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December 2, 2013

What the Church Needs to Know about Immigration

An Interview with Jenny Yang, Vice President of Advocacy and Policy for World Relief


Immigration was one of the hot-button issues of the last presidential election, and it continues to be a divisive issue in the halls of Washington DC today. Unfortunately, far too many Christians and evangelical churches are uneducated on this important issue or taking their “facts” from opinionated and unresearched political and media sources that do not have a holistic Christian worldview.

There is no doubt about it, immigration is a source of tension for all of us. Thankfully, World Relief has made it their mission to “empower the local Church to serve the most vulnerable” and that includes standing for displaced refugees and immigrants.

What are some misperceptions about immigration that the church needs to understand?

There are a few things a lot of churches should know about refugees and immigrants. A lot of them actually come into this country having left everything behind, especially refugees who are fleeing persecution because of war and conflict, or they’re being targeted because of their faith. Literally, they step off a plane in the United States and all they have in their possession are two bags of clothes or a bag of clothes and some pots and pans. When they come here, they just need help in understanding how to manage day-to-day, transition into their new entry-level jobs, and how to get from one place to another. A lot of them need our help learning English and assistance with child care.

Since many of them have gone through really traumatic experiences overseas, they are looking for friendship and partnership, and support for their families. There’s a lot of need for them to navigate some of the legal processes and be aware of the services that are available to them. Imagine if you went to a foreign country and you don’t know the language. Think of the basic things you would want help with from a local person, and those are exactly the things that refugees and immigrants really need. So like the rest of us, they are looking for help with basic needs and a friend. They don’t need a lot.

Concerning undocumented immigrants, it’s really hard for them to get right with the law and integrate fully because they don’t have legal status. In the end, the church has to stand in the gap to speak up for better policies and laws that are actually affecting refugees and immigrants. When we have millions of people in our country who are undocumented, it’s our responsibility to speak up and call for immigration reform that will change the immigration laws so immigrants can have an opportunity to get right with the law and earn the right to stay in this country.

We can all do a better job of understanding cultures that are different than our own. For those of us who have taken the strides, I feel like we receive more from immigrants than we would ever be able to give them. In general, refugees and immigrants are really resilient people. Hearing their stories of what they went through and understanding all the ways that God is working through their lives really expands our mission of how God moves and how God works all around the world. So I think partnering with refugees provides a great opportunity for churches to welcome and to receive a lot from refugees and immigrants by expanding their view of God.

It’s my hope that churches will partner with immigrant churches and really start to understand their needs. And it’s not about us giving; it’s actually about us partnering with churches that are already there, and insuring that our relationships develop.

Thank you so much for sharing this critical information with us. In the conversations concerning justice, we often speak of changing the way we see other people and breaking down racial, ethnic, and social/economic barriers. From your perspective, can you speak to the importance of raising the Asian American voice in the church?

Yes. It’s amazing because when you look at the demographics of the United States, the Asian American population is probably one of the fastest growing minority groups in the United States, and because of that a lot of immigrants come to the U.S. I know a lot of Koreans come to the U.S., and a lot of them are very strong believers. So I hope that the American church is really open to learning from the Korean American or the Asian American community because the way that we understand our theology and the different ways we experience God are all ways that can expand God’s vision in the American church. I actually think God is bringing immigrants here for a reason and maybe part of that reason is to revitalize the evangelical church of the United States.

The American church needs to understand the value that immigrants bring. They’re very family-oriented, they’re very hard working. There are so many values that immigrants have which can potentially bring America back to our core values. I think immigrant churches, including the Asian American church, is going to be fundamental to Americans returning to the core message of the gospel.

You share the sentiments of author Soong Chan Rah, who made this excellent point in his book The Next Evangelicalism:

“Too often the future of America evangelism is viewed as a battle over the heart and soul of middle America (i.e. white America), when the restoration of faith in American culture may actually depend on the ongoing growth of immigrant and ethnic minority Christian communities. So what is the response of the white evangelical community to the changing face of America? So far, it has been one of conspicuous silence on the issue of immigration…How much of our view on immigration is driven by a political and social agenda rather than a biblical one?” (InterVarsity Press, 2009, page 75)

I am aware that you also have a book that can better help us understand these issues.

