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God of foreigners and strangers

10.29. 2018 Posted By: Mennonite Church USA 1,103 read

A couple years ago, I was crossing the border from Canada into the United States after two days of speaking about the church, the Bible and immigration at Mennonite Central Committee’s Ottawa Office in Ontario. After dozens of tense encounters with U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers, I’m always a bit nervous when I approach a border officer; to them I am always a suspect.

This time, however, I was charged up with energy from the event I was coming from, so I was a bit more relaxed when he asked the regular questions: Which country are you a citizen of? How long have you been in Canada? Where do live? What were you doing in Canada?

I recited answers in my head for these questions several times as I waited in line, like a high school student memorizing a science or history fact, afraid that they will mess it up and fail. In my case, I fear I’d make it onto a list of bad and dangerous people.

The officer asked what I did for work in the United States. I replied, “I am immigration education coordinator for Mennonite Central Committee. I help provide learning opportunities about immigration to church members.” The officer frowned and said, “What does the Bible have to do with immigration?” That is a question I had not rehearsed for while waiting in line, but I was ready to talk about it for hours. So a Customs and Border Protection officer was educated that day about immigration and the Bible.

One of the most interesting findings in my work has been how in the United States, we as Christians miss the stories of migration in the Bible. The Scriptures can be read through many lenses; one of them is the lens of migration.

I have often done an exercise with youth in which I give them a few minutes to find stories of migration in the Bible. They often start naming some Bible characters. However, it is interesting how we need to be trained to use the lens of migration to find out that in almost every book of the Bible is a story of migration where God is at work. Even more interesting is how we miss the stories of migration in the most popular characters. Take, for example, the story of creation: God relocates the first biblical couple out of the garden of Eden. The lives of Adam and Eve are completely changed by this move. So the biblical narrative of humanity starts with a forced migration.

[To read the full version of this post on MC USA’s Menno Snapshots blog, click here]

Saulo Padilla was born in Guatemala. In 1986, he immigrated with his mother and siblings to Canada to reunite with his father, who left Guatemala as a political refugee in 1980 during the civil war. Since January 2008, Saulo has been working for Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) U.S. as coordinator for the Immigration Education National Program. His passion to work with immigrants comes from his own experience as the son of a refugee and immigrant, as well as the biblical call to welcome the stranger.

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