The Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) held its Regional Immigration Summit at Bethel University on March 10. The summit took place in the Rotunda of the Everest-Rohrer Fine Arts Center from 2-7 p.m.
The summit featured four panels from various perspectives including local immigration advocates, Bethel students and professionals. Matthew Soerens, U.S. Director of Church Mobilization and Advocacy for World Relief, spoke from his background in practicing law. According to the CCCU, he previously served as a Department of Justice-accredited legal counselor at World Relief’s local office in Wheaton, Illinois.
“It’s really only been in the last few years, I would say, that [immigration] has become this uniquely controversial issue,” Soerens said. “For a lot of people, certainly in society as a whole and certainly in the local churches that we partner with, it’s not an obvious thing that we should talk about refugees.”
Soerens presented a 2015 study conducted by LifeWay Research and sponsored by the Evangelical Immigration Table, regarding immigration. The study based its findings off 1,000 completed online surveys from American evangelical adults. When asked what their biggest influencer on thinking about immigration was, 12% of respondents said the Bible.
“We do not often enough spend time with what does the Bible say,” Soerens said. “For those of us for whom the Bible is our ultimate authority, how do we respond?”
Soerens said that Jesus was a refugee, based on U.S. legal distinctions. He cited Matthew 2 when God instructs Joesph in a dream to flee Bethlehem with Mary and Jesus. King Herod ordered all the young boys to be executed, so the family sought refuge in Egypt.
Soerens noted that the roughly 26 million refugees fleeing persecution today can identify with Jesus. He also said that everyone is created in the image of God, so everyone has the potential to contribute.
The second panel featured Christy Staats and Liz Dong, who both worked with the Evangelical Immigration Table and the National Immigration Forum. Tony Burrell, executive director of The Welcome Network, led the panel.
Staats spoke about her experiences working with her home church, Christ Community Chapel in Hudson, Ohio. She helped create a refugee ministry called Crossings which helps the church welcome in refugees.
While immigration appears to be exclusively a political issue, Staats said everything belongs to God. She quoted Dutch theologian and scholar Abraham Kuyper about God’s domain over human existence.
“Biblically, politics is about ethics,” Staats said. “How do we live well with each other and what would it look like to live in the kingdom?”
Dong spoke from her experiences as young immigrant from China to a Christian advocate for refugees. She encouraged attendees to engage kindly with people from different cultures despite difficult barriers.
Dong came to the United States from China as a recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) with a dependent visa. At 12 years old, she lost her immigration status when her immigration attorney made mistakes on her paperwork.
But through her youth pastor’s advocacy and World Relief, Dong eventually regained her immigrant status. She encouraged attendees to welcome the stranger just as Jesus commanded.
“I think the Kingdom extends into the political realm,” Dong said.
The third panel featured five Bethel students who either are immigrants or whose parents are immigrants. Kent Eby, associate professor of mission, gave questions for each of the students to answer.
A former student, Student Engagement Coordinator Annelotte Letens, participated in the panel. She said she learned a lot from the different testimonies of her fellow international students.
“My one big takeaway, as someone who loves Jesus, is that immigration is stressful,” Letens said. “Even being from Northern Europe, being white and female, makes it all easier, but it’s still so stressful because it’s not in my hands.”
Letens is an immigrant from Germany who graduated from Bethel last spring. She said encourages students to get involved with the International Student Fellowship. The club provides an opportunity for U.S. and international students to learn and engage with different cultures.
“The only way to learn about people is to sit with them and listen,” Letens said. “One thing I’d also say is to not be scared to share the truth.”
The final panel involved a presentation with Jill Stolzfus, executive director for the Association for a More Just Society (AJS). AJS is a Christian organization dedicated to doing justice in Honduras and inspiring others to do the same.