The Refugee/Immigration Crisis and Missions

I am a community development worker (also, missionary, if that term doesn’t make you roll your eyes) in Honduras, Central America. My work involves seeing firsthand the havoc that an unstable economy, lack of education, gang activity, generational poverty, violence, and the drug trade can wreak on families. The truth is that, not unlike our Central American neighbors, the situation here is not great. And that’s why I’m here.

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But? It’s not all bad. This is a beautiful country with such a rich history and culture and beautiful people. (so beautiful I married one of them) Yes, I have to be much more cautious living here than back home, but I’m not here because my main priority is self-preservation obviously. There’s a greater purpose.

Note: I recently read an opinion article by the daughter of Honduran immigrants living in the U.S. and she tore this country up talking about the danger. It was pure sensationalism. She literally said that when she came here recently the airport provided her group with police escorts in order to travel down a main highway to a city several hours away “because of how dangerous it was” – a route that my husband and I take at least 3 times a month. Major facepalm because… that’s just a little dramatic and completely unnecessary.

Although much of my naive idealism from my college days has dissipated, I still believe that small, consistent efforts can bring lasting change. (I have to add that I am only one of many here, foreign and local, in Honduras who are promoting change) I am here because I answer to a higher calling and I can be here because, honestly, I have a certain safety net that others here do not. To live the poverty that those around me experience on a daily basis means to have limited options and limited resources and that leads to a lifestyle that is tunnel-vision focused on surviving day-to-day. The pain of not being able to make choices about your own life is one of the most hopeless feelings. It’s so much deeper and complex than just a financial desperation.

I’m writing this in the middle of what has become an international crisis: the majority-Honduran caravan of migrants headed to the U.S. border. About a week ago my husband and I heard about a group of about 1,000 Honduran migrants meeting at the San Pedro Sula bus terminal with plans to march to the United States. (google it if you haven’t heard) It has since grown and each day as we read articles or see news clips, our hearts hurt. Not because it could be a political stunt or because it makes so-and-so look bad or even because it will certainly incite an uproar and/or reinforce stereotypes – but because among the crowds there are probably many desperate people, just like the ones we encounter every day, truly in need of asylum, refuge.

And guess what? Some of you reading this probably only ever have to think about immigration as a hot-button political issue and only when it’s breaking on the news. Here in Honduras it is woven into the fabric of almost every life and comes up in every other conversation. Here it has very little to do with politics and everything to do with quality of life or even survival.

I don’t like breaking rules. I follow laws and I expect others to do the same. Did you know that arriving at the U.S. border to seek asylum is legal? There is actually a legal process to protect those who arrive at our borders fleeing oppression or violence. One of the many loopholes in the system is that many asylum-seekers are unfairly denied representation in court and therefore aren’t able to plead their case. And they are sent back. This system has been broken for a while but you only hear about it when a major crisis comes up. (Unfortunately, I don’t think the caravan is the best way to seek asylum. I worry how this is going to unfold.)

I’m reminded right now of two particular individuals that I knew personally who died as victims of violence here, one who should have fled and one who had just returned from the states as an undocumented immigrant. Maybe their stories would have ended differently had they been granted asylum.

For every person who flees their country there is a unique reason, a push factor. It would be irresponsible to say that every person flees for the same reason or has the same fear or needs. (We also can’t deny the very real pull factors that exist in the states either.)

In some of the communities where we work it is resoundingly clear that the two great aspirations that young people have to choose between is drug trafficking or migration. (This also includes internal migration toward industrialized cities) They simply have no options.

