Back to Top

Testify: Immigrants are a Blessing not a Burden

By Christy and Brad Knestch

Scripture Reading: Leviticus 19:33, Matthew 25:31-40

As a pastor, I don’t tell people how to vote. In fact, even if I could I couldn’t back it up because I’m Canadian and I can’t vote. I am a resident alien—such an endearing term—the same word used to describe a visitor from outer space a million miles away is the same word we use for immigrants. This resident alien sends his greetings you, my fellow earthlings.

Christians, especially in recent years, do not see eye to eye on immigration. There is disagreement on immigration policy, how the border should be secured, and how many people should be let in. They have honest and realistic differences among them. 

We have a strange immigration policy for a nation of immigrants. Although I won’t tell you how to vote I will say this: our immigration here in the US is a mess. That’s why we ought to pray for and ask Congress to live out a biblical witness to the immigrant, the foreigner and the stranger.  

As Christians, our guide is the Word and the Word has much to say. The theme of immigration is woven throughout the entire biblical story. However, only 16% of evangelicals have ever heard about immigration in church. What this tells us is that we are not seeing Christian teaching or biblical values represented in our churches, communities, and politics when it comes to immigrants. What I want to do this morning is to biblically inform and impact your thinking on this important topic.

Immigrants appear all throughout Scripture. Abraham left his homeland for the land God would show him, promising to bless him and all other peoples through him. Joseph was a victim of human trafficking, sold as a slave. Naomi was forced to flee her homeland because of famine, and Ruth returned with her when God provided food again. I also want you to realize that Jesus was an immigrant. Jesus immigrated from Heaven to show us the way. Mary and Joseph brought their baby, Jesus, across several borders to Egypt to avoid Herod’s murderous intentions. And now he is enthroned over all. Jesus is the King, the rightful ruler of the whole earth, and savior who wants to be loved and honored by every creature.

Hospitality, particularly to the stranger, is a theme in both the Old and New Testaments, and it’s a central theme of Jesus’ ministry. The Greek word for hospitality is philoxenia, meaning “love of the other.” The Bible gives many responses of how to treat the foreigner, the stranger or the immigrants in our midst.

He is not our private God who exists for our own personal benefit. He is not the God of America, of West Michigan, of Grand Rapids, of the CRC, or the one who favors “our kind of people.”

He is not one god among many. He is the one and only God for everyone.

Jesus says.  “Look, I am with you always, all the way to the end of the age.” And to all those who move to our communities from strange faraway places, he wants to be with them as well.  

Today, I’d like to also look at a few of the common misconceptions about immigrants. While there are a large number of these, I’m going to focus on three:

             1. Immigrants Don’t Pay Taxes, but come to take advantage of our welfare system.

The truth is that immigrants pay many taxes including income, property, sales, and FICA. In reality, over the next 20 years, immigrants will contribute $500 billion toward our social security system. While they are eligible for public education and emergency medical care, they do not receive food assistance or any form of welfare benefits.

             2. Immigrants Take American Jobs

According to the Immigration Policy Center, a nonpartisan group, research indicates there is little connection between immigrant labor and unemployment rates of native-born workers. The largest wave of immigration since the early 1900s coincided with our lowest national unemployment rate and fastest economic growth. Here in the United States, two things—better education and an aging population—have resulted in a decrease in the number of Americans willing or available to take low-paying jobs. Further, immigrant entrepreneurs create many jobs for both US and foreign workers. Immigrant owned companies generate millions of jobs and billions of dollars in sales.

Our current immigration system has not been updated for decades. One area that this has had extreme impact is on our American dairy farmers. While farmers who grow food are permitted to hire seasonal employees, dairy farmers need workers year round, therefore temporary visas are not offered to them, leaving them to only apply for permanent visas. The demand for labor is in the tens of thousands, however, currently, the US will only issue 5,000 low-skilled visas annually for the over 300,000 people who are here to work.

To fill the void of low-skilled American workers, employers often hire immigrant workers. One of the consequences, unfortunately, is that it is easier for dishonest employers to exploit people and pay immigrants less, not provide benefits and ignore worker-safety laws.

             3. There’s a way to enter the country legally for anyone who wants to get in line.

Surprisingly, there is no “line” for most people who wish to gain permanent US residency. There are four visas that people who wish to immigrate to the US may apply for, but those lines are rarely accessible to the poor, those fleeing violence, and low skilled workers. The barriers are great and for the majority of people around the world there are no legal options to immigrate to the United States.

I would like to close today’s message with a few practical ways to live out our faith when it comes to the debate in this country around immigration.

For some of us, the call to consider our attitudes and stereotypes about immigrants and the undocumented is new. One way to explore the word and form a biblically based view on the topic is to read what the word has to say about the immigrant and foreigner among us. Today, Kelsey Herbert from the CRC Office of Social Justice is here and will be out at a table with a variety of free handouts like stickers and bookmarks as well as resources and information about the Immigrants Are a Blessing Not Burden campaign.

