When I was in second grade my family moved from Tulsa, Oklahoma to the southern gulf coast of Florida. On my first day at my new school, I stepped into class donning a jean skirt and cowboy boots. With a red bandana draped proudly around my neck, it was only fitting that the first questions flowing from the circle of eight year olds were, “Do you ride a horse to school?” “Do people in Oklahoma live in teepees?”. As a naive young Okie, I had no idea how to respond, I thought to myself “Yes, people had horses and road them… possibly to school? And yes, once people in Oklahoma lived in teepees?? Maybe they still do?”. After our awkward introduction I did learn to leave my cowboy boots and bandana at home.
It was in this classroom, that I met Rosemond. South Florida in 1989 was a hub for immigrants, being a white girl, I was among the minority in my class, where I had friends from Puerto Rico, Haiti, Mexico, and Guatemala. Most everyone who lived in our community had roots settled in other places around the states and the world. Suddenly, I found myself in a classroom full of children uprooted and moved to embark on a new life. Rosemond came into our classroom a few months after I arrived. I remember the day she walked through the door, her light colored t-shirt stood out against her smooth dark skin. Her shy eyes looked down, and her hands fumbled to find themselves comfort around the straps of her shoulder bag that hung closely to her legs. In her hair were several pieces of torn cloth, tying up many different ponytails, the white fabric popping against her coal black braids. She wore long shorts covering her knees but as her bag shifted, I spotted her white Keds peeking through, just like mine.
Rosemond was quiet, but when she spoke her voice was soothing and deep, I listened intently for the English words to seep through her thick French accent. Rosemond spoke English, but she could neither read nor write. Since I finished my work 10 minutes early, and was constantly annoying my teacher with my idleness, Mrs. Parks gave me the task to do flashcards with Rosemond. Each day, after I was done with my work the two of us would retreat to a corner in the back where we would sit knee to knee reviewing word after word, exchanging giggles and smiling glances as we worked through the deck. We sat in those chairs as children, little girls seeing each other as nothing more than new friends. I knew Rosemond was smart, and I knew she couldn’t read words like “basket” and “automobile” because she grew up in Haiti where French was her first language. As the year progressed, Rosemond exchanged her torn rags for flashy plastic ponytail holders, and her down cast look was overshadowed by her bright white smile. We ended the year with Rosemond beaming because in our classroom she had discovered community, a common unity of children trying to lay a familiar foundation in a new place.
It was Rosemond and the glorious diversity of South Florida that caused me to fall in love with the Stranger.
“So you, too, must show love to foreigners, for you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt.” Deuteronomy 10:19
Today my heart is shredded for the thousands of boarder children being detained by the US government. Innocent victims caught between the bureaucracy and the unfathomable desperation of a parent. Within this sticky situation we, the church, must wipe our hands clean of hate. As this current tragedy has unfolded I have witnessed a splintering within the Christian community rising up against innocent children and other immigrants. I have read abhorrent posts on Facebook from both men and women who love God and know Jesus but publically raise a banner of hate and entitlement. Lest we forget that Jesus HIMSELF said in Matthew 25:25 “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”
(Photo credit to http://www.caircoalition.org)
Last week I was driving down a major highway in Oklahoma City and above an overpass was a group of people holding posters and signs with vile, discriminating comments aimed at this current issue. I am sure that the gentleman with the flag bandana AND cross t-shirt holding up the sign reading “Go back to your own country!” is the same person sitting in his pew on Sunday morning demanding God be brought back as the head of our government. As an observer, what I see is our government, trying to love the stranger by providing meals and a safe place in transition, and the Christian picketing with repulsive signs and presumptuous opinions about why and how these children arrived. As I drove under the pass, hearing honking horns and screaming voices, I nearly came unglued. A fire rose inside of me as stories flooded my mind of friends in the refugee community, stories of those forced out of their mother land due to the same despair as these children. I had a few questions for this gentleman with a large stomach and starched jeans.
- To you with the flag bandana, I ask, have you ever put your son to sleep and stayed awake all night long because you know he is targeted to be kidnapped, drugged and trained to fight in a guerrilla army?
- To you with the flag bandana, I ask, have you ever watched your children go hungry because you could not afford rice to feed them?
- To you with the flag bandana, I ask, have you ever had to sell your one and only daughter to a stranger so you could feed your two sons?
- To you with the flag bandana, I ask, have you ever witnessed your entire village massacred because you didn’t have the same religion as the men with the guns?
- To you, with the flag bandana, I ask, have you ever sent your children to sift through landfills with cut up feet to find the tiniest morsels of food or scrapes of metal so you could buy beans?
What would you do, dear sir, if this was your reality? Would you sew the name of your child onto their tattered shirt and send them to a place that you heard provides them an education? Would you trust your two year old with their 12 year old sister and send them into the rushing waters of the Rio Grande because across that deluge is food, enough food that if rumors are true, they throw it away at the end of the day. What would you do, dear sir, if this was your reality?! What if with every waking morning and every deep breath the life of your child was at stake, the sacrifices had run out and the last resorts all taken… what would you do?!
I don’t have the answers to this obvious problem, but I do know as the church we must change our discourse to one of LOVE!!! Can we just for a moment allow ourselves to see through the eyes of these mothers, of these fathers, and most importantly of these children who didn’t have a choice? I do know that the hands and feet of Jesus aren’t supposed to lie within our government, but within me and you, within US!
Leviticus 19:34 says, “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.”
Love them as yourself. Again… LOVE THEM AS YOURSELF.
Please, take down discriminating MEMEs about not speaking English, stop equating the problem of immigration with matters of abortion, and throw away your signs that make an already bad situation worse, LET US LOVE. We can all agree that immigration is a screwed up business, and yes, it needs an overhaul. Please, instead of greeting those who are different with hate, can we extend a helping hand, a gentle hug and a soft smile… and demonstrate that the church can be a body of inclusion where one comes to be washed and healed of a past they can’t change.
Friends and strangers…when love is our motive, no outcome is wrong. When equality is our aim, no hate resides. When humility precedes us, Jesus is glorified. As the church, can we find this balance? Can we strive to see through this lens, please? Can we, the church, be a community with one common unity, Christ?
Note: This is not a discussion of immigration but rather a plea for LOVE in the midst of confusion.