As an intern at Regeneration, Matt Huang has been working with refugees and immigrants from all over the world. He has served the needs of the underserved with a passion he didn’t even know existed. Through his involvement, he has gained some incredible insight on what Jesus meant when he said “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and that the second is like it: to love your neighbor as yourself.” I wonder if his listeners thought he was referring to something new and profound or if some of them recalled a strikingly similar verse in Deut. 10:19. Deut. 10:19 says, “And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt.” Essentially, the verse says love the alien as you would love youself.
The love of God spans across cultures. Jesus ministered to the Samaritan woman at the well even though Jews were not permitted to speak to Samaritans. He breached a cultural taboo of his day and modeled for us what it means to reconcile cultural tensions and care for those who come from backgrounds different from our own.
This care is especially needed for the immigrants and refugees that enter into our country. Back in the 60s, my parents immigrated to the United States from China. Fears of the Cultural Revolution and financial hardship led them to migrate as college students first to Canada and then to the United States. My dad came here with just two suitcases in hand and without any connections in the United States whatsoever. He learned English by reading college-level mechanical engineering textbooks and stayed in crowded apartment complexes filled with 15, sometimes 20 people at a time. Have you ever wondered how many immigrants and refugee families might have to carve out their lives like this today?
According to the Public Policy Institute of California, international immigrants accounted for 1.8 million new residents in California from 2000-2009. Further, according to the nonprofit organization, Refugee Transitions, 9,480 refugees were resettled in California in 2008 and 11,267 refugees in 2009. The total number of refugees escaping persecution from military juntas and political instability has increased significantly over the past decade. The next time you step outside of your home, just think of the hundreds of thousands of immigrants and refugees that settle in California each year in search of a better life.
Those within the church have often heard of the 10/40 window, which refers to a specific part of the globe with high levels of socioeconomic challenges and little access to the message of Jesus. We direct our attention upon going overseas to meet them, but in today’s globalized society, people groups within the 10/40 window are coming to us. Social, political, and economic factors are moving individuals and groups across the globe to seek refuge and opportunity within our borders. Refugees today not only come from China, India, and Taiwan, but also Iraq, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Bhutan, and Burma in hundreds and thousands. Now, imagine transitioning from a life in a straw-thatched hut in the jungles of Nepal to a life in the concrete jungle of Oakland with the sounds of cars rushing by, billboard signs and electronic devices. The older folks from these communities find it especially difficult to assimilate. As residents of the diverse Bay Area, what could we do to serve them? I also wonder how much the message of Jesus is preached to them here. Who will preach and share the love of Christ to these who have not heard?
My involvement as an intern at Regeneration Church in Oakland has given me the opportunity to be among hundreds of refugees and hear firsthand the struggles that they face. I’ve met Eritrean refugees that struggled to live in the neighboring country of Ethiopia for five years as refugees before they migrated to the United States. There are Bhutanese people in Oakland who had lived as refugees in Nepal for 20 years before moving to the United States. These people were willing to wait for many years for a chance to improve their lives in places like the Bay Area. In the process of getting to know them better, I’ve come to learn their stories and provide them with things that they need. I’ve been able to teach them how to navigate the AC Transit system and inform them of the best food deals in the city. But most importantly, I think that these people just need a friend. They are longing for someone to welcome them into the country, someone to welcome and love them as Jesus would.
You can learn more about Matt’s internship experience here: http://interns.regenerationweb.com. Regeneration is a church for those that long to seek out truth, worship God, be led by the Spirit, and participate in vibrant community. It is located at 238 E 15th St, Oakland CA 94606. Sunday gatherings are at 9:30am and 6pm.