Moses … went out to visit his own people … and he saw how hard they were forced to work. During his visit, he saw an Egyptian beating one of his fellow Hebrews. After looking in all directions to make sure no one was watching, Moses killed the Egyptian and hid the body … The next day, … he saw two Hebrew men fighting. “Why are you beating up your friend?” Moses said to the one who had started the fight. The man replied, “Who appointed you to be our prince and judge? Are you going to kill me as you killed that Egyptian yesterday?”—Exodus 2:11-14, NLT
Moses had a surprise that many young immigrants, as well as children and grandchildren of immigrants experience today. Assimilated to Egyptian culture—dressed like them, strutting around like them, speaking with their accent, probably speaking Hebrew badly–Moses felt like like quite the nobleman among Hebrews on the street. Touched by the unjust situation his people suffered, he wanted to defend them. He assumed that there woul be a natural solidarity among all Hebrews. What a double surprise when he saw that they not only fought among each other! In addition, he had also failed to impress them with his “heroic defense” of their racial dignity when he killed the Egyptian slavedriver!
In our time, the children of some immigrants experience a cultural transformation, especially when their parents have enjoyed economic success in the new country. They have grown up among the majority race, they have attained an impressive education, but they have lost much of the culture and the original language of their family. Either in the university or on the street, they have become aware of the injustice many of their people suffer and they commit themselves to making a difference. But they get a surprise when the “newly arrived” do not immediately accept their leadership or their offer of help.
The well-assimilated and the newcomers can offer mutual benefit to each other by associating together, but if they do not manage the situation well, feelings can get hurt and relationships can break up. Moses’ errors cost him 40 years of exile, but with a dose of wisdom, young multicultural leaders can avoid such problems. The first step for those who want to help immigrants is to establish a respectful personal relationship with them. Dramatic or extremist acts (like killing the Egyptian) are not recommendable first steps.
Although young leaders may have a lot to teach others, in the majority of contexts, they do better to learn first. No one likes a know-it-all, much less a young one. When Moses returned from Midian with a divine commission to liberate his people, he came back with gray hairs and experience as a foreigner and immigrant. He had more right to speak and to be heard.
Young multicultural leaders have a lot to give. They shouldn’t despair if recent immigratns do not listen to them immediately. With time and wisdom, their moment will come.