Yes, the book is titled Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion and Truth in the Immigration Debate. I co-wrote it with Matthew Soerens, who also works at World Relief. We wrote the book together because for so many years, we were getting asked the same exact questions at churches, questions like Why can’t immigrants come the legal way? There is so much misinformation about who immigrants are, what impact they have on the U.S., so we wanted to have one resource which answered those important questions. This book has really served as a resource for churches to get their basic questions answered about immigration. In the end, we want Christians and churches to have that deep understanding based on the Bible, and we also want them to get engaged and to actually act on what they know.

Natasha Sistrunk Robinson is a writer, speaker, advocate, Women’s Mentoring Ministry Leader, and student at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary (M.A. Christian Leadership, May 2014). Connect with Natasha through her website,; blog, A Sista’s Journey; Twitter @asistasjourney and Facebook at NatashaSistrunkRobinson.


Thank you so much for this. I am a documented, English-speaking immigrant, and even so am facing a huge battle in an attempt to get a green card. I have found that very few of my brothers and sisters here are aware of how hard the laws are: tough on families and scary even for those who are trying to do things "legally" (our story on this is here : We need mercy and advocacy on this issue yet, and I'm thankful for this article and the move it represents.

It does seem that the world is coming to us and perhaps, like the Ethiopian eunuch, God will work through them to reach others for Christ in places where I cannot go. The difficulty Bronwyn is experiencing now as a legally documented immigrant, I believe, can be traced directly to the refusal of authorities to enforce the immigration laws already on the books. Many illegal immigrants are criminals and have fled to this country for no other purpose than to line their pockets with ill gotten gain at the expense of citizens and people like Bronwyn who respect the laws.

Before I am condemned for my position, I refer readers to Genesis 9:5, one of the places where we are reminded that human government was instituted by God Himself as divine author and authority. Romans 13:1-5 reminds we are to submit ourselves to the governing authorities because their authority is given by God Himself. Paul wrote these words when the nation of Israel was under the oppression of Rome's corrupt government.

The purpose of human government, as designed by God, is to protect, punish, and promote the welfare of the citizens and immigrants under its jurisdiction. One might argue, and be successful, that portions of all forms of government fail in at least one of these areas. May I interject here that government is NOT the answer to America's problems; that is not God's intention?

Romans 13: 2 speaks to the truth that to resist the authority placed over us is to resist the authority of God Himself, and those who do will bring judgment on themselves. I believe this works both ways; citizen's, immigrants, as well as those God has placed in positions of authority are rebelling when they do not submit to the laws (unless it requires going against God's law) and when they do not enforce the laws.

Even in small town America some illegal immigrants commit rapes, murders, fraudulently collect government assistance (in part because the governing authorities may not be enforcing laws as they should), drive without license or insurance, sell drugs, and the list could continue.

I must point out that illegal immigrants are criminals because they have broken laws to be here. Perhaps this seems harsh, but it is true. It is also true that citizens, legal immigrants, and others commit the same crimes.

I have no idea what I would choose to do if I were in their shoes. I cannot imagine what their lives are like. But does hardship excuse behavior? Does another's hardship make it right to punish the law-abiding and reward those who are not? I think not.

Does this mean I cannot, if given opportunity, help anyone who crosses my path with basic needs, including sharing the gospel (regardless of status)? No. Does it mean I have to condone the illegal status of undocumented immigrants? No. We are taught all through Scripture that actions have consequences (Adam and Eve, Moses, Sampson, Rahab, Mary and Joseph, David, etc.) some are harsh, some bring great blessing, but all bring glory to God.

