Sunday, December 29, 2013


Most parents and guardians experience some anxiety when it comes to raising children. My mother subjected my siblings and I to some rather illogical fears. Fear of bike riding, fear of toilet seats, fear of all germs. A friend of mine recently shared that she has a family member who can't have people over to their home anymore because they fear they may be carrying some creature on their being that will infest her home- deeply fearful of bed bugs, she once made her mother-in-law keep her luggage in the tub, and required her to have multiple showers daily to remove all pestilence. I may as well confirm that there was no cause for this behavior, all was motivated from unfounded fears that captivated most of her waking attention.

Recently a close friend of mine skipped out on a college roommate reunion with kids because her anxiety flared as she imagined the mountainous journey she would have to take to get to her final destination. She couldn't shake the image of losing control of the car and flying over the mountainside road barriers.

We all experience fear, we aren't all able to keep our cool when walking through life's unforseen mountains and valleys. There are some of us when facing dire circumstances will run in the opposite direction or just put our heads under the dirt. But as people of faith we are often faced with situations that require us to act, to stand with others, and this at times requires us to move past our fear.

In Matthew's gospel the angel appears to Joseph in a dream warning him of Herod's ill intentions and commanding him to take the family to Egypt out of harms way. Herod afraid of losing his power to this little child, attempts to manipulate the wise men into giving the whereabouts of the child they have told him about and there are prophesies about, but when Herod realizes they didn't take the bait, he decides he will massacre the entire population of infants in Jerusalem. People will do any number of things to ensure their safety if they feel threatened or afraid.

This past summer I had the privilege of planning a week-long mission camp devoted to education around immigration and undocumented laborers in the US.

We learned about the history of unjust immigration laws, and how our country time and time again made immigration possible for some folks and not others. I don't need to tell you, you already know who it privileged- folks with lighter skin have been able to legally make the US their home, whereas darker skinned folks have faced many more roadblocks.

Thus the problem unfolds, folks denied legal entrance who are seeking economic security for their families, begin risky and often unsafe journeys, many times breaking families apart.

My favorite part of the entire mission camp week was forging new relationships with people who lived and worshipped in the same community that I lived in that were themselves “undocumented” the preferred language of most folks.

We heard testimonies from mothers and fathers who struggled with troubling roadblocks to success in the United States. For instance, how does one get from place to place without a drivers license? Not to mention that plane travel is completely off limits. For undocumented teens who are approaching college-ages, filling the FAFSA does you no good without a valid social security # and other paperwork. Undocumented laborers pay taxes but do not reap the benefits of their hard work.

One of the young women who came to speak, shared her personal journey and struggles with being undocumented. Her family was living in Kuwait, prior to Iraq's invasion in 1990, her father sold everything that the family owned and booked a flight to Israel. Once in Israel the family was considered refugees, and her father applied for a visa to the United States. Not too long after her mother and father, her baby sister and herself, boarded a plane to Chicago, IL. Her parents knew that they would stay beyond the visa, going back to Kuwait was an impossibility. Living as a refugee in Israel wouldn't allow the family to thrive. And so they rented a small apartment, and her father who was a doctor in Kuwait began working an entry-level factory job. Daily life in America when you are not in the system presents some challenges, but her parents sheilded her from most of this. She explained that it wasn't until she was old enough to take the test for a driver's license that her parents even told her that she was undocumented. Her father had became a business owner of a freight company, and they were living reasonably well, there was no reason to alarm her and her younger sister. But when she found out, she became conscious in a new way to injustice in the world. Her eyes were opened in a new way. Being Muslim she had experienced discrimination, but this seemed something entirely new. Discovering that she was undocumented made her afraid.

Afraid of what? Imagine with me what it might be like to discover that you have one hour to pack your family's belongings and leave your home because your neighbor has reported you to the INS. Often it is not whole families deported, but single members, fathers who have a wife and three children to raise. Suddenly on the run, packing their families up and moving on to a new home. Thanks to the Secure Communities Bill that was passed by Congress in 2011, any undocumented laborer who has a minor record can be deported. Something as little as a traffic violation can set this in to motion. Daily life leaves many undocumented families afraid and vulnerable.

