God is a Missionary God

In Genesis 12:3, God gave Abram a promise: “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (NKJV) The word “families” is not referring to a father, a mother, and children. It’s a word that means “tribe” or “people” and is similar to the term “people group”. This blessing of Abraham is to all peoples of the earth. This means that the Gospel to the Gentiles is not a plan B. Sometimes we get the idea that God’s plan A was that the Jews alone were to be His special people, but they rejected Jesus their Messiah so God went to plan B – the Gospel to the Gentiles. But Scripture is clear from beginning to end that it has always been the heart of God from eternity past to bring people from every family, tribe, and ethnic group into His family (see Ephesians 1:3-6 & 3:8-9). God is a missionary God!

We can probably all say “amen” to that! But what about when it gets a little closer to home?

Every year millions of foreigners enter the United States. According to the Center for Immigration Studies, from second quarter 2014 to the second quarter of 2015, 1.7 million new immigrants entered the United States.1 Last year the United States foreign born population (legal and illegal) hit a record high of 42.1 million.2 That’s about 13% of the United States population. But if we factor in the children born to immigrant families, we find that first and second generation immigrants make up 25% of the overall United States population.3 According to the Pew Research Center, in 50 years, first and second generation immigrants will make up 36% of the Unites States population.4 This trend will almost certainly continue. Projections indicate that through 2060, the immigrant population will grow nearly four times faster than the native-born population.5 That means that it won’t be long until those of us who are used to being the majority will become the minority.

What is our response to these kinds of projections? Is it alarm, fear, or anger? How should we respond?

The “Great Wall”

Donald Trump has boasted that, if he is elected president, he will deport the 11 million illegal aliens, build a “great, great wall on our southern board”, and get Mexico to pay for it.6 If we are concerned for America’s economy and national security, then it makes sense to build a wall. But, as followers of Christ, our main concern is not, “What makes sense for America?” but rather, “What does God say?” Actually, God has said quite a bit on the subject.

God says in Leviticus 19:33-34:“And if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him. The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” (NKJV). The word “stranger” means “foreigner” or “immigrant”. We are not only to tolerate the immigrant, but we are also commanded to welcome him and treat him as a citizen. God gives two reasons: “You were strangers” and “I am the Lord your God”. That’s a good reminder. Unless you have Native American ancestry, your ancestors were also once strangers in the United States. The second reason needs no explanation. When God commands something and tells us to obey because “I am the Lord your God,” then we had better take it seriously!

In Deuteronomy 24:19, God says, “When you reap your harvest in your field, and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.” (NKJV) In the world’s economy, protecting your investments is the sensible thing to do. Keeping out the illegal aliens who are “taking away our jobs” seems to make sense. But it’s different in God’s economy. Give to the poor and the immigrant, and God says He will bless the work of your hands.

It makes me sad when I hear Christians talking about building walls and defending our borders. I think they are really missing the heart of God. Instead of taking our cues from talk show radio, we need to be listening to God. Deuteronomy 10:17-18 reveals God’s heart for the immigrant. “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe. 18He administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing. Therefore love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. You shall fear the Lord your God” (NKJV).

God is not in the business of building walls; he is in the business of tearing them down. Ephesians 2:14 says that Jesus has broken down the “middle wall of partition”. The wall of partition is a reference to the wall in the temple courtyard that separated Gentile worshippers from Jewish worshippers. Jesus has torn that wall down. That’s the heart of God!

God’s Perspective on Immigration

There is a very interesting passage in Acts that gives us some insight into God’s perspective on immigration: “And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.” (Acts 17:26-27, NKJV)

The phrase “one blood” reminds us that we all share a common ancestry. We are all descendants of Adam. There are no superior races. No matter the color of our skin, the color of our blood is the same when we bleed. The phrase “determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings”, tells us that God is sovereign over national borders, and He is sovereign over the movements of peoples across those borders. That means God is sovereign over the migration of millions of foreigners into the United States each year. So why does God keep his hand on the movements of peoples? Verse 27 gives us the answer: “So that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him.”

Have you ever thought about that? Maybe the reason God has allowed millions of people to be displaced from their homes in Iraq and Syria, and maybe the reason He is allowing millions of immigrants from around the world to enter the United States and settle in our communities is for that very reason. God is bringing them to us, so that they might find Him. Maybe we haven’t been as obedient as we should have been in going into all the world as Jesus commanded us, so God is bringing the world to us. Maybe instead of seeing immigration as a threat, we should see it as an opportunity!

These people are groping, reaching out blindly, and searching for something. Even though God is not far from any one of us, they are not able to find Him. They desperately need someone to show them the way. In fact, this is happening today in refugee camps. Many of those refugees fleeing from ISIS are Muslims themselves, and some of them are being helped by Christians. Through this crisis, God is opening the hearts of Muslims to the Gospel in ways that we have never seen before. Many Muslims are coming to faith in Christ and are being baptized!

God tells us in Romans 12:13 that we should be “given to hospitality.” We often think of hospitality in terms of having friends over for dinner. That is part of it, but the word literally means “love of strangers.” God is sending strangers to our home communities, and He commands us to love them, welcome them, and show them hospitality.

Many of the immigrants that God is bringing to us are from unreached people groups. Most of them have never heard the Good News. But the sad news is that these people can move into our communities, live next door to our churches, and still die without ever hearing the Gospel.