Personally, I find parts of this interview insulting, to immigrant and citizen alike. If I, or any other American citizen, went to another country without proper documentation, no matter the valid reason for the visit, just how long do you think it would be before we would be deported? I doubt many would even get out of the airport or other point of entry. There seems to be an unwritten thesis that the laws of our nation are less important than those of other countries.

"So like the rest of us, they are looking for help with basic needs and a friend." Many of our own citizens need help with the most basic of needs yet they are being ignored for the sake of illegal immigrants. There are homeless, starving people who are looking for work. These citizens need our help and we have a responsibility to care for our own, but I seldom---if ever---hear their needs being championed by Christians or government with such passion.

"...the value they,...hardworking. There are...values that immigrants have which can potentially bring America back to our core values." (Doesn't mention teaching their families that the end justifies the means even if it requires breaking the law.) Millions of citizens are family-oriented, hardworking, and law-abiding people; many are struggling to hold on to the core values formed around the Word of God and their faith in Him. These families struggle to protect their children from the erosion of the moral center of this nation. Yet, often these very families are condemned for their beliefs. The words "double standard" comes to mind.

This nation will not be brought "back to our core values" by immigrants, legal or otherwise. America has a serious spiritual problem which can only be corrected if God's children living here turn back to Him and seek to reach those in our communities for Christ, whether citizens or not. Looking to immigrants as the savior of America's core values is ludicrous and ignores the truth that only God can save individuals within the borders of this nation and our nation itself, both in the present and for all eternity.

I find the quote from author Soong Chan Rah greatly disturbing. Are all God's children one skin color"( i.e. white America)"? "...the restoration of faith in American culture" is NOT America's greatest need. This nation can be healed if ALL God's children turn to Him and seek to live our lives as His children should, no matter what color God has chosen for their skin. I do not accept the laying of this responsibility at the feet of a group simply because of skin color. Reeks of finger-pointing and deflection of responsibility...nothing new, it began in the Garden of Eden.

I do, however, accept responsibility for not praying according to 1 Timothy 2:1-8. Paul exhorts God's children to pray for all, and for those "who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. ...I desire that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting."

Yes, my prayer life is anemic in this area. I believe if I, and all God's children, will turn to praying according to Scripture we will see the glory of God as never before in every aspect of the state of this nation and its citizens I must pray for all leaders, not just those whose policies I agree with, but all leaders in my nation and around the world.

Based on God's word, I believe this one action would bring about change we cannot even imagine. Will you join me in this resolve to pray as God wants His children to pray?

Bronwyn's situation represents an area of immigration law that perhaps should be streamlined so that those who respect our laws would be rewarded instead of held in limbo. I don't profess to know this area of law, but it seems that it should not be so difficult for those who are in compliance when those who are illegal seem to be put on the fast tract.

I don't have the answer, but I trust God to open my understanding so that I can reflect Him in my response to this issue in my own neighborhood. I trust God to change my heart and mind where my position is contrary to His, and will pray I am willing to be teachable and allow Him to work out His will in my life.

I trust Him to help me remember that all are created in His image and that Christ gave His life that they might be saved. There are basically only two groups of people in the entire world: the lost and the saved. I must see everyone with the eyes of Christ, but that doesn't mean actions no longer have consequences.

In the meantime, I cannot condone entering this country illegally, no matter the reason, for that would be to not submit to the governing authority placed over me.

Thank you for your response, Susan. It seems that more education might be needed concerning your assumptions and statistics of immigrants (legal or not in our country). Christians have been and continue to pray. Evangelical leaders (both political conservatives and liberals) have been locking arms to pray and work on this issue. As we look into the issue more, we find that more immigrants have stories like Bronwyn's and do not fit many of the stereotypes that you mentioned. There are just and unjust laws and what we are now talking about is the proper way to address systemic injustices. I think you will find after some research that the "laws on the books" do not paint as clear of path to citizenship as you may think. In addition to the Evangelical Immigration Table, I recommend reading Soong-Chan Rah's book as quoted above, and my racial reconciliation series: Blessings, Natasha

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