“Mom, Juan told me that he couldn’t come back to school anymore because the police are looking for his family. They want to send them to someplace that his parents are from.”
Immigration is one of the hottest and most confusing topics in our public debate.
Is the issue political or moral?
Are we concerned about our security or economy?
Are we compassionate or lawless?
A plethora of opinions flood our social media feeds and news programs. However, one conversation that has been neglected is the one that takes place at home around the dinner table – the conversations with our kids. They too are bombarded with information from the television, the radio, and voices at school. They are often on the front lines of the immigration discussion and they, of all people, can put a face and friendship to the debate. These conversations, though difficult, provide Christian parents with a unique opportunity to shape the missionary hearts of our kids. We can take advantage of these discussions to help our kids embrace God’s plan for the nations.
Don’t politicize the discussion
Certainly, this is a hotly charged political issue, and Christians may fall on either side of the debate. But our kids are not asking political questions; their concerns are personal. Psychologists tell us that children think in binary categories: right/wrong, good/bad, fair/unfair. It’s not until we grow older that we develop the ability to work through nuanced arguments such as this. If we try to parse out the complexities of immigration through a political lens, we can be sure our children will not understand. Also, if we are not careful, we will implant ideas that are not relevant to the discussion — racism, disregard for authority, etc.
Remind them of God’s Plan
One of the best ways to avoid politicizing immigration is to focus our attention on God’s missionary plan for the world. The Bible teaches us that God’s plan is for everyone to have a chance to hear about and respond to Jesus. We know that many people in different countries have little to no gospel knowledge. This is why we send so many missionaries around the world. We also know that, in many countries, Christians are persecuted for their faith. This is why some are leaving their homes. However, we can also be sure that God is bringing people from all over the globe to our cities so people like us can tell them (and show them) the Gospel.
Discussions about immigration can serve as a perfect platform to introduce or remind our kids about God’s global mission. Most of our kids have no real knowledge of the world. Sure, they have seen a globe or map. Some have taken classes that discuss different areas of the world: Europe, South America, the Middle East, and Asia. When we tell them that God so loved the world, they have a hard time imagining what this means. However, as our kids meet and talk to people from different countries, we can use their encounters as opportunities to share with them about God’s love for the nations.
Discussions about God’s mission can confront racist ideas, give a glimpse of hope in the face of deportation, and encourage our children to share Christ with international friends.
Pray for the world
One of the greatest lessons a Christian parent can teach their children is how to pray. Most of us pray before meals and before bed, but these are usually repetitive or self-focused. However, conversations about immigration and God’s plan for the world present us with the opportunity to pray globally and to teach our kids to do the same.
Here are a few resources you can use:
International Mission Board – https://www.imb.org/pray/
Joshua Project – https://joshuaproject.net/pray
Open Door USA – https://www.opendoorsusa.org/prayer-resources/
It might be helpful to get a map or a globe to use as a visual aid.
As you talk with your family about immigration, let this serve as an opportunity for you to branch out beyond your normal circle of friends and connect with people from different countries.
For example, there are more than a million international students studying in the US each year. Of those, more than 75% will never be invited into an American home and more than 80% will never visit a church. The gospel gives us every reason in the world to be good hosts and to reach out to people who are different from us. After all, didn’t Jesus say: For if you love those who love you, what reward will you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what are you doing out of the ordinary? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? (Matt 5:46-47)
Immigration conversations can serve as God’s tools for creating new family habits and fostering biblical vision. What if your children’s friendship with internationals became a missional opportunity for you?
Scott Hildreth is the Director of the Lewis A. Drummond Center for Great Commission Studies and Assistant Professor of Global Studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Before coming to Southeastern, he and his family served in Western Europe and in Central Asia. Scott is married to Lesley and together they have two adult children and a grandson. He frequently speaks and writes on issues of missions, spiritual formation, missiology, and theology.