The issue of immigration is especially hot in America now. There seems to be no definite way of dealing with it, without hurting innocent children and others who had no idea that this would take place. Yet people of faith can provide some voice on what to be done and participate in healing of families. I think this is what Jesus would have done, because being an immigrant has its own blessings as well as difficulties. Jesus the first missionary prays to the Father, “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world” (John 17:18). When immigrants move to the United States or another country, they move with their values, their unchanged attitudes, way of living, and their way of worship. They come or go to live in a world that belongs to God though geographically not their home.
Immigrants in America come from Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and other places. Listening to them in shopping malls and other places will tell one that many are predominantly non-English speaking, to such an extent that they require interpreters in many sectors of life. It is true that, when one meets new immigrants, then, factors of ethnicity, their length of stay in the US, and their place of origin will have affected the way they live. Many of these people are refugees attempting to escape political, religious, and racial persecution. The cases of Sudan, Somalia, Rwanda-Burundi and the Congo are some good examples. Others are coming from countries whose social, political, and economic conditions do not allow them to have access to the basics of life. Others like me come for further studies, only for God to assign them other duties to do. What can the church do when faced with such people?
The Samaritan woman by the well was willing to give the Jewish stranger, or anyone else who passed by, water from Jacob’s well. She was, in a more candid way, willing to be inclusive if a Jew needed a drink badly enough to ask for it! It was a human service, geared toward meeting a human need that made her more than willing to cross the barrier of social custom that very hot day. It was a willingness to venture into new horizons in obedience to the voice of God. In the same way, we (the church) are called to help those who are in need of shelter, food, and health care. We are called to do what Jesus would have done, were the son of God carrying on the task today.
The ministry of Jesus included healing broken minds, bodies, and souls, a demonstration of love, grace, and power for God’s people. From an African perspective, the purpose of the church and any community is to strengthen and restore relationships for the sake of the fullness of life.
The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 is a thorn in the flesh for many immigrants. This Reform further marginalizes the immigrants by taking away their basic human rights, such as education and health care. For example, welfare reform prohibits many immigrants from receiving social services such as food stamps and Supplementary Security Income. These are some of the things that a needy person, who is a child of God and a human being, needs the most.
Finally, the United States is a multicultural, multilingual, and multiethnic country with a mixture of cultures, traditions and languages. The face of this country is constantly changing and these changes represent a missionary opportunity. One only needs to look at our neighborhoods, schools, malls, and workplaces, to see all the richness which might be utilized. Can the immigrant church rise to the occasion and meet the challenge? The United States presents a mission field opportunity for the immigrant church. With large numbers of immigrant churches, and the high rate of church closings which leave empty buildings, there is an opportunity for immigrants to come together in worship and buy some of these buildings.
The church is the advocate for immigrants if they come face to face with discrimination in employment, education, and housing. I have participated in several workshops organized by Immigrants Justice Advocacy Movement (IJAM) in Kansas City, Kansas and Kansas City, Missouri. I also participate in the Presbyterian Urban and Immigrant Ministries Net work in Heartland Presbytery. Although our voice may not be heard by anyone, God hears our prayers and knows that we are doing what we have been called to do; to speak on behalf of the poor, needy and afflicted. Together, the American church and the immigrant church can do something towards this. Let us keep on praying and doing the right thing in the eyes of God.
David Ndavi Nzioka was born and raised in Thwake Village, Kenya, where he received his background education. After receiving his theological education from the Presbyterian university in Kenya, David was licensed and ordained in the Presbyterian Church of East Africa. He served the PCEA congregation at Nanyuki then for five years. He came for his Masters of Divinity degree at Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, before proceeding for his doctoral studies at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa. The Rev. Dr. Nzioka leads Neema Community Church in Overland Park, Kansas, an immigrant and multicultural congregation that includes many people from Kenya and Tanzania. David is happily married to Dorothy Ndavi, and they have three children: Faith, Stephen and Rhoda.