If you’ve ever jumped from the high dive at a public pool, then you probably remember the courage you had to muster, to take that very first plunge. You remember splashing around in the shallow end, laughing with friends and family and relishing the comfort of that pool floor under your feet. You remember eyeing the diving board each time another brave soul leaped from its heights, curious about whether you could be that brave too. You remember making the decision—“Enough already. I’m going to do it.”
You remember climbing the ladder that felt like it stretched to heaven, it was so tall, and taking those six or seven steps all the way to the end of the board, the swimming pool now seeming much smaller than it had when you were down below. And then there was the leap—the brief, uncontrollable sensation of flying; the crashing through the water’s surface; the reemergence to breathable air; the wild awareness that nothing was under your feet, reassuring you, holding you up. You remember the exhilaration of having taken the risk and enjoyed it. Who knew the deep end was so exciting and fun?
Same sunny day. Same pool. Same water. And yet upon choosing that deep-end experience, everything was different now.
The Opportunity that Awaits Us
When it comes to our relational world, a similar dynamic shows up. Sure, we can stay in the shallow end with “our people”—those who know us, love us, support us, forgive us, and extend quick grace toward us whenever we screw up. But there’s a deep-end encounter awaiting us, if we’ll have the guts to just dive in.
If there are two groups of people today who are hopeful that you and I will take that plunge, they are the undocumented members of the Hispanic population who now make their home in the United States, and anyone who has immigrated here from the Middle East. By and large, we are told to fear and/or despise these people—What if they’re terrorists? What if they’re criminals? What if they take all of our jobs?
Having no real answers to these questions and more, we cave to the suggested suspicions and move through daily life casting an uneasy eye toward anyone cleaning a hotel room or wearing a hijab. What a tragic choice this is.
For the vast majority of the Central or South American and Middle Eastern immigrants who have shown up on U.S. soil, the sole reason they have come here is to escape violence and pain. Life in their homeland had deteriorated to the point that the only way to remain a resident there was to sell one’s children into slavery, participate in the trafficking of illicit drugs, and to pledge allegiance to rampant corruption—options they were unwilling to entertain.
And so they showed up here, in the U.S., products of terror and abuse. They didn’t come in order to harm anyone, which would simply be furthering the thing they escaped. They came to rebuild their lives. To find safety and a way to thrive.
Practicing Then, Now
“But what about the law?” you might say. “I get why they want to be here, but shouldn’t they have to follow the rules?”
The political issues surrounding this country’s ability to “welcome the stranger” effectively are myriad, multifaceted, and momentous, insofar as our choices today will affect how truly “melted” our melting-pot land will continue to be, for generations to come. But two realities seem clear: First, immigrants would not be able to hold down jobs in this country if this country weren’t offering them jobs. In other words: perhaps our Chambers of Commerce are just as flawed and broken as our border-protection system has proven to be. Our business leaders have grown accustomed to hiring immigrant labor, and so those laborers are lining up in droves. The jobs that our own citizens in many cases don’t wish to do are an absolute lifeline to the women and men settling here.
Second, if our primary residence is in God’s kingdom, meaning that our citizenship in heaven ultimately will eclipse our citizenship here on earth, then we ought to count it our absolute joy to practice heavenly principles here and now, even before we inhabit that future domain.
In heaven, there will be no borders. In heaven, there will be no segregation. In heaven, there will be no lines of division, no disparity, no left-out ones. Why on earth would we prize such things, when their tenure is so short-lived? Yes, there is wisdom in valuing borders in our present reality, insomuch as a country that allows anyone entrance anytime, under any circumstances, without properly vetting those newcomers opens itself up to senseless security risks that do nobody any good. But for the people who are already here, working hard, learning the language, supporting our Constitution, and obeying the law, our posture ought to be one marked by grace.
The vast majority of Hispanic workers living here illegally are not an issue, a problem, a drain—not spiritually speaking, anyway. They are invaluable souls created in the image of God, and as such deserve our love. Most refugees fleeing Middle East trauma and taking up shelter here are not a headline, a crisis, a threat. They are men, women, and children who’ve been indwelt with the very stuff of God. And as such, they warrant our compassion, our kindness, and our respect. God says, “To them, and to everyone, I’m asking you to show love.”
As followers of Jesus, we are called to invest in the hearts and lives of all people, including our world’s most marginalized. And today, there are no more marginalized groups than undocumented workers and immigrants. But how do we make that investment? What is the most natural way to begin?
A Simple Starting Point
Isaiah 35 offers some help here. “Strengthen the feeble hands,” verse 3 begins, “steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, ‘Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you” (vv. 3-4).
From there, a whole series of cascading benefits unfolds in the hearers of those words: The eyes of the blind will be opened, the ears of the deaf will hear, those who could not walk will leap like a deer, those who could not speak will shout for joy (see vv. 5-6). Help will come to the helpless. Hope will come to the hopeless. Light will shine in the darkness. A path will make itself known, where there have existed only dead ends. “Gladness and joy will overtake them,” the end of the chapter declares, “and sorrow and sighing will flee away” (v. 10).
But none of these things will occur unless we who say we love Jesus have the courage to first speak up. “Say to those with fearful hearts,” the passage leads off, which seems to indicate that the first act in loving anyone is simply to open our mouth and speak.
Instead of fearing, judging, disparaging, ostracizing, or condemning those who are different from us, we can approach them. Welcome them. Engage them in conversation, if they’re open to that. We can say, “I love to travel, and I love languages, but I can’t place your accent. Can you tell me about where you grew up?”
Eyeing the name on their name badge, if they’re wearing one, we can say, “What an interesting name. Is there a story behind it?”
Noticing a Muslim woman’s hijab, we can ask about the significance the practice of wearing a headscarf carries for her. Noticing an Hispanic man doing his job with diligence, we can ask how he came by a work ethic that’s so strong. We can comment on a cheerful countenance. We can acknowledge a sparkle in someone’s eyes. We can offer up a simple, “Hello,” and then linger in their presence for a few beats. We can start with whatever’s before us, commenting on anything we happen to observe, and then see where God happens to lead us, once we’ve leaped off that high-dive board.
When we as Christ followers set aside stereotypes in favor of collecting as many stories as we can … preferably from those wholly unlike us as well, we begin to realize that we have much in common with those with whom we’re splashing around in this pool called life. We all crave security. We all long for love. We all want to protect our children. We all want to live a life that’s truly life. Each time we focus on the soulish things that unite us instead of on the superficialities that keep us apart, we see with increased clarity that the deep dive we’ve chosen to take wasn’t so risky after all.
If you want to read more about the power of our words, check out my latest book, Speak Life.