31961152_10214799927644436_3892517732104536064_nAs a missionary and immigrant activist (yes, they can be synonyms) I like to think that the work we do in Honduras, even on a small scale right now, is helping eliminate some of those push factors in our target communities. Without blatantly saying it we are communicating, “Stay. There is opportunity for you here. You can provide for your family and you can contribute to your community.” We can’t buffer every need or eliminate real threats or even convince every individual to stay who personally tells us that they’re considering the trek north. We can remind them that the “American Dream” is not necessarily all it’s cracked up to be. We can speak positively about the nation of Honduras, discourage escapist mentalities, and plant a seed of hope for the future. I truly believe that a generation is coming up that is going to change the course of this nation for the better. ❤

That’s why we are so adamant about the formation of little minds – education is so important and will have a much bigger impact on a much larger scale down the road. As for the migrants headed north, only God knows what they are truly running from, but I pray this over them as they’re on their journey:

Jesus see the traveler

Jesus see the traveler on their long, hard road

See the mother, see the father, see the child

Have mercy on the traveler

 

Lord make soft the strangest bed

Rest the weary feet

Of the mother, of the father, of the child

Have mercy on the traveler

[written by Sara Groves]

*For extra inspiration listen to “God Help the Outcasts” from Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame*

I’ll add one more note: If you have a heart for foreign missions or you have been touched personally on a mission trip or by a friend from another country, I hope you allow God to soften your heart toward the immigrant and refugee. If you know a missionary working in a country from which immigrants are fleeing, support them! They’re essentially working against all the conditions that expel individuals. I won’t quote scripture here because I’m embarrassed at how it has been used as darts against those who don’t agree with us but know that the Bible/our Savior is clear on what posture we as Christians should have toward the foreigner. If you don’t have a personal connection to this heavy topic of immigration I pray you become friends with someone who does and you’re able to hear them out on a human level. As author Sarah Quezada has said, “Relationships are an anecdote to fear.”

Good resources if you are curious about the topic of immigration from a Christian stand-point:

  1. World Relief organization and the book, Welcoming the Stranger, by Matthew Soerens and Jenny Yang
  2. Love Undocumented by Sarah Quezada
  3. Podcasts: The New Activist, Upside Down Podcast, Chasing Justice
  4. Evangelical Immigration Table

I wrote about my first immigration encounter in high school here.

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The Pain of Independence: a political deviant

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I’ve never been too worried about conforming. You should have seen my high school wardrobe (it was, um, *creative*) or consider the fact that I’m from the South but have an actual aversion to sweet tea and the SEC. (Yeah, several of you stopped reading right there. I know.)

I wouldn’t call myself a nonconforming rebel either but I’m pretty good at resisting peer pressure. I always felt that my inner convictions and deeply-held beliefs were far more important than popular opinion. During adolescence, right about the time I started finding my own voice and thinking critically about what I believed I received disapproval for straying a little too far from conservativism. (statistics show that most in my generation have)

About 13 years ago I spoke out in History class at my small, Christian high school in defense of immigrants and felt instantly the chasm between my viewpoint and that of my peers. I’ve since gained much more confidence, knowledge, and courage especially on the topic of immigration and have proudly landed somewhere in the moderate area of the general political spectrum. (and I think the political views of many of my classmates have also evolved) I doubt I will ever find myself at any point in my life pledging loyalty to a specific party.

First of all, I should mention that I’m not inherently political. I don’t keep up with most politics honestly and I certainly don’t go around picking internet fights with every faux news article I see shared. (I. see. a. lot. – hello, unfollow button?) The issues I am engaged with are the result of very strong convictions formed by very personal experiences, my relationship with my Savior, and the study of His teachings. I am an imperfect human doing the best I can to follow a perfect King. I honestly would avoid politics altogether (it just isn’t a pleasant subject) if it weren’t for the fact that it highly affects a lot of vulnerable people for whom I care deeply. I won’t go into detail on each policy with which I agree or disagree or those about which I honestly don’t know much. I definitely recognize that most hot-button issues are not easily resolved and are not as black and white as “right vs. wrong.” If it were so I think we would have more clearly marked camps. Obviously I believe that my beliefs are “correct” otherwise it would be non-sensical to believe them, but I do find it necessary to continually seek new information and perspectives and do my best to respect the individual who holds a contrasting opinion to my own. Respecting the individual does not mean tolerating insults, bullying, emotional manipulation, or speech that denigrates a person/persons. We have the right to shut. that. down.


