If you’ve been paying attention lately, you might have noticed how international our city is becoming. The statistics can be hard to track due to the ever changing numbers and reality, but according to the American Immigration Council, 16.5% of Texans are foreign-born. And the organization DFW International estimates 44% of North Texans were born overseas.
You’ve most likely seen this reality of increased internationals play out in your daily life - in your schools, neighborhoods, grocery store… the list goes on. At our very own Questcare Clinic, half of our patients are from countries other than the United States. On average we see patients from 33 different countries each month!
So once you’ve noticed that your neighborhood is getting more diverse, then what? Here are 3 things you need to know about your international neighbors.
Everyone's Story is Different
When we’re faced with things we don’t understand, one of our biggest temptations is to put them in categories. So we assume that everyone from each country is coming for the same reasons, and we assume quite a bit about their needs.
But the reality is that knowing someone’s country of origin isn’t a free pass to assume you know everything about their story and their life. A student from Iraq is here for different reasons than the family fleeing persecution from Iraq. The business man from Mexico is here for very different reasons than the father who crossed the border to be with his wife and kids. To assume that we know what any person needs and who they are based on their ethnicity, race, or country of origin would be a big mistake. We’d miss out on that person's very unique and personal story. We’d miss out on the person bearing God's image in front of us, the person God created for His own glory. We’d miss out on the opportunity to meet their unique needs, and to point them to the Lord in the unique way that speaks to them.
We might assume they’re one thing when they’re not, and we would miss out on them.
Not All Are Refugees
Contrary to how it’s used in common discourse, the term “refugee” is actually a designation reserved for a very specific group of people.
Refugees have come from countries where they’ve been persecuted or have a well-founded fear of persecution based on their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. Earning the UN designation “refugee” and gaining the right to resettle under a new government is a lengthy process involving a series of interviews and background checks. This process takes on average 17 years between first fleeing one's home country until they are resettled.
International people end up in the United States through a number of different legal mechanisms. Some of them might have stories as tragic as refugees but aren’t here with that official status. From student visas, to work visas, to travel visas, to T visas or U visas, to family cases, asylum seekers, or even undocumented internationals… your neighbor might be here through a number of different venues. It’s important to realize the differences in these legal mechanisms because it means different resources are available to each individual.
For a great primer on the refugee crisis and how the church is called to respond, check out the book Seeking Refuge by the staff of World Relief.
You're a "Neighbor" Too
Although the story of the good Samaritan in Luke 10 is commonly heard, we often miss that the story begins with the lawyer asking one question - “And who is my neighbor?” - but ends with Jesus asking another: “Which of these do you think was neighbor to him who fell among thieves?” As He often does, Jesus reversed the question. The lawyer was asking who he was responsible to, and Jesus responded with what he was responsible for.
It was not a question of a to do list, but one of identity. No matter who it is that stood (or lay) across from that man, he himself was to be a good neighbor. While we might get bogged down with whom the person across from us is, how they got here, and where they came from, the reality is that it is up to us if we will be a good neighbor like the Samaritan was.
As we watch our city become more and more international, we can only hope that the church will rise to the occasion, be the city on the hill it was called to be, and push past sometimes-uncomfortable cultural barriers to meet that international neighbor next door.
Join us this holiday season as we invite the world to our table! Learn how you can engage with your international neighbors at watermark.org/go.
You can find weekly notes from the External Focus team at watermark.org/blog/external-focus - or subscribe below!