What terms should you use for the people around you from other countries? Some people call them foreigners or even aliens. How would you like that?
The term immigrant refers to anyone who is moving from one country to live in another.
A refugee is someone who had to move, perhaps fleeing a dangerous situation like war or religious persecution.
“Recent arrival” is a description that some use for anyone who has moved to the country in the last two or three years.
“International guest” is nice way to speak of a tourist, an international student, or someone on a business visa.
But how do you think they would really like you to speak about them? If you’ve ever been “the foreigner” or “the girl” or “the black, brown, or white guy,” or something less nice, you know how it feels. We like to hear our names. We love to be valued. So one of the nicest things you can do is when you must refer to a specific group, speak about your friends, the Burmese, for example, rather than using terms like immigrants or refugees to describe them.
A second-generation immigrant would normally prefer to be called an American or a Canadian, rather than an immigrant. Some like the description Korean-American or Afghani-Canadian.
It is good to talk with others in your community to know what terms make people angry, offended or hurt.
In Reach the World Next Door, we will often use the term “internationals” to refer generally to immigrants, refugees, international students, and guests passing through. Most importantly those internationals each has a name. Let’s learn the names of some new friends and introduce them to others.
Regardless of what terms you use, as you talk to others about immigrants you may find some who have a negative reaction to anyone from outside their country. Perhaps they are upset about illegal immigrants. They may resent government policies or be concerned about the loss of jobs because of migrant workers who accept low pay. Our attitude and knowledge can help make the difference in how we as a community welcome and respect those who have newly arrived.
It is good to remember that our ancestors were likely immigrants also. Remembering where our people came from can help us to have a heart to know the people who have come and hear the many ways and reasons they have immigrated.
It is also important to remember God’s heart towards all "strangers, legal and illegal immigrants (some prefer the gentler term, undocumented migrants) and those just passing through. We should try to understand the difficult situations in their home countries and their challenges upon arrival. Scripture is clear both on the importance of obeying the laws of a government and the necessity of caring for the stranger in our midst, no matter his background or mistakes. We must struggle to put these together, with love as the foundation.