As we head into the Fourth of July weekend, we have an opportunity to reflect on what it means to be a citizen of the United States as well as a follower of Christ. And it is no coincidence that the Presbyterian Mission Agency encourages congregations to celebrate and examine immigration this Sunday (see more on Immigration Sunday in the PC(USA) Mission Yearbook).
In this activity, you will have a chance to explore immigrant stories in the Bible along with the call to care for those settling in new lands.
Begin the time with your children by talking about moments in their lives when they started something new. It could be beginning a new school year, moving to a new home or even trying out a sport or activity that they had not participated in before. Ask them to describe that experience. What was fun or exciting about it? What was difficult or confusing? What caused them to be part of this new experience? Be sure to highlight the many reasons why people begin something new as well as the many feelings such an experience elicits.
Building on this discussion, talk with your children about why people immigrate. (If your children are younger, you may want to preface this by defining immigrant.) Be sure to note the range of reasons including opportunity, adventure, safety and force. Share that some people immigrate voluntarily and others do so because they have no choice.
Share with your children that immigration features prominently in the Bible, especially in the Old Testament. There are many stories of people moving from one land to another. You can read aloud some of these stories or you can paraphrase them. A few you may want to include are: God’s call to Abram to leave his home and found a “great nation” (Genesis 12:1-9) and the Israelites fleeing from Egypt under the leadership of Moses (Exodus 5-12; 14:1-31). You may also want to share the cycle of exile and return and Jesus’ brief period of exile as a young child (Matthew 2:13-15). Discuss with your children the reasons why the figures in these stories left their homelands. Note that regardless of the circumstances God was with the immigrants.
After exploring what it means to immigrate, explore what it means to welcome immigrants into your community. Ask your children to consider how they would want to be treated if they were to immigrate to a new country. (Alternately, if you have immigrated to the United States, you can reflect on your experiences integrating into your new community.)
Then, take a look at a few biblical texts that give insight into God’s call to those already living somewhere to care for people arriving in their communities. As you read each of these verses aloud, discuss what it says about how to respond to people immigrating into the community you live in. Be sure to highlight that in each passage you read in the Bible, God speaks of welcome, care and love.
- Leviticus 19:33-34 — “When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”
- Matthew 25:34-35 — “Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.’ ”
- Hebrews 13:2 — “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”
As you explore these texts with your children, they may wonder how they can carry out the call to care for and welcome immigrants in their own communities, especially while we continue to practice social distancing. Here are a few activities you can do from home to extend your discussion:
- Learn more about the experiences of children immigrating to the United States and their experiences once arriving here.If you have access to a public library, you can check out some of the wonderful books suggested in this list featured on Union Presbyterian Seminary’s Storypath website. Older children and youth may be interested in watching one of the short documentary videos offered through Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. “To Breathe Free” chronicles a family’s immigration from war-torn Syria to the United States. “Locked in a Box” explores the experiences of immigrants fleeing unsafe conditions only to be detained.
- Reach out to a refugee resettlement agency in your area to see what needs they have that you might meet.
JOELLE BRUMMIT-YALE is the director of children’s and youth ministries at Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. When not at the church, she can usually be found at home with her son and husband caring for their many animals and developing their family homestead.