This weekend many of us will be preparing for Fourth of July celebrations. We’ll be shopping for BBQ supplies and sparklers, coordinating picnics and fireworks viewings and pulling out our red, white and blue clothes. As we do so, we may or may not reflect on our own families’ history with this country. The vast majority of us are decedents of immigrants. Whether our ancestors came to this land by choice or by force, they were once strangers in a new land. The Presbyterian Mission Agency has designated this Sunday Immigration Sunday. In this lesson, children will explore what the Bible says about welcoming immigrants into our midst and reflect on how they might extend hospitality to those arriving in their communities.
Begin your time with the children by asking them to think of a time that they began a new activity. It might be when they started attending a new school, joined a new sports team or began a new extracurricular activity, or even joined a new church. Have them share how they felt the first time they participated. Were they scared, overwhelmed, or confused? What made them feel more comfortable? Share that it is common to feel uneasy the first time you do something new, even if it is something you are looking forward to. However, when others welcome us and make us feel seen and heard, we begin feeling wanted and comfortable.
Exploring the passage
Prepare to read aloud Leviticus 19:1, 33-34 and Matthew 25: 34-40. Tell the children that both of these readings tell us about what God wants God’s people to do when they encounter someone who is an immigrant. Define the word immigrant for the children. Note that the reading may use the words alien or stranger in place of the word immigrant. Share that the reading from Leviticus is part of a longer list of expectations that God shares with Moses. God tells Moses that the Israelites, God’s people, should try to follow these expectations to honor God. The passage from the Gospel of Matthew offers Jesus’ words to his disciples. Like the Leviticus reading, it is part of a larger set of lessons he is teaching his disciples as he prepares them for a time when he is no longer living on earth.
Read aloud Leviticus 19:1, 33-34 and Matthew 25: 34-40. After reading the passages, ask the children to recount what each says about caring for those who are immigrants. What does God tell Moses the people should or should not do when immigrants come to live on the land God has given them? Similarly, what does Jesus say his disciples should do for strangers in their midst? Note that both readings call on God’s people to love and care for immigrants.
Continue the discussion by having the children reflect on why God says the people should welcome immigrants. Share that God reminds the Israelites that they were once “aliens in the land of Egypt” in the Leviticus reading. When God’s people lived in Egypt, they were placed into slavery. God wants them to remember their hardships and not repeat them with people moving into their lands. In the Matthew text, Jesus equates the “stranger” with himself, noting that when the disciples welcome an immigrant into their midst, they are welcoming him.
Relating the passage to our lives
Extend the discussion from the text to the children’s lives. Download these immigration stories of young people from Horizon magazine. Read one or more of them aloud to the children, asking them to close their eyes and imagine what walking in the storyteller’s shoes. After reading each story, have the children wonder what the child’s experience must have been like and where they would have felt comforted and welcomed by people in their communities.
Then, go to the Church World Service program network website. Tell the children there are many groups in the United States who welcome and help acclimate immigrant families to this country. Church World Service is one of those groups. Navigate to the website for the program closest to your church by clicking on the appropriate map icon or by searching using the site’s search tool. Read about the work that program is doing in or near your community. Discuss ways your congregation or individual families might become involved in that ministry. If your church works with Church World Service or another immigrant/refugee resettlement program, tell the children about this ministry. Ask them to brainstorm ways they might support that work.
Conclude your time together by praying for immigrants. Have the children share the names of those they know who have immigrated to the United States. Offer a general prayer asking God to help us live out the call to welcome and care for immigrants in our communities.