Like Ruth, immigrants know risk — and the value of sharing burdens

Photo: Cole Patrick, Unsplash

I have been reflecting on what it means to be a first-generation immigrant. The biblical story of Ruth resonates deeply with me.

Before accompanying Naomi to a foreign land, Ruth expressed her profound commitment by saying, “Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge” (Ruth 1:16). 

As an immigrant, choosing where to go involves an element of faith, as the future unfolds with unknown possibilities.

Ruth’s commitment didn’t end there. She continued: “Where you die, I will die — there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me” (Ruth 1:17, NIV). 

Rejecting the easier option of returning to her own people, Ruth prioritized the relationship with her mother-in-law, Naomi.

Ruth, a Moabite, willingly left behind her family and homeland to venture into a foreign land, where she would reside among unfamiliar people. She knew the risks.

One risk, for Ruth and for immigrants today, is being made to feel unwelcome. “Go back where you came from” — whether spoken or unspoken — is a common challenge. 

If someone were to heckle me and demand I go back to my country, my response would be, “I am not a tourist. I am an immigrant, and I intend to stay.”

For some immigrants, returning to their home country is not an option. They may have fled persecution or violence or severe economic hardship.  

When immigrants arrive in a new country, they often isolate themselves, avoiding the settled population’s rejection. This was not the case with Ruth and Boaz. They worshiped a God who breaks barriers and reconciles people, turning foes into friends.

Serving in an immigrant community in Philadelphia, it is crucial for me to journey alongside individuals and families, helping them settle in and preparing them for the tribulations that lie ahead.

Many immigrants have a hard time finding a place to stay. Property owners typically demand background checks, credit scores and proof of income, which new immigrants often lack. 

To resolve this predicament, Mennonite churches and families in Philadelphia step in by offering temporary housing. They provide rent-free accommodations until the individuals or families can secure a more permanent residence.

Building friendships and alliances, sharing burdens across cultures and generations, are of utmost importance. We should not hesitate to ask for help and extend assistance to others. 

“Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). 

The burden of tests and tribulations is lightened when we face them collectively. 

Ruth relied on the generosity of others. As a first-generation immigrant, she did not own any land, so she collected food from leftovers. Her story reflects the experiences of immigrants who work in less desirable jobs — leftover jobs that others avoid.

Ruth recognized she needed a local person’s wisdom. She placed her trust in Naomi, diligently following her instructions. She found another ally and friend, Boaz, who provided protection.

Ruth didn’t hesitate to ask for help. She told Boaz, “Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a guardian-redeemer of our family” (Ruth 3:9, NIV). 

Spreading the corner of one’s garment symbolized a marriage proposal. Ruth boldly asked Boaz to marry her, and he said yes — although the Torah prohibited marrying a foreigner. But, as boldly as Ruth, he was willing to take a risk.

I believe that as our relationship with God deepens, we become more sensitive to the needs of others, fostering reliance on one another, regardless of our country of origin, taking risks and sharing burdens. 

Hendy Matahelemual

Hendy Stevan Matahelemual is an ordained minister in Mosaic Mennonite Conference and lives in Philadelphia. 

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