Years ago when I was employed as an English teacher at a school in Germany, I volunteered on weekends at a refugee house. The Polish family I’d been assigned to help—mother, father, and four children—had, sadly, felt forced to leave their country of birth for economic reasons. Though educated and skilled in a trade, the father, a gentle and humble man, had lost his job and become demoralized when unable to find another.
Today, large-scale immigration, resulting from civil war, poverty, and racial and religious persecution, raises the important question of how destination countries can successfully assimilate growing numbers of diverse individuals and cultures. While education, economic opportunity, and social support systems inarguably facilitate one’s integration into a new culture or society, none of these things can guarantee happiness and success. Nor can they extinguish the fear that we might lose our identity or way of life by adopting another’s character or culture.
Yet the immigrant experiences of notable men and women in the Bible, such as Ruth (who found stability and happiness in a foreign country) and Joseph (who, taken from his homeland as a slave, became a ruler in Egypt second only to Pharaoh), give us a reason to hope that wherever we go, we can make our home, make a meaningful contribution, and feel welcome. More important, they demonstrate that we have nothing to lose and everything to gain by striving above all else to assimilate more of the divine character in our day-to-day lives.
We learn from the Bible that God’s character, or nature, includes infinite goodness, mercy, compassion, and love. And we each include not only these but all the qualities of our Father-Mother God. In fact, we have in common with one another the heritage of an unchanging spiritual identity as the reflection of our divine Parent. Endeavoring to honor this identity by expressing these God-given qualities more in our daily lives is the assimilation that opens the door of opportunity and enables us to employ our talents.
Take Ruth, whose story illustrates this so beautifully. Actually, her journey, taken more than three thousand years ago, was not unlike those of many immigrants today.
After her husband and father-in-law pass on, she decides to leave Moab, her native country, and return with her mother-in-law, Naomi, to Judah, the country of Naomi’s birth. Over her mother-in-law’s protestations that Ruth remain with her own people in Moab, where she would feel most at home, Ruth insists, “Wherever you go, I will go;... your people shall be my people, and your God, my God” (Ruth 1:16, New King James Version).
Ruth’s genuine goodness and her loyalty to Naomi are rewarded. In Judah, Ruth begins a new life and finds companionship. She meets Boaz, by all accounts a good and loving man. He recognizes and appreciates her virtues and allows her to gather food for herself and Naomi in his fields before he eventually asks her to become his wife. Ruth’s devotion to her mother-in-law and husband expresses her love for, and devotion to, God, “under whose wings,” Boaz tells her, “you have come to take refuge” (Ruth 2:12, New International Version).
In letting our own thoughts be a transparency for the Divine, we naturally express more of the unselfishness demonstrated by Naomi and Ruth, who put one another’s happiness first; more of the flexibility and courage that freed Ruth to leave the familiar behind; and more of the compassion and discernment that Boaz showed in his interactions with Ruth. These qualities are not exclusive to a particular kind of human personality but are inherent in the individual, God-given nature of each one of us. It is living these qualities that enables us to not just survive but thrive in our surroundings, and to enrich the countries or places we call home.
Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer of Christian Science, includes all humanity in this spiritual assimilation process when she writes, “... the longing to be better and holier, expressed in daily watchfulness and in striving to assimilate more of the divine character, will mould and fashion us anew, until we awake in His likeness” (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 4).
As we gain a fuller, richer sense of our spiritual individuality and identity, our thoughts and lives become better, holier. And we see the unifying effect of conforming not to another’s character or culture but to the character of divine Life, Truth, and Love. Like my Polish family, who found a new life in the English-speaking country they emigrated to from Germany, all of us can expect to reap the wonderful benefits of this assimilation. Nothing will contribute more to the happiness, stability, and success of our families, communities, and countries.