The barriers of fear and racism and complacency that divide people will still be there, until God’s people catch his vision for the stranger, and get up the courage to step across those barriers. What if Christians, instead of talking about building walls, would start getting radical and doing what God says. What if we would start “entertaining the strangers” (Hebrews 13:2) and welcoming them into our lives and our homes? “The way that the nations will see Christ is when they actually experience the love of Christ through us.”7

Sadie Henry Blank lives in Queens, NY with his wife Deborah and four children. He is director at the Mission Training Center in NYC and serves on the leadership team of Life in Christ Mennonite Church. He is passionate about the Word of God and challenging people to view all of life through the lens of scripture. He plays guitar and has rather diverse tastes in music – from bluegrass to Beethoven. He loves ethnic food and his favorite pastime is road cycling.

End Notes

1. “Immigrant Population Hits Record 42.1 Million in 2nd Quarter.” Immigrant Population Hits Record 42.1 Million in 2nd Quarter. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Aug. 2016.
2. Ibid
3. Zong, Jie, and Jeanne Batalova. “Frequently Requested Statistics on Immigrants and Immigration in the United States.” Migrationpolicy.org. Migration Policy Institute, 25 Feb. 2015. Web. 29 Aug. 2016.
4. “Chapter 2: Immigration’s Impact on Past and Future U.S. Population Change.” Pewhispanic.org. Pew Research, 28 Sept. 2015. Web. 29 Aug. 2016.
5. Zeigler, Karen. “Immigrant Population to Hit Highest Percentage Ever in 8 Years.” CIS.org. Center for Immigration Studies, n.d. Web. 29 Aug. 2016.
6. Valverde, Miriam. “How Trump Plans to Build a Wall, and Make Mexico Pay for It.” PolitiFact.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Aug. 2016.
7. “The Foreigner Among Us.” Youtube.com. YouTube, 28 Mar. 2016. Web. 29 Aug. 2016.

9 thoughts on “God is a Missionary God

  1. Henry, excellent article! We are often far more interested in our own convenience than joining God in His quest to bring people to Himself. There is one small statement that I disagree with. You said, “If we are concerned for America’s economy and national security, then it makes sense to build a wall.” By keeping workers from coming in to take jobs we force companies to relocate to other countries. This can do even more damage to the American job market than inviting in workers could ever do. A wall may pose a security threat from the ill will that it fosters. You are spot on that God invites us to join Him in bringing strangers into our communities and lives. Keep up the good work brother.

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    1. Sorry, Jeremy, I just realized that you commented on my article. I wasn’t ignoring you! Thanks for the feedback. I agree with your comments about jobs. That statement wasn’t very well thought through. I made that point because it’s something a lot of people worry about. What I was trying to say is that it doesn’t really matter to me if immigration hurts American jobs or not. What matters to me is what God says.

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  2. I agree with the idea that we need to share the gospel with strangers which would include immigrants. However it would be wrong to suggest the immigrants should be encouraged to migrate illegally. If the land has an immigration law then I want to encourage migrants to migrate legally which would conform to the will of God. If they have already migrated illegally I don’t want to be the one encouraging them to hide from the consequences of their illegal act. Again the gospel needs to be shared with them whatever they may have done. If the governing authority of our land is making it to hard to migrate then in my opinion it would be appropriate to try and change the law. Maybe I can share the gospel with the law makers while I am connecting with them.

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    1. Harvey, thank you for your thoughts. I agree with you in principle that immigrants should obey the laws on immigration but let me propose a thought experiment. If you were run off your land and you and your family were in imminent danger from the war in your country. What might you do?

      You first move to the refugee camp where sickness and disease spreads rapidly and medical help is limited. In the camp your wife and children suffer sexual harassment and you fear that rape is an imminent possibility.

      One day you have the chance to sneak across the boarder illegally and stay with your brother and his family. In fear for your family’s safety you immigrate illegally. You get a job, buy a house and have other children born in this new country. Through-out this time you work on getting your citizenship.

      After living there for 5 years you are stopped at random check point and you are taken back to your country of origin. You are told that you must immigrate legally. After finding a shelter to sleep in you go to the immigration office. They tell you that you may or may not be able to immigrate but that it will be 5 years of paper work and waiting before you know for sure.

      What happened to the Statue of Liberty that says,
      “Give me your tired, your poor,
      Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
      The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
      Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
      I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
      What happened to our God who says in Leviticus 24:22, “This same standard applies both to native-born Israelites and to the foreigners living among you. I am the LORD your God.”

      The stories I mention here are true, I have heard them first hand from friends who have lived through them.

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    2. Sorry this is a little late. I just realized there were comments. I hear where you are coming from. I agree. I am not going to encourage anyone to break the law. What I’m concerned with is how do we respond to the immigrants who are here in our communities. I believe we are called to reach out to them, love them, help them whether they are legal or illegal immigrants. I don’t think it is my job to report them to the INS.

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  3. I am thankful that Swiss and Germans were allowed to immigrate in the 1700’s, or I might not have grown up with this freedom that I have…
    We have a mission field brought to us! The many Guatemalans/Mexicans in my community are an opportunity to minister. I don’t even have to move to their country (although I wouldn’t mind)
    When we see the Hand of God in our lives, this fear is a non-issue!
    -Wendy Weaver

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