Conformity vs Nonconformity

A neuroscientist, Gregory Berns, conducted an experiment on conformity vs. nonconformity in a group setting by scanning the brains (using a type of MRI) of volunteers as they answered a series of simple questions. Actors were placed in the experimental groups to confidently give wrong answers. The results, other than confirming previous research that group work influences an individual’s decision-making, showed the why behind a majority of individuals’ conformity under peer 7c2daebd86bfcb3047644e7971b0a4e7--conformity-satirepressure. It didn’t have to do with the volunteers’ conscious decision to change their answers in order to follow the crowd. The brain scans actually showed heightened activity in regions associated with visual and spatial perception meaning that popular opinion had in fact somehow changed the very perception of the volunteers. They were convinced to believe something that wasn’t true.

 

 

On the flip side the volunteers that stuck with their gut and did not conform with the
incorrect answers of the majority showed an interesting find in the brain scans as well. The amygdala, part of the brain associated with emotions such as fear and rejection, lit up. Berns called this “the pain of independence” which he says is “the clearest marker of the emotional load associated with standing up for one’s belief.” It takes courage, friends. Especially if a lot of the time you feel like you are standing up alone.


This is to point out the risk of social ostracism when one is part of a homogeneous group that doesn’t facilitate diverse viewpoints. Peer pressure is a beast.

But what if I truly agree with my group? Great! The objective is critical thinking and being able to arrive at our own conclusion and if that conclusion happens to be exactly what those around you think then, well, majority rules. 🙂 Congrats. (but maybe have a little grace with the person you meet who came to a different conclusion?)

Of all the social settings in which I’ve lived I can say that my college campus, Lee University, felt like that sweet spot of intellectual autonomy + Christian tradition. I felt very little anxiety about voicing my convictions there.

Some of the things I appreciate about my country are democracy and the freedom to express any opinion or belief. In theory we say we can respect differing opinions but we often consider a person with an opinion in contrast to our own to have some sort of character flaw. (or in evangelical circles… a crisis of faith)

Democracy depends on majority rule in the midst of dissenting voices but what happens when the majority conforms to the loudest and most obnoxious voice(s)? I hate to say that more than once I have fallen prey to psychological bullies trying to reason or guilt me out of my deeply-help opinions. Other than these less-than-desirable methods of persuasion I do appreciate having such diversity of belief in my circle.

5a20ce32c8aed4bb9feb267dcf376a65--my-life-quotes-a-quotesI would venture to say that if every one of your friends and acquaintances agrees with you religiously and politically then you probably live in a bubble and are lacking some factors that would help hone your critical thinking skills. Maybe you’ve created that bubble intentionally (I certainly gravitate toward likeminded people) and that’s your right but I’ll probably pass on having a political conversation with you. When entering into any kind of discussion over policy my first thought is, “Who is someone you know personally affected by this?”

Something else that keeps us in bubbles, and has surprised me recently, are our search engine biases. Online algorithms used in everything from our social media accounts to email to the ads on random websites we visit to what we search for in Google often keep us from venturing out of our idealogical sphere. Ever searched for something then all of a sudden see it pop up in ads with every new window you open? Same concept. We typically see what we want to see, literally and figuratively.

Our society, in its ideal state (of being), would be free thinkers and give themselves permission to dig a little deeper than their party and the news clips and sound bites and viral memes. We would graciously admit defeat when our candidate loses and we would have the integrity and humility to admit when our candidate or party is wrong. We wouldn’t assume someone’s entire idealogical makeup based on one position they hold nor would we attack someone’s opposing viewpoint with all the built up force of a lifetime of political frustration.

i.e. I share a heartwarming story about an undocumented immigrant I know who is struggling to make ends meet (unqualified for state benefits contrary to popular belief) and faithfully serves in her local church congregation. This is obviously personal and emotional to me but I am not attacking any opposing view or, believe it or not, trying to promote an agenda. I’m simply sharing a FACTUAL story from a compassionate perspective of an issue about which I care deeply.

