Investing in Immigrants: Sharing, Not Merely Giving

“Douglas had the good intentions of a Western liberal who believed that I was part of the emerging leadership of Africa’s future, and he invested in me for that reason. My religious questions seemed to him like a needless distraction.”

-Lamin Sanneh (Summoned from the Margin, 115)

Lamin Sanneh was a young student in the Gambia when he was befriended by Douglas McKinnon, an American businessman attempting to build a global financial empire. It was the early 1960s and Western nations were paying special attention to where new African nations lined up at the UN: pro-Soviet or pro-American. Both at an individual and national level, Americans and Westerners were investing and taking sides like never before or since.

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John F. Kennedy took an interest in many African presidents, including Kwame Nkrumah from Ghana (Source: Wikimedia)

McKinnon saw potential in Sanneh and took him on a trip to Europe to draw him into his vision, where “simple wealth creation was the answer to the world’s woes” (118). Sanneh ended up a scholar of Islam and Christianity, not a business or political leader as McKinnon envisioned. Yet Sanneh’s first trip outside Africa had a profound effect on his path to vocation. Sanneh writes that he was struck by postwar Europe’s dying regard for religion and lack of motivation for self-betterment. Supremely motivated himself, Sanneh has taught at Harvard and Yale, becoming a world-renowned author. Learning and teaching in the US, UK, Nigeria, Ghana, and Lebanon, Sanneh has taken the investments of a few specially-placed people, including McKinnon, to share his own God-given talents with thousands of people around the globe.

Douglas McKinnon shared his time with Sanneh because of personal interest. “But where does someone who has never visited the “Developing World”, find such personal interest?”, you might ask. In First Thessalonians 2:8 we hear one possible answer: “We were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.” Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy understood their relationship with the Thessalonians not merely as one of teaching transaction, but as mechanism to share their whole personal sets of tangible and intangible gifts. Paul was both tentmaker and preacher, serving people and home and abroad. His motivation was not from guilt or a need to “give back”, but from the sheer thankfulness for God’s loving provision in his life.

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An example of immigrant enclaving – the Congolese quarter of Brussels

Now, in an increasingly interconnected world, you may not even have to leave your own city to find yourself interacting with people of other ethnic and religious backgrounds. If you look hard enough, you can find people from virtually every poor nation in large American and European cities. Cut off from much of the local community (that’s us), they may lack connections, degrees, or clearly marketable skills needed to make their talents come alive away from home. By reaching out to these individuals, you can start sharing of your own stockpile of skills and circumstances.

Teaching English is one way Americans love their immigrant neighbors, but this need not be the limit of sharing: sharing a home for meals, or skills like webdesign or mechanics for general knowledge can lead to new friendships and new avenues for economic and personal growth. You may learn something yourself – like how something seemingly mundane, say nursing, bookkeeping, or landscaping, can yield fruit elsewhere in the world. More importantly, you can share how talents are found in every person, though manifested differently in different contexts.

That word, “talent,” is not a universal concept at its core. It is derived from a Biblical parable in which money and ability are shown to multiply when shared, not when buried away. We now call that the classic “win-win.” Sharing is investing, and it pays off in some unforeseen ways. Sanneh’s trip to Europe helped him uncover his talents; he began to see that God had placed certain abilities in him and a context in which to put them to use. Through McKinnon’s never intended his investment of time to lead Sanneh closer to Christ, it was in that trip that Sanneh began to understand “the fact of God’s active, loving solicitude of us,” and how that might play out in his life (118). How much more can intentional sharing accomplish?

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