We've heard about this, most of us who pay attention to the news discover stories of people being deported, often undocumented parents being legally deported, considered immigration fugitives, while their children are natural citizens of the US. The story of Elvira Arellano and her son Saul who took Sanctuary in Adalberto United Methodist Church in Humbolt Park in Chicago is one story of tremendous hope and sadness for many undocumented people. Elvira came to the US in 1997 to work to support her family in Mexico, including her ill parents, and in 2002 during a post- 911 security sweep at her job at O-Hare Airport, she was convicted of Social Security Fraud. She subsequently became a target by immigration officials, and was summoned to court in 2006 facing deportation. She and her son took refuge within the walls of the church from this point on, forced to stay within the walls of the church for fear deportation. In 2007 Elvira was deported, now her son a citizen of the US lives with her in Mexico. Elvira continues to speak-out as an organizer and activist for immigration.

Joseph, Mary and Jesus were themselves refugees immigrating to an unknown land. The Holy Family was forced to leave Bethlehem to ensure the safety of their sweet little Jesus boy. Leaving with haste in the middle of the night, Joseph chose to heed the angels advice and take action, avoiding the deadly massacre of children in Bethlehem.

“A voice was heard in Ramah,
    wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
    she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

Fear motivates us, fear is linked to our most primal state, our instincts to stay alive and keep our loved ones alive. This is what my mother was trying to teach me when she taught me my fear of germs and bikes. She wanted me to prosper, she wanted to keep me and my siblings alive.

But being constantly afraid is exhausting.

In 2010, four Miami-Dade County college students — Felipe Matos, Gaby Pacheco, Carlos Roa and Juan Rodriguez — embarked on a 1,500 mile journey from Miami, Fla., to Washington, D.C. to raise awareness about immigration reform and advocate a halt on the deportation of undocumented students. The walkers called their project the Trail of Dreams. Along the path, they were joined by a range of immigration reform groups and allies. Since then undocumented students around the US have been “Coming Out” as UnDocumented and UnAfraid, rallies where students share testimonies about the struggles of undocumented. Strength in numbers is why so many of these events have been possible and successful. When you are surrounded by friends and allies who stand in solidarity with you fear begins to subside.

In 2012, the Obama Administration came out with a memorandum entitled Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which provided temporary relief to 16-30 year old undocumented students, enabling them to not worry about deportation and ability to work. Some states have made provisions for undocumented students to pay in-state tuition rates. Undocumented youth and young adults celebrated this tremendous step forward, and yet are still waiting on Congress to pass the DREAM act. With an estimated 65,000 undocumented students graduating annually, and only 7% are entering into colleges, the DREAM Act has the potential to enable populations of undocumented immigrants to move outside of low-paid, minimum wage jobs, breaking the the new model of economic slavery.

One of the ways we worked with the students the week of our Mission Camp was reconstructing their own emigration stories. Students were asked to speak with different members of their family to determine when their families had emigrated to the United States, how, and why. Some students came with pictures and tokens of great significance symbolizing their familial heritage, while the great majority of students had very little to share. The farther away from their families emigration the less they knew about the details. It appeared that stories of emigration had very little significance still for their identity today, while at the same time their family's success continues to be impacted from their move to the United States.

I wonder what significance Jesus' own story of emigration had on his development as he grew-up. Was there significant changes to his development? Living his infancy as a refugee in the land of Egypt, only to find out that they needed to forge a new place called home in Nazareth.

Having journeyed with my family quite recently, I can tell you that it isn't easy to pack up and move your family overnight. Living in transition, and waiting can be tortuous.

The good news is that God is still at work in our world today, speaking to us through faithful messengers. In the same way that Joseph heeded the message of the angel in the dream, we too are called to recognize and notice God's messengers to us today. The messengers may surprise us however, and the messages may even cause us to be afraid. This past summer God spoke through mothers of undocumented students, moving my heart in profound ways.

As each of us consider these issues which plague our world, ones that don't come with easy answers, may we take a hint from Joseph, trusting in God's provision, being in solidarity with the oppressed, and taking action to live our lives unafraid. How will we choose to respond today?

No comments:

Post a Comment