United Church of God, ia
Portland and Hood River Oregon

Preaching the Gospel, Preparing a People

Challenges Immigrants Face

The life of immigrants, whether by choice or by circumstances beyond their control, is difficult. In addition to the normal hardships of life, they are frequently met with exclusion and distrust in their new home, and this is why God commanded specific protections for them (Exodus 23:9).

My wife and I, both Americans, have been living in Tel Aviv, Israel, for more than a year while I continue postdoctoral studies. Given the temporary nature of our stay, we would fall under the biblical category of nokriy. Despite the heavy Western influences on Israeli culture, we have learned firsthand that life in a foreign land can be stressful.

Aside from dealing with the ordinary hassles of moving to a new place, culture shock creeps in. Everything is different-the money, the language, the food, the standards of politeness, and a million little things that take a cumulative toll on the psyche. With the looming presence of cryptic Hebrew and Arabic characters at every glance and the sound of numerous unintelligible spoken languages, a task as simple as buying groceries can become intimidating and time-consuming.

On a recent flight to Israel, I spoke with a young woman whose family fled from instability in Iraq during the mid-1990s. They sought refuge in neighboring Saudi Arabia, but found themselves in a hostile environment. Saudi officials took everything of value from them, including her mother's jewelry. She recalled how several refugee women and young girls she knew were raped.

Eventually her family was extracted from Saudi Arabia by American human rights workers. Extended family members also resettled in America, but the resettlement program scattered them throughout the country. Her father had only $500 to his name when they arrived.

It is sobering to realize that they had a far better outcome than most refugees in the world. Refugees in America are eligible for citizenship after five years. She has become a qer in the United States (using the biblical Hebrew term explained in the main article here), and she enjoys the full rights and privileges afforded to every American citizen.

Her story is shared by hundreds of thousands of Americans today. According to estimates by the United Nations, more than 20 million people throughout the world have been forced from their homes by war, with 45 million refugees from the recent Syrian civil war alone.

Most Syrian refugees have found temporary homes in the neighboring Muslim states of Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq, sparking intense debate within those countries about whether to allow such massive numbers of them to permanently settle there.

About 1 million Syrian refugees have traveled through Turkey into Europe seeking permanent resettlement, having given up any hope of returning to their homes. Canada has taken in more than 40,000 of them, while the United States has absorbed more than 16,000.

With so much hardship in the world, many feel a moral obligation to admit as many refugees as possible, irrespective of the potential danger and long-term effects on a nation's culture and stability. Every Western nation is currently undergoing its own internal debate as to how many refugees it is able and willing to take in and on what terms.

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