Matt Soerens: MS, Human Relations Leader
- Graduated from Wheaton College with a dual degree in Geology and International Relations
- M.S. from DePaul University in International Public Service
- Accredited by the U.S. Department of Justice to provide immigration legal services and represent clients before the U.S. Department of Homeland Security
- Served as Field Director of the Evangelical Immigration Table
- Coauthor of Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion and Truth in the Immigration Debate (InterVarsity Press, 2009) and Seeking Refuge: On the Shores of the Global Refugee Crisis (Moody Publishers, 2016)
As a freshman student at Wheaton College, the evangelical liberal arts college in suburban Chicago where I arrived as an English major in 2002, I signed up for an introductory geology class primarily because I’d heard that “rocks for jocks” was the easiest way to fulfill my General Education science requirement (I’ve never really been a jock, but I was also not particularly academically adventurous).
As I learned about the interaction between various earth systems, though, I was captivated with the stories buried within layers of rock strata. Exposure to the intricacies of creation gave me a deeper sense of awe for the Creator. Furthermore—at a time when my various classes and extracurricular ministry activities had brought to the forefront of my concern the intersection of Christian discipleship with issues of global poverty, hunger, and injustice—I was struck by an offhand comment from my professor one day. What the world was desperately in need of, he said, was technical experts who understand how earth systems work, particularly because access to potable water is so foundational to human flourishing in the most basic sense, tied to issues of health, agriculture, and conflict. By the end of that semester, I’d decided I would major in geology during my time at Wheaton, eager to equip myself with practical knowledge to make a difference in the lives of vulnerable people.
I very much enjoyed my geology classes on campus, and particularly relished the opportunity to study God’s creation up close in various parts of the world—over the course of a summer climbing over the Precambrian granites that form the foundation of the Black Hills of South Dakota, exploring the Driftless Area of southern Wisconsin, examining fluvial deposits along the Mississippi River in southern Illinois, hiking through the mountains of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, and pulling over aside outcrops throughout England and Wales.
When I started my first full-time job during my final semester at Wheaton, though—at a Christian non-profit organization down the street from our campus called World Relief, helping local churches coordinate workshops for immigrants interested in naturalization—there were few obvious connections to my primary field of study.
While I’d initially envisioned this job as a year-long commitment, I’m still working for World Relief more than a decade later. After my first role, I was trained in U.S. immigration law, allowing me to obtain the credentials necessary to represent immigrant clients before the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Immersed on a daily basis in both the details of immigration law and the stories of immigrants who had come in a variety of fashions to the United States, I began to wrestle with how the Bible would have both me (individually) and the church as a whole to respond to the arrival of immigrants. Though I’d grown up in strong Christian home and church and believe that I was relatively biblically literate, I’d never really thought about what (if anything) the Scriptures had to say about the treatment of immigrants. As I began to re-read the Bible and look for immigrant stories, I found that there were a lot of them, and that God’s word is replete with very specific instructions about the treatment of immigrants. As immigration appeared in the headlines as Congress debated competing immigration reform proposals, I felt God had equipped me to help challenge others to address this complex topic from a distinctly biblical perspective.
To seek to encourage a biblical discussion on the topic of immigration, I worked with a colleague to coauthor a book, Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion andTruth in the Immigration Debate. We hoped it would help correct some common misconceptions about immigration in the U.S., challenge Christians to consider the Bible’s teachings on a tough topic that many view exclusively from a political, economic, or cultural lens, and help grow support among evangelical Christians, in particular, for reforms to U.S. immigration policies. Since the book’s publication in 2009, most of my career has focused on supporting churches, denominations, and other Christian institutions as they seek to engage the topic of immigration in fact-based, biblically-informed ways. Not surprisingly, geology does not come up very often.
Still, if I could go back in time and reconsider my course of academic study, I would not change a thing. Certainly, I’ve forgotten much of what I learned: when my daughter recently asked me to identify a particular piece of rock she found in the front yard, I could at best make an educated guess, and on a recent visit as a tourist to a volcano in El Salvador, my explanation to my colleagues of precisely what was happening beneath the surface was barely coherent. Nevertheless, my focus on science during my undergraduate years actually prepared me in at least three important ways for the work to which I believe God has called me now.
First of all, studying geology opened my eyes to the world—to the physical realities of minerals, fossils, and tectonic plates, certainly—but also to the breadth of people who live upon it. Studying geology helped cure me of a cultural myopia that I think is common among many Americans (Christians included), because the earth’s systems are, by definition, global. Travel throughout the United States and the world as a college student exposed me to other cultures.
Secondly, studying geology gave me at least a baseline understanding of many of the natural dynamics that actually compel migration. Competition for access to both water and energy resources found beneath the ground have contributed to tensions that erupted into refugee crises in various parts of Africa and the Middle East. Earthquakes and hurricanes have been responsible for horrific human suffering and forced migration. Climate change—which I probably thought of as a political conspiracy until I had professors who could dispassionately explain the data that demonstrates significant changes to global temperatures—is already having significant impacts on agriculture in the Global South, exacerbating poverty that has pushed many to seek a better livelihood elsewhere. As I seek to help pastors and their congregations to understand immigration, it’s vital that I can communicate competently the root causes that compel migration, many of which are connected to the topics we studied in geology classes.
Finally, because I’ve landed in a role that touches on uniquely sensitive political questions, I’ve often thought back to how my Christian geology professors carefully reconciled both the special revelation of Scripture—to which they were fully committed—with the general revelation revealed in God’s creation, particularly in addressing questions that can be controversial for many conservative Christians, such as the age of the earth. Without demeaning anyone’s beliefs, my professors presented both the scientific evidence as well different views on the Bible’s teachings, allowing us to reach our own informed, orthodox opinions. I’ve tried to follow that basic model as I discuss the politically charged topic of immigration with Christians, laying out both the biblical principles that I believe should guide our response to the arrival of immigrants as well as the facts (the realities of how the U.S. immigration legal system currently functions, the statistics on immigrant crime rates, the consensus of economists of the economic impacts of immigration, etc.). The scientific method, with its reliance on subjecting theories, opinions, and hunches to evidence, is applicable to many areas of life, and our national approach to important public policy questions would surely benefit from more facts and less untested conjecture.
I don’t know if I’ll ever end up working as a geologist; at this point, frankly, that seems unlikely. But the study of the natural sciences has equipped me well—in some ways I could not have predicted—for the work that I believe God has called me to do for the moment, and I am grateful for the ways my study of science has helped to form me.