God's Calling to be Welcomers

By Jessica Udall

Editor, Loving the Stranger Blog

In many American churches, there can be politically-based hesitance to get involved in welcoming immigrants. While debates on specific legislation regarding the immigration system are healthy and it is legitimate for believers to have differing opinions on these matters, our calling to love others makes practical matters simple. We are called to love the person in front of us, regardless of where that person was born. We are called to welcome as God welcomes.

Our God is a welcomer. Throughout Scripture, he is seen as a host, providing food in the wilderness (Exodus 16-17), preparing a table for David, anointing his head with oil, and making his cup overflow (Psalm 23), caring for people’s bodies as well as their souls (Luke 9:10-17), framing the kingdom of heaven as a king giving an invitation to the poor and marginalized to come to a feast (Matthew 22:1-14), and culminating in all nations, tribes, and tongues entering in to the marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:6-8).

Based upon God’s welcome, God’s people are to welcome others as well: “Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Romans 15:7). Welcoming one another is easier when we see others as having been made in the very image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). No matter where immigrants have come from and how they have gotten here, God’s divine imprint is on them and they are incredibly precious to him.

Also, Jesus tells believers clearly that whatever they do for “the least of these” with whom they come into contact, they have done it “unto Me” (Matthew 25:40). In this passage, Jesus specifically mentions: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me in” (Matthew 25:35). In reaching out and accepting a stranger as one of us, we are in a mysterious but real way getting closer to Jesus. What an incredible gift!

God is concerned for the well-being of the vulnerable, and he also mentions strangers in the Old Testament, urging: “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:33-34). God goes beyond telling his people to simply not harm foreigners; instead, they are called to love them as much as they love themselves, in the spirit of “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31).

In the US, we are a nation of immigrants. Most of us don’t have to go back too many generations to see immigrants in our own family trees. We should remember that our families were once strangers in America too. Beyond this, spiritually speaking, we Gentiles who believe were once strangers but have now been “brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13-14). In these ways, many Americans have commonality with immigrants.

The immigrants in our communities have come from far-flung corners of the globe to be our neighbors. Welcoming them and building cross-cultural friendships gives us the opportunity to experience a foretaste of what heaven will be like: full of all nations, tribes, and tongues (Revelation 7:9).

Regardless of our opinions regarding specific immigration policies or legislation, as believers we can and should agree that we are called to welcome the immigrant in front of us as we ourselves have been welcomed, and to love strangers just as we were loved when we ourselves were strangers, in anticipation of the multicultural worship that we will experience in the ages to come, glorifying God together.