This opens a can of worms where others (who in fact have no personal ties to an individual who had to make the difficult decision of leaving their home to provide for their family) assume the right to verbally attack me or the protagonist of my story. My question is, how did this incite such fervent refutation? Why is a popular tactic of arguing politics to take the humanity out of the debate? – and it’s done so passionately?

For the very reason that we usually bring a little too much baggage to the debate, I am very hesitant to share specific political beliefs online. We rarely understand the context, nuance, or background of the person posting the comment. There still exist many who don’t exercise as much deliberation when posting or sharing. Occasionally I’ll entertain a friendly discussion of politics from behind the screen but mostly I feel it is best reserved for personal conversation. (which isn’t necessarily always friendly either, haha)

I could get a variety of reactions to this blog post (assuming that even a handful of people read it) due to the diversity of my friends list. I don’t even know how many might actually relate to my story. My social network includes nominal evangelical Christians, Catholics, Hindus, Muslims; devout evangelical Christians, Catholics, Hindus, Muslims; atheists; agnostics; Republicans; Democrats; international friends who don’t know the meaning of either political party; heterosexuals; members of the LGBT community; so many races and nationalities I couldn’t count them all; police officers; active military; veterans; pastors; addicts; teachers; documented immigrants; undocumented immigrants; professors; missionaries; feminists; doctors; lawyers; etc.; all who are human beings with their own experiences, stories, passions, struggles, and beliefs.

Friendship Together Bonding Unity Youth Culture Concept

Of course we’re going to disagree on things. Hopefully we can learn from each other without compromising our core values. As Christians, may we use scripture as a pruning tool for ourselves and not as darts to throw at “the opposition.” May we allow the Holy Spirit to work on our hearts… as well as our tongues. Can we vow to put down our weapons of divisive speech and approach each difference of opinion while waving the banner of kindness instead? We are on the same team after all.

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In Light of their Suffering – Immigration

I wrote this a few years ago while I was living in Panamá and it was published on a couple different websites. In the wake of President Obama’s recent announcement about immigration reform in this country (FINALLY!), I felt I should share it again. I in no way am interested in provoking a heated political discussion or engaging in senseless cultural wars. I know that I serve a King not of this world and He has broken my heart for a forgotten and misunderstood people. IMG_5465 This was written after my home state, Alabama, passed one of the strictest immigration laws a couple years ago which has since been partly repealed/amended.

The following is in reference specifically to undocumented immigration from Latin America.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a grassroots advocate for immigrant rights. This great love and passion for the immigrant began halfway through my high school career after I had taken several mission trips to Honduras and was given a book about a boy who travels by train illegally to the U.S. to reunite with his mother. (Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Nazario, http://www.enriquesjourney.com/) I remember the first time I spoke up in defense of the immigrant was during history class in my small, Christian, southern high school. I knew the odds were against me but I felt a courage welling up inside, like this was something for which I was born. Somehow, I felt that the traditional way I had been taught to see undocumented immigration was wrong. I started questioning my old mindset that made me believe that these people were “less human,” or “undeserving.”

Now, almost seven years later, I am more dedicated to this cause and more sure than ever that Jesus Christ has compelled me to love and serve the undocumented immigrant. I have continued in my travels to Latin America and have seen unfathomable poverty. I have built relationships with immigrant families here in the U.S. and learned the richness of diversity and the beauty of God’s grace. I see the kingdom of heaven being built and it makes me wonder, “How is it that followers of Christ are more quick to identify with earthly territories than with the construction of an eternal kingdom?”

What truly baffles me is the hostility toward immigrants that can be found in circles of believers. I am amazed at how often I hear dislike being expressed toward “illegals” (a word I, personally, never use to label a human being) by the very Christians with whom I have served in third world countries. It is as if we muster up enough unconditional love and grace for the Latinos who live in their own country but when we return we treat the undocumented Latino down the road from us like our enemy. Is a person’s very presence in the U.S. without legal papers the unpardonable sin? Is it our job as believers to play the “us versus them” game?

