By Chris Turner
TBMB Communications Director
The plane taxied to a stop and flight attendants opened both the forward and rear doors for us to disembark. As I rose from my seat, a smell hit me like a sucker punch and triggered a gag reflex. People cleared a space. Fortunately, it turned out well for everyone.
“Oh, that’s just Calcutta,” he responded with a chuckle. “You get used to it after a few months.”
As an overseas correspondent with the International Mission Board, I worked in approximately 40 countries on five continents. I’ve been in drug houses in Suriname, prisons in Honduras, displaced people camps in Uganda and more. The places were putrefying.
But the people weren’t. I have met some of the most gracious and beautiful people living in the most squalid conditions. All people everywhere have dignity because they are created in God’s image. I quickly learned a person’s worth is not determined by their circumstances. Every country, including America, has incredibly beautiful places and shockingly awful places, but it is in a nation’s people where the true beauty lies.
Our country currently finds itself embroiled in a contentious debate over immigration. The opinions are passionate and some of the comments are unhelpful. We have to balance the security and stability of America with the offer of freedom, hope and opportunity America has historically extended to the world. It is an extremely complicated issue and it is naïve to think there is a clear-cut solution.
But what deeply concerns me as a Christian and as an American is the absence of compassion in the discussion. The fates of people – people – are batted back and forth at the highest levels of our government, and down at the local coffee shop, like cattlemen dickering over bovine prices at a cattle auction. I fully recognize we can’t “let everyone in,” but surely we can say no without belittling the dignity of those not born American. Compassion and immigration reform are not a paradox, or at least they shouldn’t be.
I recently quoted Deuteronomy 10:18-19: “He ensures that orphans and widows receive justice. He shows love to the foreigners living among you and gives them food and clothing. So you, too, must show love to foreigners, for you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt.” I was mildly reprimanded by a Christian brother who said I can’t use Old Testament passages to build American foreign policy, and I agree. America is not Israel. However, my point lies in the spirit of the directive. God is always concerned about heart issues, and as Christians, we do not have the luxury of dichotomizing compassion and foreign policy. The Great Commission is not contingent upon our nation’s immigration laws or the legal status of an immigrant.
Personally, I’ve thought a lot about my responsibility as a citizen of both God’s Kingdom and America. Here’s where I landed. I pass these along with the hope they might help others.
- Pray for “kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity” (1 Timothy 2:2). Our president, legislators and judges need God’s wisdom in making huge decisions. Pray to that end.
- Pray for countries by name. Much of the world’s people live under oppressive and corrupt governments. They desire to escape oppression and experience the freedom our families enjoy. Pray God will establish global leaders who serve with justice and mercy.
- Ask God to give you a heart of love and compassion for internationals. If we don’t love people we will never have compassion for them, and we are commanded by God to love Him and to love others.
- Pray for and connect with internationals in your community. Any way you slice it, Tennessee is a mission field with more than 145 global people groups; about 40 of which are among the world’s most unreached with the gospel. Be an international missionary without leaving your hometown.
- Share the gospel. America will never solve the great spiritual need people have; only Jesus can do that. “But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!” (Romans 10:14-15).
Yes, immigration reform is a messy, complicated issue and we need appropriate laws, but at least one part of the issue is crystal clear for the Christian. The world is a spiritually stinky, smelly, putrefying cesspool of a place to which we are called to go in love and take the Good News of Jesus Christ and make disciples of all nations.
And sometimes, the nations may be the family living in the house next door.