God not only shows compassion and mercy toward foreigners in the Bible, but also uses people in their condition as immigrants to fulfill his divine purposes in the world.
God’s own people came into being as a result of a migrant’s obedience to God’s call to leave his land, family and people.
Abraham embarks on a pilgrimage to a land God promises to show him. He becomes a pilgrim, a stranger and immigrant through whom God covenants to bless all nations of the earth (see Genesis 12:1-2).
Another example is Joseph. After being sold as a slave by his brothers, he is sent to Egypt where he is forced to become an alien, a stranger, an immigrant.
Living as an immigrant in Egypt, Joseph faces rejection, false charges, ill treatment, undeserved imprisonment and loneliness.
God breaks into the life of this forgotten immigrant and rescues him, providing Joseph wisdom to save his family, all of Egypt and surrounding nations from famine (see Genesis 37;39-47).
In 2 Kings 5:1-19, we find the story of Naaman who owns a female slave, taken captive to serve the household of this powerful military officer.
She is a seemingly insignificant immigrant woman, but God uses the faithful witness of this nameless immigrant woman to point Naaman to a prophet of God who can help him.
God demonstrates through an immigrant his care for and love of Naaman, who receives healing and turns to faith in the God of Israel.
Esther serves as another example of how God uses immigrants for his redemptive purposes.
As a descendent of immigrants and a woman, she was likely regarded as a second-class citizen without social status or wealth.
But her beauty and skillful cultural assimilation help her to be chosen as part of the king’s harem (see Esther 2:7).
She becomes queen in one of the most powerful nations of the earth (see Esther 2:17,18), and from her position, she makes herself available to God and risked her life to save her people from annihilation (see Esther 4:11-14).
We find yet another example in the life of Daniel. He is forced into exile as a prisoner. While in exile and as an immigrant, he becomes a trusted counselor for the king of Babylon (see Daniel 2:48).
Matthew’s gospel tells us when King Herod threatens to kill Jesus, an angel urges Joseph to flee to Egypt with Mary and Jesus (see Matthew 2:13-14). Jesus and his family become immigrants, refugees, in the land of Egypt.
Later in his life, Jesus identifies himself with immigrants. “I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (see Matthew 25:35).
Once more, Jesus’ followers are regarded as pilgrims; they are a community of immigrants (see 1 Peter 2:11 and Hebrews 11:13-16).
It seems as if God delights using those who are seemingly weak and marginalized in their positions as immigrants to carry out his mission and purposes in the world.
How is God using Hispanic immigrants to fulfill his purposes across the globe today? Let me share two brief stories that provide an answer.
Abraham immigrated to the United States a few years ago from San Cristobal de las Casas in the Mexican state of Chiapas – the most impoverished state in Mexico.
As descendent of indigenous people who speaks Tzotzil, he works as a cook at a Mexican restaurant.
This has allowed him to support the planting and construction of new churches in rural communities near his hometown where none existed.
“God has blessed me so much,” he said. “I know what I do is a little, but I do it because I am thankful to God.”
Alexander is another immigrant from Chiapas. “One afternoon,” he said, “I was thoughtful and stared at the zinc sheets that made up the walls of our kitchen. At that time, my dad was an alcoholic … I was alone, I was 16 years old and I stared at the sides of the walls.”
He said, “I thought about how we lived. I wanted a house made out of better materials. That was what I saw. So I set that goal. God willing, I would try to come to the United States and do the things I had on my mind.”
After years of back-breaking labor as farm workers in the U.S., Alex and his wife achieved their dream of building their house in Chiapas. But that’s not all.
As in numerous rural communities in Mexico, their community lacked a high school.
Those who wanted a high school degree needed to travel to the nearest city, which was about four hours away. That required significant economic resources not available to most people in the community.
Last year, the Chiapas education department approved a high school teacher for the community, but there was no building.
When Alex and his wife learned of the need, they made their house available, at no charge, to the students. For the first time, 18 youth will have the opportunity to obtain a high school degree.
Abraham and Alex’s stories are only two examples of how God is using immigrants to impact positively their communities. Undoubtedly, there are scores of other stories of immigrants who are doing so.
Can we imagine what God is up to with the moving of people across borders? Can we envision what God might want to do through the Hispanic immigrants across the U.S.?
Juan AragÃ³n is the Hispanic ministries’ strategist for the West Virginia Baptist Convention of the American Baptist Churches, USA. A longer version of this article first appeared in the April-May 2015 edition of The West Virginia Baptist Newsletter and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @jaragongarcia.