I think Jesus accounted for the fact that we would sometimes misinterpret our neighbors for our enemies. He said, “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31) but just in case our neighbors really were our literal enemies or we had a temporary case of paranoia and thought that those around us were against us, he covered that by saying, “love your enemies.” (Matthew 5:44) We can’t really get around that one… it pretty much covers all the bases. My hope is that our vision would not be obscured by the ugly blindfold of entitlement but that our eyes would truly be open to see others the way Christ sees. I love how Dietrich Bonhoeffer said it, “We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or don’t do, and more in the light of what they suffer.”

I have several friends and acquaintances that reside in this country without proper documentation. Their stories are all different. They are mothers, fathers, students, brothers, sisters. They preach on Sunday mornings and lead worship; they clean our hotel rooms and construct our office buildings; they pick our produce and serve our meals; they win science fairs and are awarded community service ribbons. They give, they take, they hurt, they fear, they need and they love.

The most recent legislation passed in my home state, Alabama, breaks my heart. It is already creating an atmosphere of chaos, mistrust and fear. I hope that somehow the supporters of this law may have personal encounters with those whom it affects and that their hearts may be changed. Even after years of researching this topic and following the legislative proposals, no amount of data or statistics can persuade me toward either side quite like knowing the immigrant can. You can never go wrong by cultivating human relationships.

This issue has really become much more personal for me in the few years since writing this article to the point that even engaging in a conversation about it is exhausting and can often turn hurtful – although everything I wrote then rings even more true now. If I were to sit down in front of my laptop with one of my undocumented immigrant friends and start scrolling down my Facebook news feed I would be embarrassed and saddened for them to see what many of my Christ-following friends and family members have to publicly say about “people like them.” (of course, undocumented immigrants aren’t the only subculture of people who get publicly bashed on my social media feeds by Christians)

It might be easy to assume that undocumented immigrants are here for a “handout” or a “free ride” to get an “easy way out.” Let me tell you – nothing about their lives here in the U.S. is easy. I would invite you spend just 24 hours with me as I travel to medical and school appointments every day interpreting for them – just to meet one or two personally and hear their stories of hardships and sacrifices they’ve made for their children. Or to be with me when I get a phone call from my friend who lives in another state and updates me on her process to get protection under the Violence Against Women Act – because for so long she was scared to report abuse because of her legal status.

*And if you are one of those people who has a hard time truly grasping the reality of how difficult actually obtaining a visa (permission of entry) is to the U.S. for a person in a third world country, I invite you to take a look at this info graphic that explains the process:

arizona39simmigrationlawgeniuspage2straightdope_4e60963eaf8de It isn’t new to quote scripture from the Old Testament – what God commanded Israel to do or not do regarding foreigners, and take it as a command for us today. But the other day the President referred to one of these Old Testament scriptures in front of the whole nation:

“You must not mistreat or oppress foreigners in any way. Remember, you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt.” -Exodus 22:21 NLT

*For the record, I agree with the President (and the majority of America) that border protection is a priority and that we must know who is entering our country. (because not everyone is hardworking and respectful like the many immigrants I know) I have had multiple personal conversations with individuals wanting to come over illegally from Central America and never once have I encouraged any one to do so. What I want is to see a broken system get fixed. That way we all benefit.

Life in the USA (inglés y español!)

Hispanic Heritage month started September 15th here in the U.S. with the Independence Days of five Central American countries (including Honduras) and then Mexico. I thought I would share a few stories and thoughts on Latino culture and immigrants over the next four weeks here in my blog. And I will try to keep each post bilingual!


I just recently got this little book to use in my adult ESL classes called “Life in the USA: An Immigrant’s Guide to Americans” and I am cracking up. It’s like someone took all the things I have said to Natán (my boyfriend) and my other Latino friends and put it in a book. It is written in the form of letters from foreign students to their teachers expressing concerns over confusing social situations.

