The official number of immigrants in New York City is just over two million, but those of us with two eyes and two ears open know the number is closer to three. One only has to add up various New York Times estimates of this and that ethnic group to come up with a much higher total than that provided by the U. S. Census Bureau.
Sometimes the official numbers are laughable. One report stated that there were less than thirty Mexicans living in the southern tier of Brooklyn. I can introduce you to twice that many in a one-hour ambulation along one street, Brighton Beach Avenue.
One reason for the discrepancy is surely the undercounting of illegal immigrants. This is not to fault the Feds here; counting illegals is a virtually impossible task. Only our Lord knows how many people enter the USA with visitor visas, for example, and then just stay.
In a Bible-based English class last night, I asked the students how many of them were here illegally. I asked them not as a census-taker, but as a minister—I wanted to test the trust-level. After all, I'm an agent of Christ, not the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Five out of the six in attendance admitted to being here illegally. Though I was gratified with their forthrightness, I must admit to being taken aback by the percentage. The only legal immigrant was a woman from Argentina, now a citizen, who has been here 27 years (that's right; she's just now taking English lessons—level one!).
I repeat: I'm not an INS agent. At Urban Nations we do what we can to "normalize" immigrants' relations to our nation's statutes. We do not condone lawbreaking. But we never forget our principal calling: to make known to these lost souls the everlasting gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It's a matter of calling. And the opportunity to serve Christ by serving immigrants here is irresistible.
In an assignment last night, I had the students write a paragraph on "Why I Came to America." Alex is a ship navigator from Vladivostok, Russia, a port city on the Sea of Japan. Because of his occupation, he is a remarkably well-traveled man, having visited many Pacific-rim, Subcontinent and European nations. The only place he recalls meeting Christians was in Australia, through some sort of harbor ministry. Alex wrote, "I wanted to find friends here. I would like better know American people. I'm living in New York about three months. I didn't meet any friends for this time. If somebody asks me, `Will you stay in New York?,' I would answer, `Never.'" Status: Unbeliever. Needs Christ and Christian friendship.
Another student, Aziz, from Belarus, wept as he read his composition: "America is a beautiful country, and people are very independent. I think a long time, all time. I came here but my family in my country. They need be with me, and I need this too. I love my country, but America nice for me. The End." Status: Unbeliever. Needs Christ and Christian guidance.
All my students, along with scores of other immigrants, are expected to attend a fellowship dinner at the parsonage this summer. There, once again, they will be clearly told that the most important citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20). Please pray that God will grant repentance and faith to those whom he has ordained to life from before the foundation of the world. That is the main matter. After all, unbelievers are the most illegal of earth's residents, squatters on God's globe, and the ones who should be most desperately concerned about their status. Don't you agree?
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- Steve M. Schlissel
Steve Schlissel has served as pastor of Messiah's Congregation in Brooklyn, New York, since 1979. Born and raised in New York City, Schlissel became a Christian by reading the Bible. He and Jeanne homeschooled their five children and also helped raise several foster children (mostly Vietnamese). In 2003, they adopted Anna (who was born in Hong Kong in 1988, but is now a U.S. citizen). They have eight foster grandchildren and fourteen "natural" grandchildren.