Day 7 – Stranger Love

Exodus 23:9

“Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.”

As you may recall from Sunday school (if that was part of your childhood experience), Jacob’s family migrated to Egypt as environmental refugees due to a famine. There was food in Egypt (thanks to Joseph’s visionary leadership of the newly formed Department of Agriculture–it’s a long story). Though initially welcomed (Genesis 45:16-19), their  experience quickly turned following a change in political leadership, and Jacob’s descendants were marginalized and oppressed.  (See Exodus 1) After God delivered them from their oppression, God commanded them to use their marginalized experience as a guide in their treatment of immigrants and environmental refugees in their community.

The United States is often referred to as the “Nation of Immigrants”. Unless you are a member of an indigenous tribe or were a slave brought to this country against your will, your ancestors were immigrants or environmental refugees.  However, many people have forgotten or diminished their immigrant history and experience, leading them to use phrases like “my country” and advocate for stricter laws that marginalize and oppress new arrivals to the U.S.

Questions for Reflection

Were your ancestors immigrants? If so, why did they come to the U.S.? What stories did you hear about their experience? Were they accepted upon their arrival? What challenges did they face? What feelings might they have had?

When have you felt like a “foreigner”? Describe those feelings. What, if anything, helped to relieve those feelings?

How can you use your (or your family’s) migration experience to act more justly toward immigrants today?

For the Record

HUD Secretary Ben Carson’s statement that slaves were immigrants is totally inaccurate–yet another ‘alternative fact’.  Immigrants and environmental refugees move by choice or necessity.  African slaves were moved as human cargo without choice.



  1. I wish I knew more about my family’s history and how we came to be here. It’s a search I’d like to start someday. But Phil’s family, on his mom’s side, came from Germany through Ellis Island, and early in our marriage, we visited Ellis Island and saw the ship’s manifest that they came on. Ellis Island was a very moving experience for me because I could imagine the immigrants packed into the great hall. And reading stories of what they experienced just broke my heart. I think it’s important that we find out where we came from. I have a friend who recently did the saliva test to find out more about his ancestry and he discovered that his ancestors owned slaves. That’s important history to know too.

    When we moved to Pennsylvania from Illinois, we felt like foreigners. Especially since we moved to a small town. There were customs and practices and food we didn’t understand. Eight years later, we still feel like foreigners sometimes. And that’s really the thing that fuels my volunteer work with refugees. I don’t have a lot of special skills, but I know what it’s like to be new to a place, and if I can help make that a little less lonely and overwhelming, then that’s good work.

  2. I know the most about my Italian grandparents who were born in Italy and came to America before WW1. My grandfather fought in that war. After that he was naturalized. They lived in Chicago, joined the local parish (though they were not practicing Catholics) and my grandfather delivered milk to people’s doorsteps via a milk truck. Quite frankly, most of the drama I heard was internal family conflict and not stories about the struggle of being immigrants.

    I have lived in Chicago all my life and have not experienced adjustment to a new city but I have made position changes, new workplaces, new social groups and I have always appreciated those that made me feel welcome and tried to help me adjust to the new processes that I had to master.

    When you consider all the social norms one must navigate when they are new to a situation, I would like to ensure that I am warm and caring in my welcome and helpful in navigating the areas I can, such as how to manage our CPS school system and the world of education/special education. Even something as small as where to find childcare, how city systems work (or don’t work!), free family events, and understanding the transportation system are helpful. Being open, ready to assist, learning about their culture and standing with them as part of their human family. That’s where I want to be.

  3. After a search that both paternal and maternal relatives have done, both sides came here before the American Revolution. So our roots have been imbedded here for generations. Yet I do know how the German side of my mother came when her grandparents immigrated with their children in the late 1800s from Germany so that their sons would not be conscripted into the German army. Maybe they came through Ellis Island. But since the majority of my ancestors have been here for generations, their immigration status has long laid dormant to the extent the term ‘colonizers’ and ‘my country’ has taken root.

    For myself, I have felt rootless most of my life since I have lived in numerous places throughout the country. I have lived the longest of any place here in Chicago, 16+ years. Then due to my stroke, I am less self-sufficient and more vulnerable in various ways due to the whims of our government, whether right, left, or middle. So in a very small way, I can identify with people who are living with the uncertainty and fear of displacement and upheaval.

    God, forgive our arrogance, our superiority, our self-sufficiency, our self-centeredness.

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