I would encourage you to pick up a bookmark at the table in the lobby that has 40 passages of scripture to read over the next 40 days that address God’s concern for immigrants and foreigners. Pray over your reading each day and allow the Holy Spirit to speak to you.  We do not want you to leave here today not knowing what the Word says. We believe that the 40 day ‘I was a Stranger Challenge’ is an excellent starting place if you’re just beginning to consider where you stand as a Christian on immigration. It is also an encouragement for those who are on the front lines daily.  

The second thing I would like you to consider today is not only how you will speak about those who are the foreigner or stranger among us, but also the words you will allow to be spoken around you. So often, we do not take a stand when ignorant comments are made both in person and online. That is why I have taken a pledge to change the conversation and begin referring to immigrants as a blessing and not a burden.

I want to encourage us to consider how to use our voices as advocates for change. In Acts 21-26, we see Paul exercise his power and privilege as a Roman citizen. In the same way, those of us who are American citizens can use our voice to advocate for our government to treat every person living here justly. While handouts can help individuals survive in an oppressive system, changing the system can ensure that all people have the opportunity to thrive. Jesus warned that the nations will be held accountable and judged for the ways they have treated people who are marginalized. We steward our power by speaking up when those who don’t hold the same privileges aren’t being heard.

Recently, I accepted the Text Challenge that the Office of Social Justice put out asking believers to make a pledge to change the conversation and it take the opportunity to tell our government leaders what we expect for them to do. Here’s what the pledge asks:


Because Scripture teaches that immigrants are made in the image of God, a faithful response to a stranger is to extend welcome. In the Bible, strangers are often used by God to bring blessing. I have experienced the blessing that immigrants bring to the U.S., my community, the church, and my life. 

So when I hear immigrants described as burdens, I’m committed to change the conversation—whether in my home, my church, or my congressional district. I commit to speak the truth: Immigrants are a blessing, not a burden. 


Our denomination has given us a biblically grounded, well researched approach for advocating for our brothers and sisters who are undocumented in our country.

The call that they are asking our U.S. congressional representatives to support looks like this:  

  • speak in ways that reflect the economic, social, and spiritual blessings that immigrants bring to the U.S. I will not remain silent about language that portrays immigrants as “takers,” dangerous, or burdensome to my community or to the country as a whole.
  • enact immigration policy that respects the dignity of immigrants, and the blessing they bring to the United States. Immigration policy must keep families together, establish a path to citizenship for those who qualify and wish to become permanent residents, adjust the number of visas given to immigrant-dependent industries, enforce laws humanely, and be rooted in the truth that immigrants are a blessing, not a burden.

Today, I want to encourage you to join the text challenge and text 52886 to send a message to your elected officials if you believe immigrants are a blessing and you recognize that we need Congress to fix our broken immigration system.

In closing, we want to honor those of you who are on the front lines every day.

There are some of you whose careers are dedicated to advocating for immigrants, some of you who are foster parents to those who have come here from other places, some of you are teachers, social workers, doctors and nurses who see first hand how broken the system is. Others of you have undocumented loved ones or you yourself are caught in the middle of the system. Let us close now praying together for the God of justice to move and act in our lives, our city, our country and our world.  

Pray with me:

Dear Jesus,

Our journey through life is long and hard. We cannot make this trip alone; we must walk together on the journey. You promised to send us a helper, your Spirit. Help us to see your Spirit in those you send to journey with us.

In the refugee family, seeking safety from violence, let us see your Spirit.

In the migrant worker, bringing food to our tables, let us see your Spirit.

In the asylum-seeker, seeking justice for himself and his family, let us see your Spirit.

In the unaccompanied child, traveling in a dangerous world, let us see your Spirit.

Teach us to recognize that as we walk with each other, You are present. Teach us to welcome not only the strangers in our midst but the gifts they bring as well: the invitation to conversion, communion, and solidarity. This is the help you have sent: we are not alone. We are together on the journey, and for this we give you thanks.

Lord, we pray for those who leave their homes in search of new beginnings and possibilities, may they know your presence with them

We pray that those who seek to make a home in this country may find us welcoming and willing to help them find a path toward citizenship. We pray that our legislators, as they craft immigration legislation, may find the wisdom and courage to enact new policies that do justice for our country and for those who immigrate here. We pray that those who fan the flames of fear and discrimination against the undocumented may be touched with your divine compassion.

For all those who are weary and without a safe place to rest their heads; for all families in migration we pray. May we be reminded of the image of the Holy Family fleeing oppression.

Thank you Jesus that You crossed every border between Divinity and humanity to make your home with us. Help us to welcome you in newcomers, migrants and refugees.

In Jesus Name we Pray, Amen.

[Image: Flickr user Byronv2]