I’ll never forget it. It was debate day, my senior year in high school, and the topic was immigration. I had stayed up late, prepping my points, organizing my research, and I was ready. We were called up. I took a deep breath, and our teacher introduced the topic and asked my classmate across from me to go first.
“I just don’t get why people come illegally. Why can’t they just get in line, wait their turn and do it the right way? Why do they think they can just skip the line? That’s not right,” she said angrily.
Deep breaths, Ivette, deep breaths. The class stared, waiting for my response. My heart was pounding out of my chest, and my mind raced. I was not prepared for that.
The “they” she was talking about were my parents, who both entered this country undocumented. I knew that their heart when leaving their beloved but poverty-stricken homes was never to “skip a line” or cheat anyone out. Their only motivation in making the dangerous trek was survival.
The history and current state of immigration in the U.S. is complex and heartbreaking. There’s a real tension in finding the balance between honoring the rule of law and living out the call to compassion. The key here is not to avoid the tension, but instead, to lean in with humility. To advocate for real reform of our systems, and for men and women of integrity to rise up in places of governmental leadership and influence across the nations of the world. I believe that as a nation, and even more so, as individual citizens of Heaven, we will give account for our response to the foreigner, the vulnerable and the oppressed among us.
Jesus said it this way:
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.”- Matthew 25:35
In the Greek, the word hospitality translates into love, generosity and friendship extended to strangers. Hospitality cannot be mandated by a court verdict or passed in a law. It must be the posture of the hearts of people who decide to surrender self-preservation, fear and pride in the name of the One who welcomed us in. We have a limited amount of time and energy, and we decide how we steward it. Jesus doesn’t need us to defend Him. He simply calls us to represent Him, and we do that best when we are the hands and feet of the One whose hands and feet were pierced for us.
In Thou Shalt Not Be A Jerk, Eugene Cho writes that “one of the bravest things we could do is listen.” Listening looks like showing up in love to learn from those you may not understand, believing that there is a Heaven solution for every human issue. Immigration is no exception.
All my notes for my debate that day went out the door. Instead of responding with facts and stats, I told their story. I shared how difficult it is to enter the legal immigration system without a prior higher socioeconomic status or education in your home country. I shared my parents’ desire to survive in this country turning into a passion to serve their community as pastors for decades. I can’t say her mind changed that day, but her tone surely did. I’ll always be a believer in the power of stories because I’ve seen them disarm people of their opinions and empower them with listening ears, instead. That’s where true transformation begins.
“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”- Leviticus 19:33-34
God ends this clear command of how His people are to live out the principle of hospitality, loving their neighbor as themselves, by reminding His people Whom they belong to: the Lord your God. The same reminder goes for you and me today. In that identity, as people who belong to God, we are free to be people committed to honor and hospitality, no matter what.
By Ivette Valdez