Methodists in support of immigration reform march down Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard outside the 2016 United Methodist General Conference in Portland, Ore. The United Methodist Church officially is in “support of just and fair immigration policies that benefit and allow the family to preserve and maintain its unity.” - Photo by Mike Dubose, UMNS.

By Rev. Lyda Pierce | Director of Hispanic/Latino Ministries

“When a foreigner lives with you in your land, don’t take advantage of him. Treat the foreigner the same as a native. Love him like one of your own. Remember that you were once foreigners in Egypt. I am God, your God.” – Leviticus 19:33-34, NIV

A short time ago in a world not far away…

It isn’t hyperbolic to suggest that we are living in a period of profound mistrust and polarization. Uncertainty has settled across the land as people of differing political persuasions seek to understand the consequences of the most recent election. While it is currently unknown whether the incoming administration will keep campaign promises that seem to fly in the face of biblical mandates to welcome and extend hospitality to aliens in our lands, for those whose lives would be impacted, the fear is very real.

A number of churches tucked into communities across the Greater Northwest Area are preparing to resist the messages of hate and exclusion which have spread into politics, news, and even children’s schools across the land. Empowered by the Gospel of Christ, this resistance seeks to create communities where all people can know that they are loved by God equally. Some are using a code word “sanctuary” for their strategy.

A small church somewhere within the vast Greater Northwest has not yet heard of sanctuary nor of the resistance movement at all. In this church is a woman, let’s call her “Celeste,” who shares her story with her pastor. Celeste came to this country years ago as a teenager with their mother after the family lost their little farm and her father died in a bus accident. Celeste and her mother lacked the proper documents for entry, and walked in through the desert.

Once here, Celeste learned the language and got a job. Several years ago she was in the car with a man who had been drinking. They were stopped by police. The driver was arrested for drunk driving and she was taken into custody and turned over to ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement. She was released pending a court date. Over the years she has had several court appearances, with many opportunities to delay, but she is currently under an order of deportation.

Over these same years she has gotten married, had two children and continued to work and pay taxes. Her children and husband all have the proper documents to reside in this country. She is afraid that she will be deported over the next few months and that her family will be left without their mother and wife.  She has been too embarrassed and afraid to let others in the church know her situation.

We do not know the rest of this story but it raises some questions for us all the same.

  • Might a church be able to be so open and welcoming that Celeste would feel safe to share her story?
  • Would there be such a church, which would be willing to listen?
  • Might another church with some privileged members who are looked upon with respect by the courts be able to accompany her in prayer and in presence to her next court date?
  • If her risk of deportation becomes imminent, is there a church where she could stay to be safe, living there while others seek a different outcome for her?
  • Are there churches in this resistance movement who will stand with other churches, cities, unions and community organizations to say do not separate families who are good neighbors, who will work for safety in our communities?
  • What can churches do to stop the bulling that Celeste’s children and a Muslim child have received just outside their school yard?
  • What does sanctuary really mean?

In these last few weeks before the inauguration most of us will spend our time with friends and family enjoying each others company, perhaps a warm fire and maybe too much to eat. Some of us may carry significant disappointment with us about the new administration, but even that falls short of the fear others will feel.

I hope you’ll consider how we might also use this same time to think and strategize together faithfully resisting and wrestling with the tension between our dual citizenship in this country we love and God’s Kin(g)dom to which we belong. If you want to be part of this resistance movement stay tuned for resources, events, and conversation that will follow or email me to be in touch.

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