Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt. Exodus 23:9
My husband recently sent me a press release from his college, announcing that New Jersey City University (NJCU) is now the official educational partner of the National Park Service at the Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island.
This marks a formalization of a two-year collaboration. NJCU students competed in a “Liberty’s 125th Logo Contest” to design commemorative materials for the year-long celebration (which ended October 28), and hosted an exhibit of student paintings of Ellis Island. NJCU also is providing studio and living space to the park’s artists-in-residence, who will be required to present a lecture/workshop at the college and donate an original work created during the residency to the NJCU Foundation.
Another upside for the students is an internship program at the park, which will provide work experience and academic credits. A major topic of study will be immigration, not only as it relates to the U.S., but worldwide.
This is a perfect partnership! The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island are only about four miles from the college (interesting tidbit: even though the sites are usually associated with New York, they are actually closer to New Jersey), and NJCU is an urban school with a significant foreign-born student population.
If you take a Bible concordance, which is a book listing all the words used in Scripture and where to find them, and look up the words “stranger(s)” and “alien,” you’ll find quite a few references. This terrific article on the subject, from the campus ministry InterVarsity, notes that “[a]t the time of King Solomon there were about 150,000…aliens in Israel (2 Ch 2:17) or about a tenth of the country’s total population. As is usual today, most of these were unskilled workers (cf 1 Ch 22:2, 2 Ch 8:7-8).”
Perhaps because the Israelites were God’s chosen people, they tended to look down on foreigners, the author goes on to say. And that’s why they were reminded repeatedly that they too were once mistreated outsiders, when they were captive in Egypt, and are well aware of the suffering they underwent: “God defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing. And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:18, 19).
Many other Old Testament Scriptures carry the same message (see Exodus 22:21, 23:12; Leviticus 19:10, 33-34 23:22, 24:22, 25:6; Deuteronomy 1:16, 14:28-29, 24:14-20, 26:12, 27:19). Jesus reiterates this compassion for the strangers among us by telling us to love God first, then “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39), to visit the hungry, needy, sick and prisoners (Matthew 25:31-46), and interact with the lowest of society (Mark 2:15-17; Luke 17:11-13; John 4:1-26, 81-11).
Somewhere down the line, everyone in the U.S. came from somewhere else. The American Indians are the exception, of course, but even they came to feel like strangers in their own land. Did you ever wonder—or perhaps you know—what hardships your alien family members experienced? Did they find anyone who cared for them despite their foreign language and customs, despite how they got here?
My own mother-in-law went to kindergarten in New York City knowing only Italian, and was promptly booted out and told to return when she could speak English. She was a citizen already, born in America, but her parents were from the old country and barely knew English, so for Inez, learning a new language couldn’t have been easy.
How my heart aches for that little girl! It’s too late to ask her now, but I hope someone took pity on her and helped her when she finally made it to back to school, undoubtedly still struggling to understand what her classmates and teachers were saying. I’m so glad nowadays when I see churches offering English as a Second Language class.
Immigration—legal or not—will continue to be a divisive issue for the foreseeable future. Christians may have differing opinions on government policy, but concerning the strangers and aliens among us right now, God’s directive couldn’t be clearer.
Penny Musco is a freelance writer with a terrific family—husband, daughter, mom, two brothers, and an assortment of in-laws, nieces and nephews. Her first passion is living for God as His child, redeemed from my “empty way of life…with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:18, 19). A second is being with her family. Creating stories, whether fiction or non-fiction, is a third. And then there’s travel, especially to places where she can get up close and personal with the natural world. Trekking through the national parks is the best way she's found to combine all four.