no one [can] number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (Revelation 7:9) will stand as one redeemed race to give glory to the Father who calls us not sojourners or exiles, but sons and daughters.
Taken from Counter Culture by David Platt. Copyright © 2017. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.
David Platt is the president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board and the founder of Radical, Inc. The author of the New York Times best-selling books Follow Me and Radical, he has traveled extensively around the world, teaching the Bible and training church leaders.