main menu

February 08, 2015

love, truth and immigrants

He was the slowest one in the hall. The last one to hand in his exam booklet, and that only when the lanky proctor stood directly in front of him, good-naturedly tapping his toe and urging him to finish. Before the oral portion of our exam, he was assigned to my small group. He sat next to me nervously, his greasy hair going every whichway, his black motorcycle jacket hanging loose. In heavily-accented words, he said he is twenty-nine.

Throughout the oral exam, he struggled to get simple phrases out, his mind jerking and lurching to produce the words. At the end, he asked in basic sentences about when the results would come. " the city...not much time left". The passing of the exam was probably a condition for his visa. My heart hurt for him as I stepped into the snow-swirls outside.

He is from Serbia. I came home and told my husband: "He's twenty-nine. Like me. How old would he have been when his country blew to pieces?" I knew my husband's memory of the documentary we watched about Yugoslavia would be better than mine. "Maybe ten." Ten. I was fort-building and tree-climbing. My husband was walking dogs or chasing squirrels. Our Serbian counterpart was learning firsthand what ethnic cleansing looked like. Even now, the tousle of his hair, the langsam way he answered the questions, too-old-for-his-years appearance showed me that we came from different worlds.

"I would like to have more children, but we are not settled yet. My relative, he had over fifty children....from three wives, that is." It's a leisurely Saturday afternoon and the man makes a few low jokes about taking a second wife himself. His (first) wife giggles along with him, as if his jokes are actually humorous. We're on our second round of small cups of tea; we show them a few wedding photos and exchange notes about language lessons and job opportunities. Their children are at the table, pasting and constructing a snowy scene to match the white apartment-scape outside their kitchen window. The son constructs human figures to add to the scenetheir family with an extra child in it, "He wants a sibling," his mother explains. Like father, like son.

I understand why a refugee family from Syria might be slow to have another child. Maybe they still wake at night hearing the sound of explosions or wondering when they'll need to run again. When I hear "refugee" and "Syria", I imagine a camel-hair tent or over-crowded dwellings with peeling paint. But their apartment is bright and pleasant. He's a doctor who speaks four languages. He has already found an entry-level job in his sector here, though he arrived less than two years ago. He a refugee, but he's also a high-achiever.

Who is she, the lady shielded by a thin head scarf? She converted and left her homeland to marry him. She's mild, but by her quick smile, her home, and her children, I know she must be an intelligent woman. It's obvious that she's glad we've visited. We know too, what it's like to be far from home. 

She dismisses herself for a scheduled prayer time. Later he does the same, except he prays rather demonstratively on a maroon rug a few metres from us. The kids don't pray, and us non-Syrians, we down more sweet tea.

Immigrants: Western Europe has them washing up on their seashores, coming by foot from father east, and piling up in refugee centres. All around me I see them, the non-locals. They've come here like it's the Promised Land. East moves West, bringing much of the East with it.

There's a thick South Asian woman on the light rail, with a few thin stalks of bhindi protruding from the top of her shopping bag. I can already imagine what she's making for supper. I hand four euros to the perhaps Central Asian man behind the shop counter. I buy popcorn and bulgar from him, but really I just wanted an excuse to visit the oddly messy and foreign-looking shop next door to the Casablanca barber full of Arabs where my husband gets his hair trimmed. I feel that these people are the foreigners, but when the woman at the photo store asks me a question I can't understand, let alone answer, I'm aware that I'm a foreigner here. I'm what the Good Book calls a "stranger".

During my wanderings through Exodus, I kept noticing the mentions of laws about treatment of the stranger or the foreigner. I wondered what Israel's immigration policy's were, and ended up doing a search of the word "stranger" in both Testaments, to see what I could learn.

One thing that stood out to me is that strangers are often lumped in with widows and orphans, and we all know how God feels about widows and orphans. God says that He Himself watches over the stranger and gives them food and clothing. He cares for the displaced. The Israelites were to emulate God by showing compassion to those who were far from home in their midst: extras of produce were to be left out for them, and part of their tithe would be used to help strangers, orphans and widows.

God always reminded Israel: "Remember, you were strangers in Egypt. So, have compassion on strangers in your midst. You will treat strangers much better in your country than the Egyptians treated you!"
  • Sabbaths and holidays were to be a rest day, for immigrants, too.
  • The cities of refuge were to offer safety to falsely accused immigrants, not only to Hebrews
  • They were allowed to participate in festivals and celebrations (though they might have to meet certain requirements, like circumcision, to participate)
  • When the Law of God was read, they were to be gathered alongside the Israelites to hear it
The West is facing a crisis in their handling of immigrants from the East. Why? Mohler states that "secular elites [have an] inability to fathom religious war". The secular Western state cannot say that last month's murders in Paris are wrong because they claim not to believe there is any universal right or wrong. They just know that it hurts really bad when French freedom of speech is disregarded by immigrants. But it would be difficult, given their purportedly secular framework, to explain why such events upset them so, or what could be done differently.

However, God had no such confusion when he built Israel's immigration policy. Immigrants were expected to live according to truth, as expressed by God's laws. If they brought along their other customs, such as infanticide (sacrificing sons to gods like Molech) or eating blood, capital punishment would be the result. We find in God's set-up the principle that love is always balanced with truth, or it is not love. 

To allow an immigrant to escape war, religious persecution or famine in his country by opening the doors of yours is love

To allow him to enter and practice other forms of evil in your land is not love.

The West is the West because for a significant period of time, evil was called evil, and good was called good. But "woe to those who call good evil, and evil good." There can't be a workable immigration policy—indeed there cannot be clear thinking and categorieswhere there are no moral absolutes.

It's getting late and we have two immigrants at our table. (OK, maybe we have four, if you count my husband and me.) We eat vegetarian pizza and talk about anything from needy long distance girlfriends in India to ore mining in Sweden. They are welcome here, and we want them to know that they are loved, by God and by us.

Then, after the brownies are eaten and the conversation pauses, my husband does like Israel did. He reads from that Book that we always keep nearby, to strangers and non-strangers alike. He reads words that to us are familiar, but to them are entirely new. We want them to hear truth, because love needs truth to steer it.  

Yes, we were strangers too, 
"Gentiles in the flesh...
At that time [we] were without Chr!st
being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel 
and strangers from the covenants of promise, 
having no hope and without God in the world. 

But now in [Him] you who once were far off 

have been brought near by the blood... 
He came and preached peace to you
who were afar off and to those who were near.
Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners,
but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God..."
Our immigration and new citizenship would never have been accomplished without that perfect balance of love and truth. Neither will theirs.


  1. Excellent post, thanks Julie. Always good I go back to the Bible to know how to approach these issues.

  2. So thankful we have His Word to guide our thinking... it's truly "everything we need for life and godliness..."!

  3. Great post sis! :) It's cool that you are in a place that causes you to think about yourself and others as immigrants and how God would have you/the country treat them. Glad you are getting to know some of them there. We definitely have those issues here too.