“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, Love your neighbor as yourself.”- Luke 10:27
This was Jesus’ response when asked what the greatest law was. His response was shocking to those listening, and I’m sure it would be shocking to many today.
We’ve been hearing the term “law and order” for the past few years. Many Americans are adamant that the letter of the law must be followed to the strictest degree. They believe that if we don’t follow the law, chaos will reign in our country.
While I agree that laws are good and necessary, I would also argue that, as believers, we have an allegiance to God’s law above the laws of this country. I do not advocate for anarchy. What I advocate for is love and compassion. Specifically, when it comes to immigration in this country, how can we show compassion for immigrants and respect for the law?
It starts with stories. Learning people’s stories leads to compassion. Ephesians 2:14 says, “For he is our peace, who made both groups one and tore down the dividing wall of hostility.” The divisions which separated us and caused us to look at each other with suspicion have been torn down. We no longer have that obstacle. Instead of trying to rebuild that wall of hostility, how can we continue to tear it down and invite people who are unlike us into our family?
It starts with stories. Learning people’s stories leads to compassion.
I’ve had many interactions with immigrants throughout my life. My own parents came to the U.S. in the mid-’80s. They ran from a violent and bloody war in Nicaragua in hopes of giving their children a better life, one in which they could be free. Everyone in my family has a unique story of what forced them to leave and the journey they took to make it to America. Growing up, I sat in awe as I listened to my aunts and uncles share their stories of bravery.
As an adult, I worked or volunteered for several organizations that served migrants, refugees, and undocumented immigrants. At a clinic in Miami, I sat with a migrant farmworker who was battling diabetes. We were her only source for medical care. She told me of her mother back in Mexico who was dying. “I have to go back and see her,” she said. “Just know that if you go back right now, there is no guarantee that you will be allowed to reenter the country. It’s dangerous and you will lose your income.” I went home that day wondering how anyone could be expected to choose between their livelihood and being able to see their mother one last time.
Recently I sat down with a couple from our church. I’ve watched them over the past couple of years. Always in the front row, worshiping with their hands in the air and smiles on their faces. Furiously taking notes as the pastor preaches. Serving in the parking lot and welcoming people into our church. The curious thing is that they don’t speak English very well. As we talked, I asked them how they are able to follow along and why they choose to stay in our multiethnic church rather than find a Spanish-speaking church. “I love the vision of our church, to welcome all people into God’s family. That’s the way it should be. When the pastor preaches, I see his love for Jesus. It’s obvious. I may not understand everything he says, but I trust that the Holy Spirit will interpret what I need to know.” Talk about faith.
That same couple is undocumented. They have children born in the U.S., have never been in trouble with the law, own businesses, pay taxes, and love their community. They have tried to take steps towards citizenship, but if you know anything about the naturalization process, you know it’s complicated.
“I used to cry myself to sleep every night, fearing the worst. But now I know that if God wants us here, He will keep us here. And if He wants to send us back, we will accept it and know that it is His plan.” Again, talk about faith.
I left that conversation and hurried to my car as I felt the tears stinging my eyes. In one conversation I learned their story of faith and it marked me forever. The letter of the law would say to send this couple back to their home country, but what would the spirit of the law say?
I don’t know all the answers when it comes to immigration reform and how to move forward in this country. I do know that, as a follower of Christ, I am called to love others. It’s not my job to stop and ask whether someone is worthy of my love, the answer is yes. It’s my job to listen, show compassion, serve, advocate for the marginalized, and treat others as though Jesus died for them, because He did.
I truly believe if we sat down and listened to the stories of immigrants with open hearts, we would find a connection that would change us. That’s where it starts.