"If there is among you a poor man, one of your brethren, in any of your towns within your land which the LORD your God gives you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother.” (Deuteronomy 15:7).

The Old Testament writers have a special concern for the welfare of widows, orphans, the poor and foreigners. A careful study of the Old Testament would reveal that the concept of the poor cannot be limited to persons who are materially poor. It describes persons whose circumstances place them at a disadvantage in the community and are unable to live an authentic human life.  It is therefore not surprising to find that orphans, widows, the poor and strangers are always mentioned for special care.

Today’s Old Testament reading singles out the poor for special treatment. We interpret the poor to mean orphans, widows, the materially poor and strangers, who find it difficult to provide for their social and economic needs. The reading makes the point that we will always have these persons in our midst and places an obligation on us to exercise a special care for them. Throughout the world, in the region and in our own land we are faced with the vexing question of migrants both legal and illegal. The Old Testament reading says we are to care for them and treat them kindly. These are the persons referred to in the Old Testament as aliens/strangers.

As Christians our relationships with people must be grounded in biblical teaching and practice. Does the bible have anything to say about immigration? The establishment of the nation Israel begins with a call to our patriarch Abraham to leave his country: “"Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1). Here, Abraham is commanded to leave his homeland and relatives and to become an immigrant in an unknown land, a land which promised a better life and a better future. Another immigration story is found in the Joseph narratives in Genesis. Joseph’s father Jacob and his brothers went to Egypt at the time of the famine to buy food and at the end of the famine they settled in Egypt and spent 400 hundred years there. Also in the New Testament one finds stories of immigration. At Jesus’ birth his parents fled to Egypt to escape the cruelty and violence of Herod who sought to kill the baby Jesus.

There are a number of passages that speak to the issue of immigrants, called aliens or strangers in the bible:
"Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt"                                            Exodus22:21

When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.                                                       Leviticus 19:33, 34

Do not mistreat the alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt. Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know what it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt.                                                                                                 Exodus 23:9

Cursed is the man who withholds justice from the alien, the fatherless or the widow.                                                                                                                                Deuteronomy 27:19

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.                                                                                                   Hebrews 13:2

All governments have a responsibility to ensure that the laws of their countries are observed and that law breakers be disciplined. It is also true that regulations should be put in place to prevent unbridled immigration in the interest of a nation’s security. No one can deny any government these rights.

For the Christian community the present discussion about immigration is not strictly a legal issue but also a moral concern. In this situation the church as the moral conscience of the society has a responsibility to offer a perspective that is rational, just, loving and impartial. As a church we do not speak as politicians but as God’s agents who seek justice in all situations. We do not speak as social workers but as God’s representatives who understand what it means to be merciful, loving and compassionate. As we exercise this ministry we endeavour to be faithful to God who commands us to be kind to aliens.

Unfortunately, our claim to be a Christian community is a matter of convenience. Weeks ago we were claiming to be a Christian nation and asking government to ban shows on Sundays but many of the comments and attitudes as they relate to immigration betray our Christianity. One is appalled at the comments being made by some of our people; comments that lack love and seem to be motivated by hate. Not the kind of remarks one associates with a people that claim to be guided by Christian principles. Our Christian faith must inform all our actions and cannot be held in isolation. The challenge we face as a people in dealing with the problem of  immigration is to exercise our laws with compassion and justice. The challenge we have as we seek to regulate the problem is not to act because we have the right to act but to do the right thing. In order to do the right thing requires that we do the most loving thing.  As Christians we do not emphasise ‘being right’ but doing ‘what is right.’

When they speak about aliens, the biblical writers always make reference to Israel’s Egyptian experience, ‘remember you were once slaves in Egypt.” This reminder was a call to Israel to be kind, compassionate and caring in its relationships with immigrants. This teaching was based on Israel’s real experiences whose people travelled to foreign lands and were often exploited and abused. Because of this experience Israel must have a special care for aliens-immigrants. The same is true for us at this time. Our past history of abuse, oppression and exploitation must inform our actions. We must not allow affluence and prosperity to prevent us from being kind to the stranger within the gate. This was a problem the Jews faced and so they were constantly reminded that they were once slaves in Egypt, so be kind to the poor, strangers, widows and children. People throughout the world must be kind to strangers. In all our actions we must remember the measure we give is the measure we will get.

Christians contribution to any debate about immigration must be rational and honest. We cannot follow others and allow fear, envy and jealousy to colour our views. These lead to prejudice and discrimination which can cause us to be unkind. Our thinking must be informed by the great commandment to love God and your neighbour and the Golden Rule.

The present crisis we face if it can be called a crisis is a challenge for the region to further the cause of integration. It is more than a legal problem. It goes to the core of our political, social and economic life. We should see it as a call to work for the eradication of poverty in the region and the creation of just societies that would allow for all to enjoy a decent standard of living. If some countries in the region prosper and others continue to be undeveloped, people will continue to leave their lands in search of a better life. Desperate people will always seek to escape from their social prisons and move to lands that offer them a promise of new life. The challenge to the region is to find solutions to the economic and social problems that cause people to want to leave their countries. No one nation can bask in its progress and forget those left behind. We need to come together as one and work for the common good of the region. The answer to the immigration problem requires all the nations of the region to unite as one and work for the common good as we tackle the political, social and economic problems that make life miserable for some of our people. As St. Paul writes to the Corinthians: “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together” (1 Corinthians 12:26).

Notwithstanding the problems that can arise from unregulated immigration, we should count it a joy that we as a nation can help people in their time of need. This has always been part of our character, helping people in time of need.  This aspect of our national life must continue to be given prominence as we reach out to our brothers and sisters who cry to us in their time of need. This is the message of today’s New Testament reading. We are to follow the example of the church in Macedonia and be generous and liberal as we seek to bring relief to the needs of others.
Our text "If there is among you a poor man, one of your brethren, in any of your towns within your land which the LORD your God gives you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother” can inform us of the way we are to act as we deal with the vexing question of immigration. This text says treatment of the strangers within our gates must be humane and compassionate. We must not become over zealous in our actions and fail to recognize the rights of each person as one who is made in the image of God. We must treat all people with dignity and respect. We must be kind, merciful and loving to all and in every situation do what is most loving. This is not to sanction illegal immigration but a challenge to be faithful to the biblical instruction to be kind to aliens as we seek to enforce the law of the land.

As we struggle with the problem of immigrants it is not one that will not go away easily.  Let us handle it with a sense of justice and compassion and refrain as individuals and a nation from doing anything that would damage our good image in the region.

When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.                                                                                                                                                   Leviticus 19:33, 34

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