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Article updated: 10/28/2013 9:28 AM

Belief in God's work calls us to support the immigrants

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By Bill Hybels

If you told me 10 years ago that I would be writing about immigration reform, I never would have believed you. The issue of immigration, however, has landed in our church's lap.

Several years ago, Willow Creek Community Church started a Spanish-speaking worship service. Since then, I have built relationships with many of the families that attend and have learned of their challenges.

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We also serve underresourced families through our church's Care Center, which distributed more than 4 million pounds of food last year. As we've ministered to people in need in our community, we've learned that many of them are undocumented, having entered the country unlawfully or having overstayed a visa.

And we've been forced to wrestle with a tough question: How will our church respond to the realities of immigration?

We've done so by digging into the scriptures, ensuring that our response is guided by God's word. Jesus teaches his followers to welcome strangers. Jesus said, "Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me" (Matthew 25:40).

We dare not turn away the stranger. On the other hand, scripture also calls us to "be subject to the governing authorities," respecting and honoring the law (Romans 13:1). How we respond to the challenges and opportunities of immigration must be consistent with both of these scriptural teachings.

As our church community has gotten to know many of the immigrants among us, we've also found that some of the stereotypes we hear about undocumented immigrants are inaccurate and even slanderous. Most of those with whom I interact are family-loving folks who work hard, pay taxes and desperately want to get right with the law but are unable to within the current legal framework.

We've witnessed members of our church deported, separating families that have been living and working in our community for many years. In fact, we've found that our legal immigration system doesn't work particularly well for anyone.

It does not work for our economy, either, because our laws are unresponsive to the dynamics of our labor market. It does not uphold the rule of law, which has been trampled for decades as immigration laws have been selectively enforced because fully enforcing them would be economically disastrous.

Nor does our immigration system work for immigrants themselves, whose families are often divided, who become vulnerable to unjust working conditions and even human trafficking, and who are thus unable to fully flourish as God intends.

I am convinced that we desperately need our elected officials to come together in a bipartisan manner to fix this situation. That's why I've joined with a diverse group of evangelical Christian leaders from across the country to highlight some basic, biblically informed principles that we hope will encourage Congress and the president to set aside the political brinkmanship and take action to reform our immigration laws. These principles are online at www.EvangelicalImmigrationTable.com.

The U.S. Senate took a first step in June. Now, the House of Representatives must act. I'm praying for our representatives in both parties, that God would grant wisdom and courage to them as they address this urgent matter.

We've built our church on the idea that all people -- regardless of their country of origin, language or legal status -- matter deeply to God. Each one is made in God's image and so loved by God that he sent his Son Jesus as a celestial migrant from heaven to earth to reconcile them back to God -- and then to join them in God's mission of transforming lives and communities.

God is working in and through the lives of immigrants in our church. As we encounter their desperate need for reform to our nation's immigration laws, faithfulness to scripture requires us to be stewards of our influence and to advocate with them for just, compassionate, and sensible reform.

• Bill Hybels is the founding and senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, which has locations in South Barrington, Chicago, West Chicago, Huntley, Crystal Lake and Northfield.

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