Herald Press, 200 pages
Reviewed by Neil Craigan
Immigration is one of the hot-button issues in the current political landscape of the United States. It is an issue that is impossible to ignore and on which everybody seems to have an opinion. What is often missing in these largely partisan debates is the recognition of the full humanity of the immigrants.
In “The God Who Sees,” Karen Gonzalez reminds us that “immigrant stories always matter, because immigrants are image-bearers of God.” In this book the reader will encounter stories, not policy — but those stories will challenge the way we think about immigrants and immigration. Throughout the book Gonzalez takes on the challenges of biblical exposition, autobiography and advocacy.
Gonzalez invites the reader to step into the stories of several biblical immigrants: Naomi and Ruth, Abraham, Hagar, Joseph, the Syrophoenician Woman and the Holy Family. Examining the challenges faced by these immigrants, she uses their stories to encourage the reader to think about the unique circumstances immigrants face. In discussing Naomi and Ruth, Gonzalez notes that Boaz demonstrated his faithfulness to God’s command in Scripture that “whenever you are reaping the harvest of your field and you leave some grain in the field, don’t go back and get it. Let it go to the immigrants, the orphans, and the widows so that the Lord your God blesses you in all that you do” (Deuteronomy 24:19). She then makes the point that “compassion for those who are poor and marginalized is considered more important than efficiency and profit.”
Between chapters on biblical characters Gonzalez shares her story as a first-generation immigrant from Guatemala. The five autobiographical chapters are structured around five sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church: baptism, communion, confirmation, anointing the sick and reconciliation. Using the sacraments as the anchor for these chapters provides her space to articulate the impact of faith on her ongoing story as a Christian, an immigrant and director for human resources for World Relief.
Advocacy for the immigrant is a central tenet of the book. Gonzalez does not take a neutral position or seek to present both sides. However, she writes in a simple and disarming manner that, no matter your political persuasion, invites you to engage with the biblical witness and her personal story. In advocating for immigrants she notes that many Americans speak proudly of their immigrant history while at the same time seeking to shut out people who want to make a new life in America today. She states that “the implication seems to be that immigrants have changed. The truth is that immigrants are the same — they have the same need and the same humanity.”
If you are looking for a book that will help you better understand the human side of immigration, this book is a great starting point. “The God Who Sees” may be one of the most important books for American Christians to read and digest as we think about what it means to be the people of God in the world today.
Neil Craigan is pastor at First Presbyterian Church in White Bear Lake, Minnesota.