To be or not to be involved with ministry to immigrants in the United States? That is the question Christians must ask—both nationally and locally. At the church I pastor in Delaware, I am discovering that believers' answers are as diverse as the countries from which our congregants come. The issue is indeed complex. But perhaps the experience of our multiethnic congregation, All Nations Fellowship, may help frame evangelicalism's answer.

All Nations Fellowship (PCA) is a three-year-old church planted halfway between Baltimore/Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia/New York City. The region is packed with immigrants. Between D.C. and Delaware alone, there are over 195 nationalities represented. What is drawing them here? Economic liberty. And what is attracting them into evangelical churches? English classes and community meals, served with Christian love in an ethnically diverse environment.

"There were men, women, and children of color everywhere!" exclaims Luis, an adventurous young father from poverty-stricken Guatemala. He was describing his first Sabbath at All Nations Fellowship. Luis works several minimum-wage jobs to support his family and was attracted to our congregation by our conversational ESL (English as a Second Language) classes—complete with a free meal and childcare. He hoped the classes would help him improve his communication skills and move toward U.S. citizenship.

Along the way, he became friends with ANF member Ignacio—a legal immigrant from Venezuela who has a 'white-collar' job in center-city Wilmington. Other ESL class members included Eva from Iran and Young from Korea. Together, this trio exemplifies the three groups that our church (and the American church nationwide) encounters in debating today's heated immigration issues:

(1) Immigrants who have recently become U.S. citizens. Folks like Eva and Young have often waited extremely long periods of time for their citizenship. Others are political refugees or are now married to an American-born spouse. These folks are on a faster track to U.S. citizenship. In all cases, these people have patiently navigated the immigration system and waited to become Americans—officially and legally.

(2) Legal immigrants who hope to become U.S. citizens. Sometimes these situations turn bittersweet. Our church has befriended legal immigrants who become illegal by overstaying their visas. Lenas and Daiva are Lithuanians whose work visas expired, but they nevertheless tried staying here. When we discover such sad realities, we encourage them to submit to the current law. Lenas and Daiva were deported because of our advice.

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In other cases, individuals find themselves in a waiting game as they legally work here. This is the situation for Peter from Kenya and Ignacio from Venezuela (mentioned earlier), both of whom are Christians and vital contributors to our church. While in this interim state, we help with practical needs and encourage biblical patience as they move from work-visa status to 'green-card' status. For those who are not yet Christians like Wilmo from the Dominican Republic or Daira from Haiti, our response is a biblical no-brainer. We receive the foreigner, remembering our mandate from Deuteronomy 10 to "love the foreigner, for you were once foreigners."

(3)  Immigrants who come illegally. Here's where the question becomes more difficult. To be, or not to be, involved with them as Christians? And how? Some politicians today propose legislation which would charge churches with felonies if undocumented workers are accepted into their activities like English classes or community meals. How do we respond? By applying time-tested biblical principles used by Christians through the ages.

"Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's and unto God that which is God's."
"Do not forbid what God commands; do not command what God forbids."

Can the government forbid us from executing God's command to give a "cup of cold water" in Christ's name to those in need? We say no. Should we advise an immigrant to disobey immigration law when God commands us to respect authority (Romans 13)? Here too we say no. Counseling an illegal alien to obey U.S. immigration law (which we do) promotes human dignity and living by faith.

What are the practical results in our church's ministry? Two of the people we've discussed—Luis from Guatemala and Lenas from Lithuania—epitomize these practical results.

Aware that they were seeking a better life for their families, we initially received both men into our community—offering food, English, and friendship. We did not know their immediate legal status and our love was not conditioned upon it. By God's grace, they became Christians through this ministry.

Later, we discovered Luis was undocumented and Lenas' work visa was expired. We encouraged both to obey the government, though that meant they would return to unemployment back in poverty-stricken Guatemala and Lithuania. That's hard. And we miss our friends. But today they both are witnesses to their friends and relatives of the love of Jesus Christ as they render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's and render unto God that which now belongs to him—their very lives.

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Deuteronomy's mandate to "love the foreigner" permeates the entire Bible. But the context of Deuteronomy 10 beautifully sums up why we should be praying today for the individual immigrants we befriend as well as for immigration policy reform.

We pray for our immigrants here in "The First State" because God is the "God of gods and Lord of lords … the great, the mighty, the awesome God" (10:17). In Delaware (where 34 percent of kids live with only one adult, compared to 31 percent nationally), "He executes justice for the fatherless and the widows [and single mothers]; He loves the foreigner, giving him food and clothing" [10:18].

Therefore we "serve him and hold fast to him … He is (our) Praise!" [10:20-21]. As Christians, we submit to him by submitting to U.S. law, as long as it doesn't go against his Word. Simultaneously, we do everything we can for the foreigners among us. That means working for immigration policy reform and building what we call "globalocal" friendships—whether deportation or amnesty is the result. Immigrants are spiritually teachable. We dare not miss the opportunity to minister among them.

Related Elsewhere:

Our full-coverage area on the immigration debate is available on our website.

All Nations Fellowship has more information about its services to immigrants.