Tag Archives: immigrants

How Two Girls of Another Culture Became Like Daughters to Me

i got to know naomi* and her sister, mary*, since they came to our youth group years ago as middle schoolers.  naomi had a feistiness that covered up her deep insecurities.  mary was soft-spoken and terribly shy.  over the years of youth group meetings, retreats, outings, supporting their dance performances, car conversations driving to youth meetings and back home, they made their way into my heart and the hearts of all the youth leaders.  the faithfulness and courage that they’ve shown, each in their unique ways, have been such bright spots for us.  it has been a privilege to witness the deep love that Jesus has for them.  it has been amazing to see them come out of their shells to embrace Jesus and courageously shine His light to their friends.  because of them, our church youth group has more than doubled in size from when they first started coming to our church.  

they are now in their senior year of high school.  naomi is class president at her school and mary is one of the few teens my wife and I trust to be alone with our children.  needless to say I am so proud of them.  

they have become like daughters to me.  

they are undocumented immigrants.

naomi and mary were born in juarez, mexico, a place notorious for the disappearance and murder of women.  their father left them at a young age, other tragedies befell their siblings, and their mother sought work and a better life in the u.s. bringing them over with her.  but life in america was not easy.  naomi recounts

“I would watch my mom struggle and get angry. In her moods she would say ‘Estudia para no ser como yo.’ Which translates into ‘Study, so you won’t end up like me.’ That’s when I decided that her work would not be in vain, I would not embarrass her nor diminish her efforts.”

both naomi and mary have worked hard in school and have applied (and been accepted) to universities.  It breaks my heart to see the heightened fear they must now live in with the news of recent policies and practices of the immigration and customs enforcement, intensified under the current administration.   i can’t imagine how their mother is feeling right now.  

nevertheless, i know that, in Jesus, fear is not the end of the story.  

Jesus’ love drives out fear.  yes, we should do our part to educate ourselves and others on the issues.  yes, we should equip ourselves and our undocumented immigrant neighbors with resources to protect them.  but if i am to love them as my neighbors, as my daughters, as myself…it also means that i must walk with them in the love of Jesus, even if the path is now longer and scarier then we would prefer.  we do not fear for He is with us.

*names have been changed to protect identities

Jesus and the foreigner

in light of our president’s executive orders in his first week in office, and the ensuing chaos, we may have different opinions on the best way to implement immigration policy. that is expected.  there are certainly many more qualified than me to make that assessment.  in regards to that, this seemed one of the more balanced approaches to the concerns.  

however, as believers, i hope there is one thing upon which we can agree: Jesus loves the foreigner.  yes, he loves all of humanity…but i dare say He has a tender spot for foreigners. as i survey the scripture it is my view that, whatever policy is landed upon, the default tenor would favor mercy over judgement as it regards the foreigner in general.  here’s why it’s reasonable to think so.  

Jesus has a special love for the foreigner because…

1. it’s in his heritage

yes, Jesus was the Son of God but, lest we forget, Jesus was also a jew.  jews were once refugees to egypt to escape famine and lived as foreigners in egypt for a long time.  they were perpetual foreigners because they became an underclass of slaves under the oppression of egypt (a nation with a different religion and gods) and were viewed by their rulers as dangerous enough to attempt a genocide of jewish baby boys.  God heard their cries and delivered them into a new land.  yet, even as they possessed a new land God reminds them:

“You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” – Leviticus 19:34

as the son of God and as a son of a jew Jesus was bound to this word to never forget the suffering of being sojourners and to care for the foreigner.  

 

2. it’s in his lineage

there are foreigners to the nation of israel in the very birth line of Jesus – foreign to the people of God, foreign to the country, foreign to the religion of the people of God (aka not christians).   one foreigner was a woman named ruth from the land of moab.  moab was not some neutral nation to the people of God.  moab tried to hurt the people of God (a king of Moab hired out a prophet named balaam to curse the people of God, and moab in the book of judges oppressed the people of God).  ruth didn’t come from a safe country.  but this moabitess came to a new nation and came to know a new God and she accepted them as her own…and God weaved her and her story into the line of Jesus.  

 

3. it’s in his experience

Jesus was foreigner in multiple ways.  He left the comfort of the heaven to become an immigrant to earth.  he also became a further foreigner when he was on this earth.  to escape the slaughter of jewish baby boys (sound familiar?) from a jealous king herod, Jesus’ family had to escape their home country to become refugees to egypt before he returned years later.    

 

4. it’s in his identity

just in case we weren’t sure what and who Jesus stood for, Jesus, in no uncertain terms identifies himself with the foreigner.  in fact, he says that however we treat a foreigner is how we treat him and is a litmus test for saving faith.  to not be hospitable to the foreigner has eternal implications.   

