Worldwide, there is an estimated 191 million immigrants. 60% live in developed countries (20% US, 33% Europe, 7% other countries). Like people everywhere these immigrants just want a safer and more stable life. That was the story for both my grandmother and grandfather who left Norway after World War 1 and before the German’s would invade and destroy much of the country in World War 2. They sought opportunity and met and married in Chicago.
My grandparents worked hard – my grandfather as a painter, my grandmother as a nanny and both also worked as janitors in a church where they were allowed to live in the basement. Their story is not uncommon. We have a rich history of welcoming immigrants. But today we have replaced the hope of immigration with fear.
Immigrants frequently live in fear of profiling, harassment, exploitation and abuse. Without information and advocacy they continue to suffer in the shadows. Sadly, that is not new. In the 1870’s when a wave of German immigrants came to America, they found themselves exploited. People took advantage of them in labor, with contracts, and in housing. A group of businessmen believed such treatment was wrong and pooled their resources to create the first legal aid lawyer. Their German Immigration Society would later become the Legal Aid Society of New York which is today the oldest and largest legal aid organization.
With the Bible having much to say about the immigrant (sojourner, alien, stranger), it is surprising to me how slow the church has been to address the legal needs of the immigrant. Exploitation continues and while many in the church have risen to the advocacy role of policy change, we are not responding to the legal needs of our immigrant neighbor. Like those German businessmen in the 1870’s can’t we in the church, see that failure to pay wages to immigrants is wrong. “Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your field are crying out against you.” James 5:4. Why are there almost no Christian Legal Aid organizations to address such wrongs? Many churches have lawyers. The community has legal needs. Why not open the doors of a church to meet these needs?
The church has a great history of sending missionaries overseas to learn a culture, engage injustice, and see people come to faith in Christ. Today the nations are on our doorstep. Why not do the same in our own neighborhood? That same great commission that sends people half way around the world begins in our backyard.
Rosa emigrated to the U.S. from the Philippines in hopes her husband could receive needed medical treatment. She worked long hard hours in a factory receiving minimum wage but had health benefits. Her husband underwent surgery only to have the hospital sue them for failure to pay. Overwrought Rosa did not understand. She learned of a church legal aid ministry where she found an attorney who investigated and learned the employer paid no insurance but stole from all the immigrant employees assuming they could take no action against him. With the help of an attorney, he thought wrong and was forced to pay all the damages. Rosa was so relieved. She had been unable to sleep and was afraid, but when the lawyer prayed for her and the church walked alongside her, she was changed. She had not expected such treatment toward an immigrant.
What a ministry opportunity! The world is on our doorstep. Our neighbors need our help and honestly, like the injured man on the Jericho Road, they assume the church will walk on by. There is great power when we stop and cross racial, ethnic, immigrant and other lines to serve another person made in the image of God. Isn’t that what Christ would do, and He ask us to
Go and Do Likewise!