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My favorite was the lady who was confused as to why her American co-worker who spoke a little Spanish was offended when she said “Hey, gordita” to her. Yes, in Hispanic culture it is very common to affectionately call someone by any physical characteristic (be it positive or negative) they might have. Friends and family members often call each other “blackie” or “fatty.” Sweet. I know. *eye roll*

In the response, the teacher had to explain that Americans are typically more sensitive about certain things like weight and that saying “hey fatty” is NOT an appropriate greeting in the USA. Haha!

Natán has a few choice pet names for me all of which sound ridiculous when translated to English. But he knows what would happen if he ever used “gordita” on me!

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Thank God for Skype dates while he is in seminary thousands of miles away!

Acabo de recibir este librito para usar en mis clases de inglés acá en estados unidos se llama “La Vida en USA: Un Guía a los Americanos para el Inmigrante” y me está dando risa. Parece qué alguien tomó todas las cosas que he dicho yo a Natán (mi novio) y a mis compañeros latinos y las puso en un libro. Está escrito en la forma de cartas de estudiantes extranjeros a sus profesores expresando preocupaciones sobre situaciones sociales confusas.

Mi favorita fue una carta escrita por una mujer preguntando porque se había ofendido a una compañera de trabajo después de decirle, “hola, gordita.” Las personas bilingües y bi-culturales como yo (corazón latino en un cuerpo gringo me dicen) entendemos que es un apodo cariñoso pero a traducirlo a inglés suena horrible! Nunca debe de decirlo a una persona que no entiende la cultura hispana, jaja.

El profesor tuvo que responder y explicar que los americanos son mas sensibles con ciertos temas como lo de peso. Así que “hola, gordita” NO es un saludo apropiado para nosotros. 😛

Natán tiene algunos apodos chistosos para mi y suenan ridículos traducidos a inglés pero él sabe bien lo que pasaría si me dijera “gordita!”

White House Halts Deportations // Evangelical Immigration Table

What a monumental week/last 24 hours. It was, right? At least in the world of immigration news. Whew.

I heard of the White House’s announcement this morning to halt the deportations of young immigrants, particularly those eligible for DREAM Act status. My first reaction? Elation. I thought of friends of mine who have been praying for the day when our President would announce such a thing. This could potentially affect 800,000 innocent people.

Then I got skeptical. And I remembered that we don’t put our trust in man… especially not politicians. I think that I will really celebrate when I see this new policy carried out in a practical way. (because we all know that empty promises are a White House specialty)

A friend emailed me this great article today from BBC News and the second video in the article features a Birmingham, Alabama DREAMer, Victor, being interviewed in a Peruvian restaurant where I have eaten before. (reppin’ that BAMA in global news, no big deal.) I participated in a rally for immigrant rights with him and a group from Birmingham at Alabama’s statehouse on Valentine’s Day of this year.

Victor and several other undocumented recent graduates sharing their stories in Montgomery, AL.

You can view more photos from the Valentine’s Day rally on my Flickr! stream.

Earlier this week, a wonderful group of evangelical Christian leaders, known as the Evangelical Immigration Table, collaborated at a press conference to call for comprehensive immigration reform. I watched the live stream from work and have to admit, my little immigrant-loving heart was bursting with happiness. This is progress I thought. (on their website you can watch the press conference, hear their new radio spot and sign the pledge for just immigration laws)

Statement from website:

As evangelical Christian leaders, we call for a bipartisan solution on immigration that:

  • Respects the God-given dignity of every person
  • Protects the unity of the immediate family
  • Respects the rule of law
  • Guarantees secure national borders
  • Ensures fairness to taxpayers
  • Establishes a path toward legal status and/or citizenship for those who qualify and who wish to become permanent residents

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I was also feeling a little nerdy and starstruck having had the privilege of meeting several of those leaders in the last few months due to my short-term work in immigrant rights community organizing. I respect these guys and truly see them as world changers.

I am certainly grateful that immigration reform has been brought to the forefront this week and that the conversation is slowly beginning to be framed in an appropriate manner. Time will tell how this actually affects lives and how effectively it propels us toward national comprehensive reform.

