Meeting Juan: Reexamining My Views on Immigration

It was a Tuesday night and I found myself in a strange, yet familiar place. I had been invited to attend a Bible study. Nothing new here. The unfamiliarity came from the fact that this Bible study was bilingual. I had just returned from leading my church on a short-term mission trip to Honduras, and my desire to learn the language led me to this group. That night I met Juan.

Juan looked like a typical high school graduate. He was wearing a graphic t-shirt, skinny jeans, and some sandals While making small talk, I asked about his plans for the future and what colleges were on his list. He told me about his desire to take a year off from school to volunteer in a non-profit organization dedicated to serving the poor in different cities across the United States. He seemed excited about this opportunity, but yet somewhat reserved.

Later that night, I asked another member of the Bible study about Juan. I discovered that this intelligent young man had graduated with honors from the local high school two months earlier. I commented about his unique plans to spend a year in service. I was surprised to learn that there was a reason behind his plan. Juan was an undocumented immigrant. Even after attending public school in the state of Georgia for the last 13 years of his life, he was not eligible for in-state tuition from any of Georgia’s public colleges and universities. The main reason for Juan’s rejection? He did not have a Social Security number.   

Through a unique series of events God has dramatically changed my views on immigration. Throughout the Scriptures men and women seeking the Lord have been called over and over again to listen for the Lord’s guidance. When it comes to the subject of immigration, I simply did not listen. My political views on this particular issue were formed early in high school and then tucked safely away. I made uninformed comments about how America needed higher fences and a quicker deportation process. It wasn’t until my early 30s that God began to work on my heart and I started to critically think through what a true Biblical response might look like. This reexamining didn’t happen overnight, but God did a slow and steady work in my life.

  "When I look back over my journey in this area, I can see the importance of building relationships with others."

"When I look back over my journey in this area, I can see the importance of building relationships with others."

As I previously mentioned part of my transformation took place during a short-term mission trip to Honduras. In only a week’s time our small group found themselves dramatically changed as a result of experiencing a “majority world country.” One of the immediate results of working with the poor in Honduras was vividly seeing the larger consequences of oppressive systems. Although our government in the United States is far from perfect, it has the basic ideals of justice and equality. These ideals lead to opportunity. Most of us probably take this for granted. Being in a foreign country which does not afford basic opportunities for its citizens opened my eyes to why individuals would take such great risks to enter into the United States. I wasn’t the only one in our group who felt this way. We had multiple team members scheming of ways to sponsor visas for some of our new friends.

 The next major step in my evolution of thought happened while plugging into Juan’s bilingual Bible study. When I first attended this group I was expecting to only work on my language skills. Instead what I discovered was very different. This dynamic group of U.S. citizens and Latin American immigrants is committed to more than just studying the Bible. They are devoted to the faithful acts of accompaniment, advocacy, and hospitality. It was here that I met undocumented immigrants and heard their compelling stories. I listened to their struggles and their fears. I had never considered how our country’s immigration policy affects people like Juan.

Being involved with this group led me to start searching the Scriptures and seeking out other Christian authors who have honestly dealt with immigration in a Biblical manner. I began to systematically work my way through the Old and New Testaments and to look for themes of hospitality and taking care of foreigners in the land. Reading through the Bible with a new lens helped me to discover all that God has said about this important topic. I now seek to influence policy makers. I am quick to share my transformational story about my view on immigration. Simply being informed and speaking up for undocumented immigrants in my social circles has helped shed more of God’s truth in the sometimes small worldview of many evangelical Christians.

When I look back over my journey in this area, I can see the importance of building relationships with others. God strategically placed individuals like Juan in my life to help transform my thinking. Although this sounds overly simplistic, it wasn’t until I placed myself in his shoes that I began to reexamine our country’s immigration policy. I have been diligently following the latest talks of reform. Both major political parties seem to be coming together to acknowledge that the system is indeed broken and in desperate need of change. Our job as followers of Christ is to be able to influence our government and seek to help the needy among us. Hopefully hearing my story (as well as Juan’s) will serve as an invitation to think deeper, engage your government, and build relationships with people outside your normal sphere of influence.     

- Charles M. Metcalf faithfully pastors a small church in Georgia and is currently pursuing his PhD from Eastern University.