 

5. it’s in our salvation

perhaps the most fateful twist of all for us though is the truth that if it was not for Jesus’ love for the foreigner we would be damned (unless you are a jew which, statistically speaking, you probably aren’t).

praise God that He considered it “too light a thing” to only bring back the jews to Him but that He would reach out to us…gentiles.  without His light shining out to us we would not be able to “see.”  He has a mission for reaching out to the foreigner…to the very ends of the earth…to us.  we are infinitely fortunate that He loves like that.

 

there can be much we say or do (or don’t) regarding the foreigner but let us be completely clear…it matters how we treat the foreigner.  Jesus takes it personally.  and we should too.  

why was Jesus born into SUCH difficult circumstances (or when we’ve become too used to the Christmas story)?

i grew up in the church and have heard the Christmas story countless times.  i’ve seen plays and movies of it, heard retellings of it, read it, studied it, meditated on it.  as with many things we’re repeatedly exposed to, Jesus of the Christmas story can easily become someone we can feel familiar with and touch over without him getting to our heart.  on top of this, with the commercialization of Christmas there has been a sanitizing of the circumstances of Jesus’ birth that can be easy to miss.

given that, as the gospel accounts make clear, Jesus was the God of the universe in human flesh, here are just some of the elements in the accounts of the arrival of Jesus into our world that seem peculiar at best and, at times, downright troubling:

1. the era of his birth – Jesus is estimated to have been born around 6 to 4 AD.

why was he born in such a “backwards” time?  why not when there would be better medical innovation and technology for health care and life expectancy?  why not when there would be the internet to make wider announcement of his arrival?  why not a time when Israel was in a better place politically, not under roman control and occupation?

2. the mother he was born to – Jesus was born to a poor dark-skinned palestinian-jewish teenage girl.

why wasn’t Jesus born to a mom with more experience, education, credentials, and financial/social status?

3. the father that would raise him: Jesus’ earthly father was not his biological father and was a poor worker in construction.

especially, if men at this time were the main financial breadwinners of the home, why was Jesus born into such a poor family? why into a home where the family business was manual labor (maybe in our modern times carpenters make more money but we know the family was most likely poor because when these young parents take Jesus to the temple all they could offer were pigeons for sacrifice, an offering reserved for those who were too poor to offer a lamb. we also know that by the time of Jesus’ death his father has most likely already passed away as the care of his mother mary was given to the apostle john.  if this was the case, that means joseph had probably already passed by the age of 50…this was not an easy life.).

4. the timing of his birth: Jesus was conceived by Mary BEFORE she was married to the person she was engaged to…and impregnated by a different Father.

yes, the virgin birth was what was supposed to happen according to the prophecy but why couldn’t God have sent an angel to Joseph to explain the circumstance while they were getting married and Jesus have been conceived AFTER they were married? at the very least, if the timing of the virgin birth were pushed back a little later this could have saved all of them them A LOT of shame of such scandalous talk and rumors, especially in such traditional times and a deeply religious culture.  what would it have been like for mary whose child’s origins were continually second-guessed and her explanation sounded incredulous and awfully self-congratulating?  what would it have been like for joseph to see his firstborn son and raise him knowing that he wasn’t the true father?  what would it have been like for Jesus to grow up being ridiculed as a bastard child?

5. the place he was born – he was born in a food trough in a stable that was most likely a cave.

why was Jesus, literally, born in such a disgusting place?  ok, so his parents couldn’t afford better accommodations on their trip to Bethlehem, but seriously, why wasn’t the savior of the world born where humans lived instead of being born where animals lived?

6. the announcement of his birth to shepherds – shepherds worked with animals so they were unclean and unable to participate in the religious activities of the temple.

out of the all the groups of people the “heavenly host” of angels could have arrived to why did they arrive to uncouth, stinky, and solitary shepherds?  why make a religious announcement to religiously unclean folks?  unclean folks who worked with animals and not just any animals but probably some of the stupidest and most easily frightened animals?

the circumstance of his most critical early years – king herod, in his paranoia of rumors of another king being born, ordered the massacre of all jewish babies to the age of two, forcing Jesus family to flee to egypt then back to nazareth after the king had died.

why was Jesus born during the reign of such a notoriously jealous and violent king?  couldn’t Jesus birth been delayed until king herod died?  why were he and his parents forced to become refugees to another country?  then move back into a no good ghetto like nazareth to be raised?  why all this transition in the most critical years of a child’s development?

 

why was Jesus born into such difficult life circumstances?  certainly not circumstances befitting any king of this world.  i have some thoughts and potential answers to these questions for which there isn’t enough time.  however, at least one things has become clear to me – Jesus is not afraid to identify with and live in our suffering.  the God of the universe came into our most scandalous, disgusting, and unpresentable places.  he chose to be raised and be identified with the most marginalized of people.  when we are broken by the suffering in our world and in our very lives, let the nature of his arrival be a light of hope to us.  could it be that the manner of his arrival was this intentional in order to know our suffering?

this is our Jesus.  this is our God who is with us.

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