Valentine’s Day Rally. Montgomery, Alabama.

God knows the heart of the immigrant, even when we don’t.

This past week I attended a Mother’s Day service at a local Hispanic church (I was invited by some of my neighbors) and a few days later, an elementary school graduation of a Mexican boy who is in our mentoring ministry. It is not unusual for my friends, roommates, fellow mentors and I to find ourselves at events like these… I really enjoy being involved in the lives of the neighborhood kids and their families.

At church on Sunday, the pastor preached to the immigrant congregation about not neglecting the families they left back in their home countries. We had a moving time of prayer for family members “back home” who may feel abandoned or betrayed by their loved ones’ choice of moving to the U.S. He spoke of how the Lord knows the heart of the immigrant and knows the tears, pain and the agonizing process of deciding whether or not to leave one’s home country and all things familiar for an indefinite amount of time. He reminded us of the Bible characters (including Jesus) who moved to distant lands either for reasons of famine, searching for work, fleeing oppression or by a command from God Himself.

There I sat on Mother’s Day – amongst families from Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, etc who had left their home and other family members behind in search of opportunity – knowing that I had the luxury of driving only a couple hours into the next state to see my mother and they didn’t share that luxury with me. I could sense the ache and maybe even a little remorse in the sniffles that filled the sanctuary as we pleaded with God to protect those still remaining in poverty, war-torn countries and without access to education.

Don’t fear, God knows your heart.

A couple days later I attended a 5th grade graduation. The boy I was there to see is from Mexico. His legal status is pending. He was brought to this country as a baby by well-meaning parents only wanting the best for their son. I watched him receive award after award for scholastic achievement and heard teachers, principals and board members charge the group of students to “make wise decisions” and remind them and their parents that there should be no excuse not to complete high school and continue on to college. Before he and a handful of his classmates went up to receive the Presidential Academic Excellence Award, a letter from President Barack Obama was read. The President congratulated the students on their hard work and encouraged them to continue pursuing outstanding performance in their education. Everyone seemed to be on board with this sentiment. But how many parents and educators in that room really realized the opportunity disparity that will become evident among this class of 2019 in the next few years? While citizen children will be able to easily earn a driver’s license, their classmates lacking documentation will have no chance at receiving a legal state-issued ID. While citizen high school graduates will be receiving scholarships and paying in-state tuition, some of their peers will have little chance at higher education, much less financial aid, and will have to pay out-of-state tuition for colleges that are right down the road from their high school.

To many latino immigrant families, moving from 5th grade to middle school is huge. This step is something that many parents that I personally know were not able to take while back in their home countries due to economic hardship. Seeing their children continue with their education is an emotional moment in which they realize that every sacrifice they had to make was worth it.

I had a recent conversation with my neighbors who are from Mexico and Guatemala about the political climate in my home state, Alabama, and updates on the anti-immigrant legislation that was passed last year. They told me about a Mexican man living in Alabama who came home one winter evening after work to find his water and electricity cut off. (as suggested by the new law – “no one is to enter a contract with an undocumented immigrant” including landlords and utilities companies) He, his wife and small daughters went to bed that night without showers or heat. When he called to inquire about it he was told he had two days before he would be evicted. Two days later they headed to Tennessee where they now live.

My neighbors have voiced their concerns with me before about waking up each morning not knowing if that day could be the day they get detained or deported. These people have lived here for years. They have established families. This is the only culture and country their children know. I asked if they had some kind of plan in place for their children in the instance that they were arrested. (I heard of many families in Alabama having to do this with other family members or neighbors after HB56 was passed) They told me not really but that they make sure that all their children (who are natural born citizens) have their passports as soon as possible. If anything were to happen to one parent, the whole family would follow back to the home country – being separated is not even an option.

I consider these families very dear to me. So when I hear ignorant anti-immigrant political rhetoric… it hits me in a personal way. Whether this affects you or anyone close to you, I challenge you to have the courage to think critically beyond the stereotypes and xenophobia. Put a human face to the issue. And if you are a follower of Christ I sure hope you are able to see that God knows the heart of the immigrant, even when we don’t.

Road trips, politics, recent ponderings and anything else I can cram into one blog entry

Road trip

This past weekend some girl friends & I took a road trip up through Richmond to Virginia Beach while also spending a little time in Norfolk. I met new friends along the way and had the wonderful opportunity of visiting some old family friends who had relocated to the area a few years ago. We four girls spent our twenty (plus) hour round trip drive singing, laughing, eating, dancing, switching drivers, reading books aloud, reflecting on life and relationships and just enjoying time on the road. It was a great getaway.

montage

Politics

  1. I have decided that I will not be guilted into or made to feel obligated to vote for a candidate in this year’s election if it does not sit well with my conscience. I am thankful for the right to vote, the right to voice my opinion and the right to let my local and national government know if I do not agree with something. I absolutely take advantage of that right but I also have the right to abstain from that right. If my personal convictions do not align with a particular person, I will refrain from voting period. A common reaction to that is “well, you’ll never find a perfect human being anywhere.” (implying that our options will always be limited to less than ideal candidates & we just have to grin & bear it) But “the lesser of two evils is still evil” and I will only give my vote to someone who I think really deserves it. I agree with Derek Webb when he sings “we’ll never have a Savior on capitol hill.” So, just as much as I don’t count on a perfect president, I also don’t feel as though I am grieving the Holy Spirit by not casting my vote this election year. Personal conviction. For those looking for a simple and helpful way to see which candidates hold similar views to you, a friend recently posted this awesome interactive website.
  2. There have been some awesome people that I have had the privilege of working with over the last few months taking action for the rights of immigrants in Alabama, particularly by pushing for the repeal of the recent anti-immigrant law, HB56. So much has happened, it will be a challenge to recount everything. I have participated in several rallies and marches at the capitol. (Montgomery) You can view my photos of those events on my Flickr page.
    rally

    Me at the Valentine’s day “One Heart, One Alabama” rally in Montgomery.

    As an evangelical community organizer, my goal was to mobilize evangelical churches to engage in dialogue about what it means as a follower of Christ to welcome the stranger. We hosted an event at Samford University in Birmingham called the G92 South Immigration Conference. This day-long event facilitated thoughtful, compassionate and Biblical conversation among pastors and church leaders and college students from the area. What an exhausting day it was for us organizers! I can honestly say that until G92, I had not participated in the planning of such a large-scale and important event. It pushed and challenged me and I know I gained invaluable experience. I co-lead a student session with Lisa Sharon Harper from Sojourners called “Engaging Effectively.” This session was planned for the end of the day as a call to action for those students who had just received all the info and wanted to put it into practice. As prompted by Lisa, our first step of action was to confess and repent of the ways we have believed the core lies that perpetuate such laws that oppress vulnerable people. A Samford student wrote a beautiful reflection of this time in the day. (this was probably my most favorite time as well) Lisa shared some thoughts on this as well in her blog.

Read some of the great articles and reviews of the conference:

(Other great resources are a study showing that HB56 is costing the state over $2 billion and a wonderful film portraying real-life struggles of immigrant families, A Better Life, whose director is also working on a project called Is This Alabama?)

Recent Ponderings

Well, for one… I am on the job hunt. And I am considering several options. In and out of the country. 🙂 But I won’t prematurely spill anything on those plans… just yet. We will just have to see how everything comes together. All I can say is that I am working on translating my resume to Spanish.

Thankfully I have had pretty consistent freelance video editing projects in the meantime. And I can’t lie, I pretty well enjoy making my own schedule and traveling for work and never knowing where I might be a week down the road. Who needs routine? Job security is for suckers.

AND, lastly, the group with whom I travel to Honduras for missions and I are preparing for our next medical trip coming up in July. We are currently fundraising and ironing out the details. I’m already pumped to be back. 🙂